Key West April 2016 – Ten Years in the Making

IMG_4110I am considering to change my blog to say “Key West” and “St. John” travel blog, since it seems to be the only two places we have been going lately, but if you find places you love, why not return when you can?

So this trip down to Key West marked our 10th year since visiting the island back in 2006. We had a mild winter but we were still excited. Meanwhile I met a musician down there during our last visit and have been doing a lot of his design work. I was so eager to get down there and see for myself in person all the things I have done and meet up with him. It was our first trip (since last July) that we didn’t have much planned and it was also the first time going in the spring without a group of friends. We figured that we would just see how it goes this time.

I also love going to Key West in the spring because living in Northwestern NJ it takes a bit longer for everything to come into bloom. It is almost like the Wizard of Oz… we leave NJ which is usually rainy, cold and gray, and then when we get to Key West its like when Dorothy opens the door and everything is in color. P1020937

April 3 – Arrival Day (Day 1)


As some of you may know from our last trip back in March of 2015, I wound up oversleeping and we had to get a later flight. And then our connecting flight in Ft. Lauderdale was delayed for hours, making us pretty much miss most of our arrival day. I was a bit anxious the night before but made sure as all of our alarms were set. Our flight was at 7:50am so we still had to get up by 3am to make it to Newark Airport. I made sure I went to bed by 10am and thankfully woke up on time. The car service arrived at 4am and we were on our way. P1020944

The United flight to Ft. Lauderdale was a nice and easy flight. We had no delays, etc. I was hoping that it would be the case since originally we were supposed to be on the Silver Airways flight at 10:20am. However after I initially booked our airfare, our first flight was moved from 7:30am to 7:50am, so they bumped us to the 12:35pm flight. We actually wound up arriving a little bit earlier then expect (9:45am) so we immediately went to the Silver Airways counter to see about getting on the earlier flight. They were very nice and wanted to change it for us, but the lady at the counter said that they couldn’t and we would have to go to the United counter. We ran over to United and at first, the lady would not change our flight saying that Silver Airways had to do it. We explained to her how we were already there and that they said to come to her. After a few minutes she did go back onto the computer and changed the flight for us. Hooray! We were going to be in Key West earlier then we first thought! Relieved and extremely excited, we waited to board our plane. It took us a while to finally take off (around 11:15am) but we were still got there sooner then expected.

About 30 min. into the flight, I looked out and could see the clouds clearing. And there they were…. the Florida Keys! IMG_3895

It was so beautiful and I just got more and more excited to be returning to one of our favorite places!!  P1020952

At about noon we touched down and grabbed the first taxi we could find. (Last year our flight landed the same time as a Delta Flight and we had to wait on a long line and then get into a van with other people and wound up being dropped off last.) In a few minutes the driver dropped us off at the place we have been staying ever since we first starting to come to Key West, the Gardens Hotel.

As an added bonus, I just completed their new logo for their new website which should go live in a few months. Our room wasn’t ready yet but we were able to leave our luggage and change. That is always the best feeling of taking off your shoes and socks and putting on flip flops! (The one advantage staying at the Gardens Hotel, besides how beautiful it is, is the location. We love walking down just one block and there it is, Duval St.) We walked down and turned right and there it was Duval St. Just the sounds of the Conch Train and hearing the mopeds go by always brings a smile to my face.


Our tradition is to first stop at Willie T’s and have a margarita. The margarita’s aren’t the best, but they taste quite good when its the first one to start your vacation. P1020953And then I noticed a few banners that were displayed for the musician I have been doing work for. It was so cool to see!!! It was awesome quite frankly. I wanted to get a picture of it, but there was a group of people seated right in front of it. I knew we would be back in a few days so I figured I would wait until then. Some guy named Dallas was playing while we were there, not really a fan – so we decided to finish our margaritas and make our way down Duval. I was still in the mood for a margarita, so we went to the place that makes one of the best (IMO) Kelly’s. We sat down in the lush setting and just took it all in. IMG_3902


I wanted to see the water so we left and walked down towards the Galleon and grabbed two seats at the Tiki Bar. We were hoping to catch the bartender David, but he wasn’t working. It was a good spot to have a cocktail and catch part of the Nascar race. IMG_3909

We didn’t want to make ourselves too comfortable since we wanted to get back to the Gardens to unpack and see some of the Jazz that they have on Sundays.

On our way back we just had to stop at Rick’s for one. It was getting a bit overcast but we didn’t care. We were feeling quite happy at that point but didn’t want to get too crazy since we also had dinner reservations at Deuce’s Off the Hook later on.IMG_3912

We made it back to the Gardens and our room was all set. It was getting close to Jazz time so we freshened up and found two seats to listen to some music. While we were relaxing, the manager of the Gardens Hotel came up to me and mentioned how much they love the new logo. He said that their new website was going live soon and asked if I wanted to see it. I said of course and we walked up to his office. It was pretty cool to see my logo on the website of the place we have been staying at for years.

It was nice to hear the Jazz playing and we were both starving. Luckily our dinner reservations were not too late. We walked right over and couldn’t wait to eat. We were so happy to see one of our favorite’s on the menu…. hogfish! I started out with the mahi mahi ceviche while my husband ordered the conch fritters. They looked so good and I wanted to try them but have learned the hard way that I am allergic to conch – which is odd because I don’t have any other issues with clams, mussels, oysters etc. For dinner we both ordered the hogfish (big surprise). It was delicious!! After a long day we were both exhausted.

Luckily Deuce’s is literally right behind the Gardens, so it was a quick walk back and bed!

April 4th – First Full Day (Day 2)


I woke up at first thinking I was back home in NJ, but I quickly realized I wasn’t… I was in Key West! I was also excited because I was finally going to meet up with the musician I have been doing to design work for, Zack Seemiller who was playing at Hogsbreath later that day. It was a bit of an overcast day, but being it was a bit humid we didn’t mind.

Another tradition I like to do is walk down to Blue Heaven for our first breakfast in Key West. I always remember to get there before 9am then you won’t have to wait for a table. We walked in and the hostess seated us in the perfect spot. I ordered an omelet with a side of their yummy key lime hollandaise while my husband ordered their eggs bennie with their homemade sausage.

Their food is always good there and it tasted even better! After breakfast we walked down to Wallgreens and stocked up on several bottles of water for the room. Usually at this point we would walk around and buy a few souvenirs, but after 10 years going we have so many things… plus I wanted to save any room in my luggage for a few shirts from Zack that I did.

We regrouped at the Gardens and made our way back down Duval. We walked along towards the Bight. We wound up walking into the Fort Jefferson Museum. It was pretty small, but they had a great replica of Fort Jefferson on the Dry Tortugas. P1020967

We remembered our trip last in July when we took the Seaplane over. I would love to do it again, but it is a bit pricey. Our next stop was the Schooner Wharf. We each ordered a painkiller (which reminds us of another favorite places of our’s the Soggy Dollar Bar, on Jost Van Dyke in the BVIs).IMG_3923

We then walked down to Sunset Pier to see if Al was working. The winds were picking up again and it started to drizzle. We found a couple of seats at the bar protected from the rain and asked about Al. Unfortunately he doesn’t work on Mondays and Tuesdays but we knew that we would return at some point. I decided to stick with a light beer because I knew it was going to be a long day again.IMG_3925

Our next stop was Captain Tony’s. We remembered this one musician Gabriel Wright and we wanted to see if he was playing. We walked in and there he was. IMG_3926

We sat down towards the entrance and listened to him play. While we were sitting there, a young kid by the name of Jake sat down next to me. He was by himself and started to talked to us. He explained how he made his way all the way down by car from Montana! We thought wow that’s a drive! P1020982Soon Gabriel Wright went on break and I approached him and asked if he remembered us. Last year I requested my favorite artist’s song, Hard Sun by Eddie Vedder and he didn’t know all the words. He kind of laughed and did remember. We chatted a bit and I told him how I have been doing the design work for Zack and if he was looking for a designer to give me a shout. Turns out he was looking for someone to do his cd artwork and that we would be in touch. We talked a bit with him and Jake and told them we were going to check out Joal Rush later at the Smokin’ Tuna and catch Caffeine Carl after that. IMG_3939

Then I realized that it was time to walk on over to Hogsbreath to see Zack play. I wasn’t sure what to expect but we walked in and it was packed. He recognized us as I found one bar stool available. He gave us a shout out and told everyone how I was the designer of his work. I felt a bit embarrassed but also very honored!! Once he took a break he came up to us and I was so happy to see him!! IMG_3936

Plus he sang a favorite song of mine… Jersey Girl 🙂 Unfortunately he had a wedding gig later that evening so we told him we would see him at Willie T’s the next day. IMG_4050

We left and wanted to make our way back towards the Gardens. We then remembered that Joal Rush was at the Tuna. We walked in and there was Jake and Gabriel! P1020990

It was funny to see them there. We hung out a bit and listened to Joal Rush before making it back down Duval again.

On our way back we decided to go the Roof Top Cafe for dinner. I always like the ambiance there sitting up above the street. My husband called and we were able to get a reservation for 8:30. We freshened up and made the long walk back to the Roof Top Cafe. (Just as a side note, my husband was wearing a fitbit during our trip and we would average around 6 miles a day walking around!) IMG_3945

I started with the crab and shrimp cake which was delicious and my husband had the fried calamari. For dinner, I decided on the mahi mahi while my husband had the shrimp and grits. Again this is another place where we always have a good dinner. Plus we were able to use the Key West restaurant card that we got for the 10% off.

Once we finished dinner we walked back towards the Tuna to catch Caffeine Carl. Unfortunately he called out sick and we couldn’t see him. We were a bit disappointed but figured that we would have one more drink before calling it a night. We did notice however, if he isn’t playing the place was empty! Soon it was time to go back to the Gardens.

April 5 – Beautiful Day (Day 3) IMG_4208

I woke up feeling a bit rough, but the sun was shining and it was gorgeous! The front moved through and the humidity was low. We walked down to Croissants De France for breakfast. IMG_3953

ordered the smoked salmon eggs benedict on fresh brioche bread while my husband ordered their egg platter breakfast. The coffee at this place is also very good. The only disappointment was my husband’s bacon. It wasn’t crisp at all and honestly it was barely cooked. Everything else was tasty so we just brushed it off.

We didn’t really know what to do after breakfast. We walked back to the Gardens and tried to think of a game plan for the day. I heard from Zack and we were going to perhaps meet up at Peppers. We always make that one of our stops to order a bunch of hot sauces for family and friends and for ourselves. We walked down Simonton and just could not get over how beautiful it was out. We also noticed a strange looking flowering tree. It kind of reminded me of something from the Dr. Seuss’ Lorax movie. IMG_3965It was the perfect weather.IMG_3970

We made it to Peppers and I just could not do the tasting. Someone had to take one for the team so my husband ponied up. He did well and we picked out a nice variety of hot sauces and marinades and had them ship it back home to NJ for us since we had carryon only.

Zack didn’t make and I told him he would catch him at Willie T’s later that day. After all the hot sauce tastings, my husband was bit thirsty. IMG_3977IMG_3971We walked down the Bight again and made it the Half Shell Raw bar. I sent a picture of the tshirts to Zack and told him I was getting more inspiration for tshirt designs for him (they do have quite a collection of shirts there).

We sat at the bar and were watching on tv highlights of the NCAA tournament and how Villanova won. As we were reminiscing about how the last time (in July) we were there we saw the news on tv how JPP from the NY Giants blew off his fingers with a fireworks accident, I look up and there is Zack.

(One of the few things I always wanted to do was to drive up the Keys. We always fly in to Key West and have never done the drive.) A few months ago, Zack offered for us to borrow his MG and take it up the Keys for the day. He actually drove the car to the Half Shell so we walked outside to check it out. Being that my husband is a mechanic (and owns his own car repair garage) he of course he had to check out the car. IMG_3974We found a spot and just hung out for a bit. IMG_3976

We thanked him again for letting us borrow his car the next day and told him we would catch up with him later at Wille T’s. IMG_3989

We walked along back towards Sunset Pier to catch up with Al. He was working that day so we grabbed a couple of seats at the pier and chatted for a bit while listening to the entertainment. IMG_3987Again the weather was just so gorgeous that we just took in the view of that green blue water.IMG_3994

We only stayed for one so we thanked Al and we were on our way again.

Another stop we wanted to do is Rick’s. We always see this bartender there and he is quite a character. IMG_4003.jpg

Plus if you can get seats right in the front, its a great spot to people watch. We sat down and had a few laughs and made our way back down Duval. P1030005

Speaking of laughs, we made to Willie T’s and watched the rest of Zack’s set. As we sat there, I just kept looking at the banner I designed. It came out so good and it looked so impressive. Once Zack was done, I made sure that we got our pictures next to it.IMG_4039

While my husband was taking our picture, people were actually saying how they loved the design. It just warmed my heart to here all the compliments. I felt so gratified and happy!

Zack told us he was playing at Rum Runners later so we said we would stop by later on. We wanted to get back to the Gardens and relax a bit.IMG_4051

Once we were ready to go we were getting quite hungry. I love the fish dip at the Smokin Tuna so we walked back down Duval. P1030007We grabbed some food and then made it to Rum Runners. Once he was on break we figured that he could drop his car the next morning after breakfast at the Gardens and we would make the drive up the Keys. At that point, the day was catching up with us so we didn’t stay too long.

April 6 – Bahia Honda State Park, Cafe Marquesa and Mallory Square (Day 4)

We woke up to another picture perfect day. IMG_3960

Since we were meeting Zack that morning we figured that we would just have breakfast at the Gardens. They had a nice spread but sometimes I just miss eggs benedict!

Zack showed up and we grabbed our things. We thanked him again for letting us use his car and we were on our way. IMG_4057

The one thing we didn’t realize… how to leave the Keys!! It took a few different turns, but we eventually found our way on A1A (also thanks to GPS on my iPhone). Soon we were making our way out of Key West for the first time. It was amazing to see all the Keys along the way. And one of the funny things was, as we were driving a song came on the radio. We are big fans of the show Bloodline, and sure enough the show’s theme song came on the radio. We both laughed and thought how “ironic” is that??

I called my sister along the way since she was quite familiar with the drive. We weren’t sure where to go, but she suggested Bahia Honda State Park. We made our way to mile marker 37 and there it was. P1030012We found a parking spot and walked along the beach. IMG_4076IMG_4078.jpg

We then realized on the other side was the public beach. As we walked over, my husband noticed the old bridge and people walking towards it. He asked one of the park rangers working there and he directed us where to go.IMG_4079

We took the trail that leads up to the Old Bridge. It was so beautiful up there. Just taking the view in was quite amazing. IMG_4080.jpgIMG_4083.jpgIMG_4087.jpgP1030017

We walked around a bit before making our way back to the car. IMG_4088

It was getting hot so we figured we would just drive back to Key West. It was actually a good idea that we did because we noticed there was a lot more traffic on Route 1 then before.IMG_4090.jpg

We made it back to the Gardens and Zack came to pick up the car. We thanked again and told him we would catch him later again at Willie T’s. IMG_4210

After the hot drive we both decided we should freshen up. We remembered that Gabriel Wright was playing again at Captain Tony’s so we made our way back again. We hung out for a bit and then we recognized a familiar face with his dog. It was funny because we saw him 2 years ago with his dog at Hogsbreath.IMG_4094

He mentioned how people like his dog better then him! We talked a bit before making our next move.

We wound up catching the end of Zack’s set and hare my favorite song of his “You’re Harmony” (about his daughter) before heading out to dinner. I had made dinner reservations at Cafe Marquesa and always wanted to eat there. I was quite excited and we were seated at a nice table. It wasn’t too crowded since it was early. Disappointingly, the dinner did not match up to our expectations. We found the food lacked seasoning of any kind.

And my husband’s lobster dinner had a vanilla cream sauce with it. I tried it and it was awful. I felt so bad because I wanted it to be a nice dinner. I had the yellow snapper entree wrapped in phyllo dough and it just smelled fishy once they brought it out. I could barely eat it. IMG_4108

After a disappointing dinner we decided to walk down towards Mallory Square to catch the sunset. We made it just in time and it was packed with people. We were able to find a spot to watch it. I always hope to see the green flash but no such luck, but it was still a beautiful sunset. IMG_4106IMG_4107

We walked back down towards the Tuna where Lewis Brice, Joal Rush and Nick Norman were playing.

While we were enjoying the music, they took a break and friends of theirs from South Carolina came on stage. They were called Finnegan Bell and they were quite good. They mentioned that they would be back the next day at 5pm so my husband wanted to make sure we would see them again.

April 7 (Day 5) – No Fishing 😦

We woke up to another beautiful day. We were supposed to go fishing with our good friend Billy that worked at the Gardens. IMG_3962

I hadn’t heard from him so I wasn’t sure if we were going to go out with him. I checked my phone and he told me about the passing of one of his good friends. I was a bit disappointed but we both completely understood. I told him that we would catch up with him when we head back in July. IMG_4125

I wanted to go back to Blue Heaven for breakfast and it was still early enough to go. We walked and sat down. My husband and I both ordered the eggs benedict. I opted for the bacon bennie and my husband had the sausage bennie again. It was a nice morning to relax and try to figure out what to do. IMG_3957

After breakfast we decided to just relax by the pool at the Gardens for a bit. I heard back from Zack and he stopped by. He wanted to show me the new “meow” hats I did for him came in. They came out great! He mentioned how he was leaving town to take his son for his basketball tournament. He also said how he wanted to show us the other banners that I designed as well came in. So we hopped in his car and went back to his house. The other banners I did came out awesome! I can’t wait to see those displayed as well… we talked for a bit and then said our goodbyes. We thanked him again and hope to catch him in July. Really a great guy and so proud to be his designer!


After our walk back to the Gardens we decided to freshen up for the day. We forgot how we never made it to Irish Kevins yet. So we walked back down to Duval and stopped in for a drink. They always have someone entertaining playing there so it was fun to sit down and listen and of course hear the perennial favorite cover of “Wagon Wheel” there.IMG_4143

I wanted to see the water again so we went back to the Galleon. Again David wasn’t working, but we sat down for one. As we sat there I was longing to go out on the water. I suggested for us to go out for a daysail on the Schooner American 2.0 for our last day. I gave them a call and luckily they had two seats available for us. IMG_4153.jpg

We were getting hungry, so we walked back down to Kelly’s to grab a bite to eat. I went with the fish tacos while my husband ordered their wings. This is another place where their food never disappointed us – especially their wings!

It was getting to be about that time to see Finnegan Bell at the Tuna. When we walked in to the place we noticed saw dust everywhere. I guess they were taking down a tree up above the Tuna. It was okay because while Finnegan Bell would play, it would look like snow falling! They sounded great especially their cover of Mumford and Son’s “Awake My Soul”.

Once they went on break, we chatted with them for a bit. We told them how we saw them the night before and wanted to check them out. They were really nice guys (Shane and Warren) and they mentioned how they were playing with Nick Norman, Joal Rush, Lewis Brice and Chris Weaver at the Lazy Gecko the next night so we would be sure to check it out. They were actually all were down to play the Ramble unfortunately the next day after we were leaving at the Key West Theater.

We wound up leaving to freshen up again at the Gardens before coming back to see Caffeine Carl again. We new this was our last night in Key West where we could stay up late since the following day was our last full day.IMG_4160.jpg

We came back to the Tuna where we listened to Caffeine Carl play. We had a good time but realized it was getting late. We made it back to the Gardens and called it a night – it was late!!

April 8 – Schooner American 2.0, Lazy Gecko and More  (Day 6)


It was a slow start but I didn’t feel like eating at the Gardens. It was after 9am so I knew Blue Heaven was out of the question (and it was also a Friday when more people are in town). So my husband suggest Bagatelle’s. We hadn’t been there in a few years and it was another terrific day to go for a walk. And another added bonus they have huervos rancheros – one of my favorite breakfast splurges!

We chose to walk down the quieter street of Simonton and made it to Bagatelle’s. We were seated upstairs outside with a great view of Duval. We both ordered the huervos rancheros. They tasted good but they were bit on the cool side. Maybe it is because they have to walk the food up all the way upstairs or not but it was okay.IMG_4170.jpg

After breakfast, we walked back down to the Gardens. We wound up packing up all our things so we had everything ready to go for the next morning. It is always so depressing knowing that you are leaving the next day, but that’s what vacations are. Our flight was at 9:10am, so we asked the Gardens to call us a taxi for a 7:45am pick up. We also made sure all our alarms were set. IMG_4204

Once everything was in order we left the Gardens and made our way back towards the Bight. IMG_4209We had our daysail on the Schooner American 2.0 at 1:30 but had to check in at 1pm. We walked around and figured we would have a drink at Turtle Kraal Tower Bar. It is always a beautiful view.IMG_4176

We wound up chatting with another person from Pt. Pleasant, NJ heading home on our same flight the next day. We talked about how you plan so many things to do in Key West and it just doesn’t happen. Before we knew it, it was time to check in for our day sail.IMG_4177.jpg

Luckily there was only 17 people so it wasn’t crowded at all. The boat itself is so beautiful. We found out ironically it goes back up to New York for the summer. The captain mentioned how it goes out of Chelsea Pier to the Statue of Liberty. Funny how being from NJ I have never been to the Statue of Liberty…. go figure! IMG_4189IMG_4185.jpgIMG_4197

IMG_4192The water was calm and so were the breezes. It was so beautiful to finally go out on the water. My only regret was that we weren’t able to get in the water during this trip.

After the sail it was time to get back to the Gardens and freshen up before checking out all the musicians at the Lazy Gecko. After we showered, we made our last sad walk down Duval. IMG_4097We noticed that it was definitely more crowded since the weekenders were coming in. We walked into the Lazy Gecko and it was packed. I honestly thought we weren’t going to stay but we ran into Shane and Warren. While we were talking to them, thankfully two seats opened up at the bar. IMG_4213

And that’s when the evening got better. All the guys from South Carolina would get up and take turns playing together. IMG_4212IMG_4220

It was so much fun!

Once the show was over everyone headed over to the Smokin Tuna. We probably partied a little too much for our last night in Key West but we had such a good time it was hard to leave. IMG_4226.jpg

We did eventually leave and said our good byes.

April 9 – Departure Day 😦  (Day 7)


And the dread of going back home was upon us. We woke up just before 7am and heard how the weather forecast back home was for snow. We thought just great. We tried to make the best of it as we took the taxi from the Gardens to the airport. We just kept telling ourselves that we will be back in 3 months… but still we just didn’t want to go just yet (but I knew our livers did)….  our Silver Airways flight took off on time and we made our very close connection in Ft. Lauderdale. Before we knew it we were back home where it was in the mid 30s with snow showers.(And black and white like the ending of The Wizard of Oz.)IMG_4230

This may have been our tenth year returning to Key West, but it may be our most memorable one with all the people we met and the friends we made…

And a good rule of thumb is… the best plan to have while in Key West… is to have no plan at all! IMG_3910.jpg

Thanks again for taking the time to read my blog….. until next time!