Even though we were just in Key West 3 months prior, my husband and I were excited to return again to one of our favorite places. (Making it our 14th time back within 10 years does say a lot.) We were also returning to our usual place to stay the Gardens Hotel. It has sort of become a second home to us because of its familiarity with the hotel and staff. I shipped a box of our toiletries ahead of time to the hotel so we only had to bring carryon with us which we find to be more convenient then waiting for checked baggage and worrying about if it doesn’t make the connecting flight.
July 3 – Arrival Day (Day 1)
Once again we had to be up early on a Sunday morning and I still get anxious about our arrival day after oversleeping two years ago. I think by now I should realize that I won’t let that happen again. Ironically I wound up waking up literally 5 min. before my alarm was set to go off at 3:00am. After getting ready, it was soon 4am and time for our car service to take us to the airport. Luckily he was on time and we had no issues getting there. After all the things that have been going on around the world we were nervous with the security lines. Thankfully I have the United Credit Card which gives us the premier access. The lines weren’t too long and we actually had time to relax in the lounge a bit. Our flight left on time at 7:30am to Ft. Myers.
Once we arrived in Ft. Myers around 10:30 we checked to see where the Silver Airways gate would be. It turned out that we arrived in a different terminal then Silver Airways (unlike Ft. Lauderdale) so we had to walk through security again to get to the other terminal. It was a bit frustrating but we made it through quickly and had time for a beverage before going to the gate. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 11:43pm and with previous experience on Silver Airways, we had a feeling that the flight would not leave on time. It was just after 11:00 and we figured we would check and see about the flight. We had to take an elevator down one flight of stairs to the gate. As soon as we walked over, the ticket agent called our names and told us they were ready to board. We were both shocked. The agent gave us the baggage tags for our luggage and within minutes we were walking to the plane. The plane was barely half full so we all had to sit from row 7 back to keep the weight of the plane in balance (always comforting).
We were number 3 for take off so we didn’t wait long. The flight from Ft. Myers to Key West is probably one of the quickest routes we have ever taken. The pilot said it would be 36 min. but I am pretty sure it was faster then that. Around 12:20pm we touched down and we were back! In a way it felt like we never left because we were just there 3 months ago, which in a way was a plus because the trip did feel a lot longer then usual.
We were one of the first people off the plane and with no baggage to wait for, we were able to grab one of the first taxis in line. Once we got into the taxi, we noticed two people also waiting for a taxis and they started waving at my husband. After a few seconds he realized it was one of his customers (he owns his own auto repair garage back home). He asked the driver to stop but he didn’t hear him. Eventually he was able to get in touch with them later on, so that we could meet up with them at some point.
Meanwhile, a friend of ours, Nancy and her friend just arrived as well via the Key West Express Ferry from Ft. Myers. They were staying at the Gardens Hotel as well, so I had a feeling we would be running into them when we arrived at the hotel.
Once we got to the hotel we walked in to the receptionist desk and noticed two people already checking in. And sure enough if was them! We all hunged and she introduced us to her friend. So we wound up all checking in to our rooms the same time. We have been staying at the Gardens Hotel so many times that check in is very quick. Our rooms weren’t ready yet but we were able to use their large changing room near the pool to freshen up.
It was just after 1pm so we had plenty of time to hit a few of our favorite places. Our first stop is always Willie T’s. When we got there it was quite crowded so we had to sit in the back. It actually wasn’t that bad of a seat since we were out of the way of the action where we could catch up for a bit. I even pointed out to them the banner for the musician down there Zack Seemiller. Unfortunately he left town for a bit and I was bummed out that I couldn’t see him, but it did give us an opportunity to check out other music during our stay.
After a few mojitos we made our way to Kelly’s. It wasn’t too crowded so we found a nice table near the bar. Happy hour didn’t start yet so we didn’t order anything to eat. We probably should have but we enjoyed a round of their Key Lime Margaritas before walking back towards the hotel to check into our rooms. Before we did, we stopped at Rick’s. Our friend Nancy and my husband wanted to have a pickle back shot since they both had one a couple of years ago when we were visiting.
It was a quick stop and then we made it back to our room. Our rooms were both ready and all of our luggage was already brought in. We prefer the garden view rooms on the 2nd floor since they have great views of the grounds and lush vegetation throughout the property. Nancy and her friend decided to go for a swim while we unpacked and got ready for dinner. I made reservations later that evening for the 4 of us. Deuce’s Off the Hook is located conveniently right behind the hotel and serves delicious food. It is definitely a plus to go there after a long day of travel.
Once we were all ready we walked down the restaurant. We were a little early but the restaurant offered us a few cocktails outside while we waited for a table which we all thought was a nice touch. We were all quite hungry so we looked over the menus so we would know what to order once we were seated. There was no hesitation what my husband and I would order since hogfish was their special catch of the day. This is our favorite fish to eat. Its a type of snapper that has such a sweet and delicate flavor.
What felt like an eternity wound up only being about 15 minutes. We were seated in a booth and all placed our orders almost immediately when the server came over. I ordered their grouper ceviche and I can’t recall what everyone else ordered for their appetizers. My husband and I had the hogfish special, while our friends had the shrimp and grits and the Zuppa de Deuces (which was a combination of shrimp, scallops and other seafood over pasta). Everyone enjoyed their meal and we walked away quite satisfied.
At this point we were all exhausted and called it a night. We decided to regroup at 8:30 in the morning and go to Blue Heaven for breakfast.
July 4 – Independence Day and Sunset Sail on the Appledore Star (Day 2)
We woke up and saw that the clock was 8:25am! We both immediately rushed to get ready since we were meeting our friends for breakfast. While I was getting ready we noticed it was still dark out. My husband went downstairs to get coffee for us. A few minutes later, he came back and said our room clock was wrong! It was only 7:15am! Well since we were already up, we walked down to Wallgreens to get bottled water for the room and a few other items I forgot to pack. I always like walking down Duval early in the morning. It is just so quiet and empty. We made it back and our friends were ready to walk down to Blue Heaven.
We were early enough that there wasn’t a wait. We sat down ordered our breakfasts. I really enjoy their key lime hollandaise sauce so I like to order as a side with their omelets. I find their prices to be on the high side for what you get but it is a Key West institution to eat there at least once during your visit. You can’t beat the atmosphere with the roosters and chickens running around.
Since our friends were leaving on the ferry later on that day they wanted to head back to the hotel to pack up.
Once everyone was ready to go we decided to walk along Simonton Street since it is less busy then Duval. We made our way up towards the bight looking at all the fish swimming in the water. Eventually we stopped in the Schooner Wharf for a drink. There wasn’t any entertainment yet but it is always great to stop in at one of the iconic places in Key West. When we left the Schooner Wharf we noticed up above the Waterfront Brewery, there was something going on. I wasn’t sure what it was, but then I heard Nick Norman started to play. I wanted to check it out but I wasn’t sure if it was open to the public or not so we just kept walking.
So we made our way back towards Duval. It was around 1pm and I knew Gabriel Wright was playing at Captain Tony’s. I wound up putting together the graphics for his latest album and wanted to stop in and say hello. We walked in and grabbed a couple of seats and said hello. It was nice to just relax for a bit and listen to him play. Of course I had to request Eddie Vedder’s Hard Sun like I always do. I ask him to play Mumford and Son’s I Will Wait which was fun to hear. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZthSmQsXy4&spfreload=10
We all then had to put the iconic dollar as a remembrance of our visit to Captain Tony’s. It was funny because I found our dollar from a couple of years ago which was faded, so I thought it would be perfect to put the new one on top.
Our friends wanted to head back to the hotel so they could grab their luggage and head towards the ferry terminal. We said good bye to Gabriel and made our way back towards the Gardens, but not without a pickle back shot at Ricks. Nancy and my husband did one last one for old time sake while I just took a few pictures.
Once we got back to the hotel we said good bye to our friends. It was a short visit, but at least we got to spend some time together. We used the opportunity to freshen up the July 4th Sunset sail I booked with the Sebago on the Appledore Star. We didn’t have to check in until 6:30, but I wanted to grab something to eat ahead of time. The Sebago sail did offer food but I wasn’t too keen on the food options.
Since it was around 5pm it wound up being the perfect time to check out Martin’s happy hour. We never made it back to Martin’s last trip and regretted not going. We walked down to Martin’s, which located just a couple of blocks from the Gardens, and sat at the bar. I ordered a glass of white wine, while my husband ordered a dirty martini (both which were half off for the happy hour special). We looked through the menu and agreed upon six different appetizers to share. We ordered the lamb chops, calamari, pate, tuna, escargot and the crab cakes. Everything was delicious. After making our way through the appetizers we were both satisfied enough to walk towards the Bight to check in for the sunset sail.
Once we got to the Sebago check-in it was packed with people waiting for all of the different sunset sails. I was glad I booked the Appledore Star since it only had space for 16 people. We didn’t have to wait to long for check-in and soon it was time to head onto the schooner. It was as a beautiful evening to watch the sunset.
We sat sail and started talking to a few people on the boat. We noticed a young couple on board with a photographer taking photos of them. I thought what a great back drop for photos. As the sun started to set, I started to take endless photos of it.
I was using my iPhone so I just kept hitting the button. The sun dropped straight down into the water and no clouds were blocking the view. While the sun was setting, we looked over and the young man of the couple with the photographer proposed to his girlfriend. When she said yes everyone started to clap. It was so nice to see that. Afterwards I started to look at all the sunset photos I took and then noticed a flash next to the sun. Could it be? Did I just capture the infamous “green flash”?
Unfortunately the flash itself wasn’t quite green, but there was definitely something. I asked a few people and some agreed while others weren’t so sure. Then I realized that being I used an iPhone vs. a regular camera, it probably couldn’t process the green color as well. Throughout the rest of our trip I showed other locals my photo and I pretty much got the answer “yes that is the green flash”. That made me very happy!
Once the skies got dark, we sailed around to face the island. The staff then brought out the food for everyone. At this point it was getting late (just about 9pm) and was glad that we ate ahead of time because I would have been quite hungry. The fireworks began shortly after that and it was exciting to watch. We hadn’t been away in a while on the 4th of July and normally watch the NYC fireworks on tv so it was a real treat to see.
After the fireworks ended, it was time for us to make our way back towards the dock. It was just after 10 and we both remembered that Caffeine Carl was playing at the Smokin Tuna. It was on our way back so we stopped in for a few songs and of course see ourselves on the webcam. We were both getting pretty tired so we thought it would be a good idea to just walk back to the hotel and call it a night.
July 5 – Small World (Day 3)
We woke up to another beautiful sunny and hot day. We noticed that it didn’t feel as humid as it did the previous days. We usually make an effort to go to Croissants de France/Le Bistro for breakfast and it was the perfect day to go back. I ordered my normal go-to breakfast of smoked salmon eggs benedict why my husband had the regular style and as usual it was very good.
After breakfast we walked back to the hotel to relax by the pool for a bit and figure out what to do for the day. We had not stopped at the Galleon Tiki Bar and we wanted to see if the bartender Dave was working. When we walked up to the bar we noticed that Dave was working. It was great to see him and the ironic thing was he told us how he was leaving Key West in a few weeks to St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. I mention the irony since my husband and I try to go every October to St. John for anniversary. Plus it turns out that he did get a job working at one of the bars on St. John. We talked for a bit before making our way on to the next stop. We told him we would try and stop by again to see him, if not we would see him in October.
I felt like listening to some live music so we walked into the Hogs Breath. We found a couple of bar seats and ordered a couple of beers. As we were sitting there my husband notices a familiar face walking into the bar. It turned out to be his customer that we saw when we first arrived at the airport. He was walking in to buy a shirt so instead he sat down and called over his girlfriend. We wound up chatting for a while and they mentioned how neither of them had been to Key West before. Now of course my husband and I are fans of the Smokin Tuna so we talked them into going with us for a bite to eat and catch some live music.
I also looked at the music schedule at the Smokin Tuna to see who was playing the early evening shift. I was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t Nick Norman but a new artist by the name of Brent Byrd. So I did look up his bio to read a little bit about him and apparently he goes between Gainesville and Nashville. I thought well then he can’t be half bad and curious to hear him. Plus I wanted to see if he was in need of an artist to do some design work.
After finding our favorite seats at the end of the bar I saw Brent Byrd setting up. I wound up walking over to him to introduce myself. I told him that he was looking for any graphics work done to let me know. He seemed like he was so I was pretty excited. I walked back to join the others and we ordered much need food. As we ate, we really enjoyed Brent Byrd. His sound was really good.
We both wound up having fishing charters planned for the next day so we didn’t want to stay out too late. We said good by and talked about maybe getting together tomorrow.
We made the walk back down Duval and back to the Gardens.
July 6 – Fishing with Billy (Day 4)
A few months ago we planned to go out with Billy for a half day of fishing and the sand bar but unforeseen circumstances occurred and we had to cancel. However, this time it worked out perfectly. We had another beautiful day to be out on the water.
Since we didn’t have too much time before Billy was picking us up we wanted to have breakfast somewhere close by. Deuce’s Off the Hook right behind the Gardens offers breakfast so it made our breakfast choice easy that morning. We sat at the bar and I ordered their omelet of the day while my husband ordered the eggs benedict. Their breakfast was just as good as their dinner. I honestly can’t say anything negative about this place. If you get the opportunity, definitely check this place out.
When we were finished with breakfast we went back to the hotel to wait for Billy. I also had to stop in at the front desk to grab a few towels for our trip. Billy showed up and we headed to the marina. Once we got on the boat, Billy noticed that the wind had picked up. We didn’t go out too far, but far enough where we past Sunset Key.
We did wind up catching a bunch of fish but nothing worthy of keeping. It was still a great day out on the water.
After a few hours Billy took us to the sand bar. We just relaxed for a bit talked about things. I even jumped in the water for a little swim. We wound up meeting Billy several years ago when he used to work at the Gardens Hotel bartending. We had been going out with him fishing ever since. It was great to catch up.
We made it back to the marina and Billy dropped us back off at the hotel. We thanked him again and told him we would see him next year.
Being that we were out on the water for a good part of the day we wanted to freshen up before going back out.
When we walked to Blue Heaven last time we saw the new place that opened up a few months ago called The Blue Macaw. It looked quite inviting and we were really curious to check the place out. Plus an added bonus was that Nick Norman was playing. We walked down towards Bahama Village and to the Blue Macaw, which is not too far from the Gardens Hotel.
We sat at the bar while we listened to Nick Norman play. We looked around and the place definitely gave out the Caribbean vibe. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pozvtRshzUc&spfreload=10
We also read over the menu but weren’t quite hungry yet. After Nick’s set we walked back to the Smokin’ Tuna to catch Brent Byrd again. Plus my husband reached out to his customers and they were on their way as well.
We all met up at the Tuna and talked about our fishing trips. Neither one of us caught the big one but it was nice to exchange stories. As the sun fell lower in the sky we realized that we should take them to see the sunset at Mallory Square since its usually one of those things you should do if its your first visit to Key West.
Even though it is technically low season, when we got to Mallory Square it was still filled with many people. It wasn’t quite as crowded when we were there a few months ago but there was still a line to get a mojito and a green thing. Unfortunately Mr. Mojito wasn’t working but we did order a few of drinks and watched the sun fall behind Sunset Key.
We were all pretty hungry so we suggested the Rooftop Cafe, again another place where we have always had a very good dinner and plus its so close to Mallory Square.
We walked up the stairs and didn’t have to wait at all for a table. They sat us outside overlooking Front Street. I am not exactly sure what everyone ordered, but I had the pork belly as an appetizer and the grey snapper special. It was delicious. Everyone really enjoyed dinner and we were stuffed.
Since they were staying at the Hilton on the other side, they needed to catch a taxi back. We walked back up to Rick’s and Sloppy Joe’s where there always seems to be an abundance of taxis.
Sure enough, within in seconds one appeared and they were on their way.
We were going to stop at the Tuna for one, but the guy that stands out on the corner for the Tuna recognized us and told us that Caffeine Carl was playing at the Lazy Gecko. So of course we had to stop in for one to hear him play. We didn’t last too long with the day out on the water catching up with us. We made the wise decision and called it a night.
July 7 – Up a Little Too Late (Day 5)
We woke up again to another beautiful day. I couldn’t believe how lucky we were with the weather since this time of year in Florida can get those popup thunderstorms. Since we had a late dinner at the Rooftop Cafe the night before we weren’t that hungry. We started walking down Simonton while my husband asked me if there was any other breakfast places that we hadn’t tried yet. It took me a few minutes, but then I realized that I have heard good things about Harpoon Harry’s so we agreed to give it a try. I looked up the location on my phone and it wasn’t too far away on Caroline St. We walked pasted Pepe’s and then saw the retro looking sign. We walked in and it definitely had that old school diner feel. We sat down at a booth and ordered. At this point we worked up an appetite from the walk. My husband ordered the 222 and i tried the salmon, tomato and cream cheese omelet with a size of grits. The food was quite good and everything tasted fresh. We would come back to this place for sure the next time we’re in Key West.
Since we were near Peppers we made that our next stop. Neither of us wanted to do the tasting but we have been there so many times before that we know what our favorites are. We looked around and made our selections. And as usual we had them ship the box back home for us since we don’t have to worry about checking it at the airport. We decided to walk back to the hotel for a bit and relax by the pool. This is why I love the Gardens Hotel. It is conveniently located right off Duval, but if you need time to regroup, etc. you can. Once we were fully recharged we made our way back to the Sunset Pier to see if we could catch Al working. We found two seats along the water with some shade. Luckily Al was working and it was nice to catch up with him. He told us how he was expecting his second and congratulated him. It was nice to see him but it was getting hot since the wind seemed to stop. Meanwhile I was checking to see if Gabriel was playing at Captain Tony’s but he was off today. I wound up getting in touch with him and figured out that we would meet up at Hog’s Breath for a drink. We said our goodbyes to Al and told him we would try and stop by again the next day before we headed back home that Saturday.
The sun was beaming down on us and it was time to move someplace with shade – Hog’s Breath. We walked on over and again found two seats right near the musician who was playing. it was nice and cool and there as we ordered a couple of cold beers. I was having fun with my friends to check out the webcam and they would send screen captures back to us. Then I saw Gabriel walking up to the bar. We managed to keep a seat open so we were able to stay where we were. It was good to see him and talked to us about visiting his family the following week. It was fun, but before I realized it we were there for a while. We all agreed it was time motivate. We wished Gabriel well and told him we would catch him next year.We wound up back at the Gardens to freshen up and figure out where to go to eat. I did have a copy with me of all the Happy Hours in Key West that is posted on Trip Advisor by one forumite. It really did come in handy since we wanted to hit one. However I remembered last time I wanted to try the Thirsty Mermaid and never got there. We decided it would be a good call since it was some place new to try. After having the opportunity to go to Key West 14 times, we should try something new. The Thirsty Mermaid is located just off Duval on Fleming and really close to the Gardens. We actually walked along Simonton to get there. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but the inside is bright and clean. Only a few tables were taken so we had our choice to sit at the bar or a table. We decided to sit at the bar. I ordered the oysters rockefeller while my husband ordered the mac & cheese croquettes which I had to try.
They were delicious. For dinner we both decided to have the local snapper sandwiches which were also very tasty. I was glad we stopped in because the food was quite good.
Then it was time to catch Brent Byrd again before his set was over. We walked on over and sat in our usual seats at the end of the bar. He sounded great but unfortunately we got there just when he had only a few songs left to play. Soon it was time for Caffeine Carl to come on. Once Caffeine Carl came on we just wound up in our seats for quite some time. It was probably too long but we were having a great time. It was getting late but we figured that we could stay up since we could sleep in the next day. Eventually we did get up and leave but instead of going straight back to the Gardens, we heard a couple of guys playing at Willie T’s. The smart thing to have done would be to go back to the hotel. However I was feeling pretty good and said that we should stop in. As soon as I walked in I requested the guys to play my favorite band Pearl Jam and within minutes they started playing Elderly Woman. I was pretty happy to hear it and then they played two more songs. Meanwhile there were a couple of german guys having a good time and we started to talk to them. They were hilarious and kept us there a little longer then we intended. After another drink to many it was time to get to bed. I think we wound up getting back to the Gardens around 2am. We had never stayed up that late before and probably won’t ever again!
July 8 – Last Full Day (Day 6)
Since we were up too late last night we slept in quite late for us. I think we didn’t get up until 10:30 which was unfortunate because we usually have breakfast at Blue Heaven for our last day. Regretting our decision to stay out like we did, we slowly made our way out to grab something to eat. We didn’t feel like walking too far so we decided to go back to Deuce’s Off the Hook. It was perfect since we were really hungry at this point. We were seated at the bar and I chose something a little different for breakfast. It was their shrimp hash with two fried eggs served on top and a much needed big cup of coffee. It was unexpectedly really good. I would definitely order it again.
After breakfast we had to relax a bit by the pool. It was our last day in Key West but we were both feeling the affects of the previous evening. I think the next time we return we will remember how we felt that day and not make that last stop at Willie T’s.I had made dinner reservations as well at Cafe Sole for our last night. The dinner reservations were at 6 so we had some time to hit a place or two before. We hadn’t been to Irish Kevin’s so we wound up going there for one. The beer wasn’t going down too well but it is always entertaining to in there. Plus it is nice and cold when its a hot day in Key West which it was. We then decided not to walk to far for our next stop before dinner and that was Rick’s. The bartender there definitely makes it quite entertaining while sitting there and people watching.
Then I remembered that Nick Norman was playing at the Lazy Gecko and I wanted to stop in to see a few of his songs before we had an early dinner. We stopped in and it wasn’t too crowded so it was perfect. He sounded great as always and it was great to hear him sing “Cheap Cocaine”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGbXzEMPBbc
It was tempting to stay longer but we needed to get back and get ready for dinner. Cafe Sole is a little bit of a walk from the Gardens so we figured that we would get a taxi to take us there and then just walk back to Duval afterwards. It wound up being a great decision since right before we were ready to leave the skies opened up. It started to downpour. We had to wait a little longer for the taxi but the Gardens called the restaurant to let us know we were running late. Once the taxi drive came he told us how once it rains in Key West, its like snow up north, everything gets backed up and delayed. We weren’t too late so it didn’t matter too much. He dropped us off at the restaurant and it was just about quarter after 6. The rain had stopped and the hostess sat us down at a very nice table. She then mentioned to us that since it was before 7pm all drinks and entrées are half off. I remember seeing that on the happy hour list but totally forgot about it. Cafe Sole is known for their hogfish snapper so we didn’t hesitate at all as to what to order. For appetizers I ordered the escargot and my husband ordered the beef carpaccio. Everything came out in a timely manner and was delicious. For dessert we shared the key lime pie which I don’t think we ever had in Key West before. Then since we have been dining at Cafe Sole for years (and apparently we are in the system) the hostess brought us out two little glasses of dessert wine – not that we really needed it, but it was a very nice gesture.
We were both quite full and it was a perfect plan to walk back towards Duval. It was our last night in Key West and of course wanted to stop one last time to Smokin Tuna. By the time we got back to the Tuna, Brent Byrd was finishing his set. We wanted to see more of him play but we just got there too late. Not too long after we were there it was time for Caffeine Carl to come on. It was a nice surprise too that Claire Finley was playing as well that night. Back home we have an AppleTV and we stream the live feed a lot while at home and watch them play. It was kind of fitting for our last night in Key West. We both wanted to stay longer but knew we didn’t want to wake up for our travel day feeling like we did earlier in the morning. So we made the wise decision and called it a night. We waved good bye to Carl and made the last walk down Duval.
July 9 – Departure Day (Day 7)
Our flight was scheduled to leave at 9:00am so we had the Gardens Hotel call us a taxi to have them pick us up at 7:45am. We woke up at 7am to get ready to leave. It was still dark out but we knew it was the correct time. The sun rises a lot later in Key West then back home. We grabbed all of our things and took the walk of woe to the front of the hotel. I dropped off the keys and there was the taxi. The sun was starting to rise as we neared the airport. It was going to be another beautiful day in Key West but I knew it was time to get back home.
Once we got through security and got to the gate, we saw my husband’s customers waiting as well. They were on our same flight(s) home back to NJ. Our Silver Airways flight surprisingly left on time and made it to Ft. Lauderdale a little before 10am. Our connecting flight was at 10:41am so we only had minutes to wait before they began boarding.
Before we knew it we were back home by 3pm and it felt like we never left. As usual, we didn’t really have to much planned for this trip, but Key West continues to be a place where we have a lot of fun, meet terrific people and hear great music.
As I write this I am already trying to figure out when we can come back next year.
Thanks again for taking the time to read my blog….. until next time!