Relaxing in Key West – January 26 – February 1, 2020

My husband and I started adding a third trip annually to Key West last year and wanted to keep up with tradition, so after our visit last year in July, I booked another trip for the last week in January, making it our 23rd time visiting since back in March of 2006, but who’s counting? We didn’t do too much this trip because it was cooler then we are used to. The days were filled will brilliant blue sky, but just not warm enough to out on the water or hang out at our hotel pool. Instead we spent each day walking the streets of Key West, drinking/eating delicious food and seeing great people. 

Sunday, January 26th – Arrival Day

Thankfully the day before we only had rain instead of snow. I always get concerned traveling during this time of year due to the threat of snow, freezing rain, etc. Our flight was scheduled for a 9am departure so we had our car service pick us up at 5:45am just to be on the safe side. Once we arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport, it was very crowded – which I was surprised due to the fact it was a Sunday. Then again, Newark Airport is always busy. We had TSA pre so it made going through security painless and easy. Once through, we went to the United Club to wait for our flight. Eventually it was time to head to the gate to board our flight. Besides the gate change there were no flight delays which I was extremely happy about.

Our flight wound up taking off a bit behind schedule, but we made up the time in the air. The flight was just under 3 hours and soon I could see the Keys appear below. I always get so excited when I see Key West come in to view.

Once we landed we were the first ones of the plane. I noticed that it was a bit on the cold side for Key West, but the sun was shining and the skies were blue and the most important thing, we were back in Key West! We quickly walked to the taxi stand and grabbed a taxi. It is funny how the drive to the hotel makes me so happy and yet the drive back to the airport makes me so sad. After a couple of minutes, I could see the yellow walls of the Gardens Hotel. I thought to myself we are coming back “home”. That is what the Gardens feels to us. I think it is the fact that yes we have stayed there so many times, but we have also come to know the staff very well.

The taxi dropped us off and we walked in to check in. We saw David at the desk and he gave us a big hello. He told us our room wasn’t ready, but would be in about an hour or so. It wasn’t a big deal since we didn’t need to change, so we left our luggage in the check in area and made our way onto Duval. To us, it never gets old making that first right hand turn on to Duval. It makes it feel official that we are back in Key West.

With our faces smiling we discussed where to go for our first stop. Being that it was a Sunday, not many of the musicians we knew were playing. We decided to walk down to the Sunset Tiki Bar at the Galleon so we could get a nice view of the water. Once we walked in we saw a familiar face at the bar, Philip. He welcomed us back and we sat down and ordered a couple of drinks. I started to take in that we were back to one of my favorite places to visit! 

It was nearing the time that our room should be ready so we paid our tab and walked down Duval back towards the Gardens. We walked by the Smallest Bar in Key West/ the Paradise Restaurant and thought why not stop in there for a quick drink since we never had been there before. It was an interesting little place. 

We walked in and found the inside bar area. We ordered a couple of mojitos. I watched the bartender make our drinks and began to question our decision when I noticed after he muddled the mint, he added pure sugar and rum. Then he topped the drinks with sprite. I thought how I have never seen a mojito made like that before. Our drinks were served and we both agreed that they were very sweet – too sweet in fact. Quickly we finished our drinks and went back to the hotel. It was some place new new to try.

Before we made it back we saw that Miguel was bar tending at Rick’s. We thought he was off so we popped in to say hello. It was quite crowded so we didn’t stay long, but that’s when he told us about Koby Bryant. We couldn’t believe the news. We told him we would come by the next day to see him before heading back to the Gardens.

We walked in to the check in office and our room was ready. We quickly checked in and went to our room to freshen up. When we walked into the courtyard area we noticed that they were setting up for jazz. We saw the two bartenders Peggy and Adam setting up as well. We waved hello as we walked up to our room.  

Once we unpacked our things, we figured that we would just stay in our clothes since it was still a bit chilly out and it wasn’t going to get any warmer later on in the evening. We walked back downstairs to the bar and talked to Adam a bit. While we were talking to him, he mentioned the General Manager Jim had an accident but he was okay. Apparently he suffered a bad fall, so I was a bit disappointed that he wouldn’t be around for jazz, but thankfully he was okay.

People started to make there way to the seats and soon the jazz music began.

We were also hoping to see Kate the owner of the Gardens, but she was away in Argentina. We couldn’t stay for too long because I made dinner reservations at Lola’s Cafe. Lola’s is a brand new restaurant that took over the old Deuce’s Off the Hook location. We walked in and we were seated at the only open table. I thought to myself, I am glad I made reservations. 

The server which I believe is also one of the owner’s, came over and told us about the four appetizer options and the four main courses. As a side note, the restaurant only offers four apps and four main courses and they change nightly, except for the scallops because so many people got upset when they weren’t on the menu. Also note that there is no physical paper menu so if you want to know the prices you have to ask. We had a wonderful dinner but it was very pricey even without having any drinks included – and they only accept cash.

Once we heard the options, I decided to go with the scallops and the fresh sea bass. My husband ordered the gnocchi and the rib eye for dinner. After we ordered we sat back and watched the chef at work. If you had ever been to Deuce’s you may have remembered the bar that was there. Now, in place of the bar, is the open air kitchen where the chef prepares your meal. It was quite entertaining to watch him. 

We felt like we were watching a show from the Food Network. Also the decor inside is lit with many candles lining the walls which make it very romantic. Every table was full so it was a bit loud. Mostly all the tables were larger groups as well.

The runner then brought out a first course from the chef which was a nice little surprise. Instead of a basket of bread and butter (that I never eat because it fills me too much), they served us a nice plate of fresh mozzarella and tomato on a slice of a baguette. It was a nice start to the meal.

Then our appetizers were brought out. I took one bite of the scallops and they were super tender and delicious. I myself am not a scallop fan, but after having them I am one now. I took a taste of my husband’s gnocchi appetizer and they were full of flavor. I couldn’t wait to try our next course. The appetizers came out rather quickly, but we did have to wait a bit for our entrees. You could see all the food that the chef was preparing so we totally understood why there was a bit of a delay. 

Eventually our entrees made their way to our table. The sea bass was huge. I couldn’t believe it. And the rib eye my husband ordered was also a generous portion. We thoroughly enjoyed what we ordered. Everything was delicious. By the time we finished our meal, we were quite stuffed. I couldn’t even think about dessert. We asked for our check and thanked our server for a wonderful meal.

My husband wanted to walk back to the Gardens, but I wanted to walk down to the Smokin’ Tuna to see Caffeine Carl play. I knew he was playing that night and only the following night, due to the fact the Mile 0 Festival was starting in a couple of days. I didn’t realize the festival coincided with the dates we were in Key West, so I was a bit disappointed that the festival was taking over a few of our favorite places to see music, like the Smokin’ Tuna.

After convincing my husband, we walked down Duval to the Tuna. Actually it was a nice way to walk off our dinner. We walked in and it was already crowded, but within minutes two seats dead center at the bar opened up. It was like it was meant to be (we both thought). A gentlemen (which name escapes me) was finishing up his set. He was quite good. Once he finished I saw Caffeine Carl getting ready to take the stage. I walked up to him and asked him for a picture. It was nice to see him again. (And I was glad we went because it wound up being the only time we saw him.)

As everyone took the stage we noticed that George wasn’t playing, but there was a new lead singer. We weren’t sure of his name – he was just okay. We enjoyed a few songs. While we were there the bartender told us our next round was bought. And then we saw a familiar face from our favorite shore town in NJ, Lavallette… Vincent!! He came up to us and we thanked him for the drinks. It was fun to see him in Key West. Small world!! Later on I went in the back to thank him again and meet his wife but unfortunately they left. I wanted to stay longer but the long travel day was starting to set in, so we left and made it back to the Gardens and called it a night.

Monday, January 27th – First Full Day

We woke up to a beautiful day. We freshened up and headed to our usual first stop every trip, Cuban Coffee Queen. It was a bit brisk in the morning so I made sure I grabbed a jacket to wear until it warmed up later on the day. We walked in to Cuban Coffee Queen and there wasn’t much of a line since we were there early. The coffee was much needed after the day before. 

Once we had our coffees in hand we walked down to Duval St. to have breakfast. In the past our first breakfast would always be Blue Heaven and we felt like we have gone there a lot of times that we have become a bit tired of the place. We decided to go to La Te Da for breakfast. 

We walked in and were excited to see that the bar area was quiet. We sat down and ordered a couple of drinks. For breakfast I ordered the standard eggs over medium with bacon and my husband had their egg scramble that was served with their candied maple bacon.

After breakfast we walked back to the Gardens to relax for a little bit before heading out for the day.

It was then time to make our way back out on to Duval.

We walked down to Front Street before making a loop back towards Ricks. My husband wanted to stop in and see Miguel the bartender.

He is always fun to hang out with. We chatted for a while before making our way to our next stop, Captain Tony’s to see Gabriel Wright play. 

We walked in and he immediately recognized us. We sat down at a couple of open bar stools and ordered drinks while we listened to him play. It is funny how he remembers our requests so he always makes sure to play the songs when we see him. Once he went on break we were able to talk to him for a bit before he started playing again.

While we were listening to him play, we started talking to two gentlemen that were asking questions about Key West. It was their first time in Key West so we talked to them for a few giving them some tips as to where to go to eat, drink, etc. We told them that we were on our way to Hog’s Breath to see our friend Zack Seemiller. I have been doing his design work for several years now and he has become a great friend so I was looking forward to see him again.

We said goodbye to Gabriel and told him we would catch him when he was playing at Captain Tony’s again later on in the week (which unfortunately we totally forgot his Wednesday evening show and it turned out to be the only time we could see him). We walked down to Hog’s Breath and through their gift shop. Once we walked in, the place was packed. After a couple of minutes one seat did open up. Luckily there was enough room for my husband to stand next to me. Zack acknowledged us as we waved to him. Not before long his son Kai came by with their dog Bullet. The dog was so cute. We also got to meet to his mom who was staying with them while we were in town. 

While we were enjoying his show, the bartender Stephanie told us that our next round was bought and paid for. We look over and it was the two guys from Captain Tony’s. We thanked them and they wound up walking over and ordered us shots. I really didn’t want to do one (and really didn’t NEED to do one), but I caved and had one shot. We wound up staying for the rest of his show. It was a lot of fun.

Once Zack finished his show I had to get my usual photos with him before he packed up everything. It is always great to see him.

He told us that he was playing later with his son Kai that night at the Schooner Wharf. We hadn’t been there in years to see a show at night and thought it would be fun to stop by and see them after dinner. 

We walked back to the Garden’s to regroup for a little bit before going out to dinner. One of my husband’s favorite places to eat is Berlin’s. He likes the old dark retro feel it has. I enjoy it as well, so we wound up walking down to the A&B Lobster house. We walked in up the stairs and into Berlin’s. We sat at the bar and the bartender took our dinner order (it is the same menu from A&B Lobster house). We were the only ones in there but we didn’t mind. I started with the oysters rockefeller and my husband had the beef carpaccio. For dinner I had the yellowtail snapper and my husband had the filet mignon. As always, the food was delicious.

Feeling refueled, we walked down to the Schooner Wharf. Zack and Kai were already playing so we sat down at a table right in front. Zack’s mom was there so she came over and sat with us. It was a nice evening to hanging out and watch them play. 

Another long day was catching up with us so we said goodbye to everyone and made the walk back to the Gardens.

Tuesday, January 28th – Lots of walking, Rick’s, Willie T’s, Little Pearl

Originally I planned this day to go out on the boat with our good friend Billy, however it was just too cold. I contacted him and we agreed to save our trip for another time and that maybe we could meet up later on in the week.

We woke up to another beautiful but cool day. We freshened up and made our usual first stop to Cuban Coffee Queen. Our breakfast choice of the morning was Moon Dog Cafe. It isn’t a far walk from where the Gardens is located and is right next to the Hemingway House. We walked in and it started to warm up a bit so we sat outside. This was the first time sitting outside for us due to the fact most of the time we go it is too crowded. 

We were seated near the edge of the porch and you could watch people walk by. We ordered breakfast and it came out fairly quick. I like how they cook their eggs at this place. They were perfect as usual. When we were done with breakfast we walked back to the hotel and relaxed for a little bit. The day was becoming more and more beautiful.

We walked back down Duval and noticed that a portion of the street was blocked off. Miguel mentioned to us yesterday that they were going to set up a stage for the Mile O Festival, which we saw when we got to Sloppy Joe’s. The show wasn’t scheduled until 6pm that evening so it didn’t really affect anything that much.

We wound up walking around town for a bit and through Mallory Square. When we walked around to Sunset Pier we saw Al setting up the bar, so we stopped to say hello. We planned to stop by again when he was open, but unfortunately we never got back there.

Eventually we made our way to the Sunset Tiki Bar at the Galleon for a cold beverage. 

We agreed to only stay for one before making our next stop at Rick’s since Miguel was working again. We were able to get the two perch seats (which are great to see all the action walking by). They were still setting up the stage area so that added some entertainment. 

We ultimately stayed longer then we intended but it was fun. They were starting to do sound check on the stage so it was getting pretty loud. Then I realized that Zack was playing soon at Willie T’s so we walked down to catch his show. We walked in and we were able to find an empty table. We noticed the protesters were busy at work, standing outside one of the cosmetic shops.

It turned out that both Zack and his son Kai were playing. We stayed for a while but we to cut it short because we had to get ready for dinner at Little Pearl. We would try to catch Zack later at the Ramshead Southernmost where he was playing that evening.

We made it back to the Gardens and quickly freshened up. Then we walked down Simonton to Olivia Street to Little Pearl, which used to be the old Seven Fish location. 

I did request a couple of seats at the small bar when I initially made the reservations, but when we walked in, there were no open seats available. We were seated at a table in the corner pretty close to another table. Luckily they were really nice and not too loud. 

We looked over and noticed the one patron ordered the octopus. My husband immediately decided to order the same thing for an appetizer. I decided to go with the ceviche of the day which I believe was snapper. Then for our entrees I had the yellowfin tuna and my husband had the lobster, shrimp and crab pot pie.  Our server promptly brought out our appetizers and I had to try the octopus. I knew they were know for the dish so I was curious. It did not disappoint. It was tender and delicious. 

The rest of what we ordered was all very well done and fresh. We were too full again for dessert so we paid our bill and walked down to the Ramshead Southernmost, which is the former Blue McCaw Restaurant.

Besides for a couple new signs/branding, the overall atmosphere looks exactly the same with the tropical feel and color ambiance. We walked in and sat at the bar and listened to a few more songs that Zack was playing. We were planning on going to Rick’s after to check out Caffeine Carl who was playing there with Geortge. I was kind of puzzled though thinking how can he play there while the Mile 0 Festival is going on at the stage right outside of Rick’s on Duval? I figured I would message him just in case to see if indeed he was still playing. I am glad I did because he wasn’t feeling well and not playing at all that night. In hind sight it worked at well because we were both pretty tired from the day. Once Zack finished up his show we headed back to the Gardens, but not before another Kodak moment!

Wednesday, January 29th – Breakfast Club Too and few more familiar stops

It was another beautiful morning. It felt a little warmer then the previous days. 

We made our  usual  stop at Cuban Coffee Queen before walking down to Breakfast Club Too where we were meeting Zack and his family. It was a nice way to spend the morning.

After breakfast we told Zack we would catch him later at Willie T’s. We walked back to the Gardens again to relax for a little bit. 

The weather was so nice, but still a bit too cool to lay out by the pool (too much shade at that point of the day at the Gardens pool). So we wound up going back out and walked down to, yes the Sunset Tiki Bar at the Galleon. It was funny watching the floating tiki bar drift in the water. 

Then it was time to start walking again. We walked down to First Flight since we had not stopped by there yet during our trip. There was some entertainment so it made it a bit festive. We sat at the bar and I decided to give their key lime margarita another try. Last year, I ordered one and it the taste was not right. I tasted the margarita and it was good, but still not the same as they were back when it was Kelly’s.

I did manage to finish my margarita and once my husband finished his beer, we walked down towards the Green Parrot, but first had to get a picture at the Mile O Sign.

We realized we had not stopped in yet so we walked on it. It was quite busy but found a couple seats at the end of the bar. It seems that every time we go to the Green Parrot we wind up striking up a conversation with someone sitting next to us. This time it was a guy named Scott. He was traveling by himself and it was his first time to Key West. We talked him for a bit and told him we were going to Willie T’s and catching part of Zack’s show before dinner. 

We got to Willie T’s and were able to grab a table on the side near where Zack was playing. Not before long we saw Scott walk in. It actually wound up being a fun time talking to him and listening to Zack. 

Then several of Zack’s friends showed up that we have met from previous visits, so we had a chance to said hello to them. Not planning to, but we wound up staying until the end of Zack’s show. 

We were pretty hungry at this point so we went back to the Gardens to freshen up.

We were in the mood for a casual and reasonable place to eat that had sports, so we decided to go back to Jack Flat’s where we watched the NFL draft last year. I totally forgot about going to Mary Ellen’s instead until after the fact. I guess that will have to wait until next time. We walked on in and found a couple seats at the bar. It wasn’t very crowded. We split the coconut shrimp which hit the spot. I ordered a white claw but was pretty much done for the day and couldn’t drink it. My husband had their meatloaf and I was a bit redundant and a shrimp and rice entree which was okay. 

We watched part of the Nets basketball game before retiring back to the Gardens for the evening. 

Thursday, January 30th – Bagatelle’s. The Retro Room and Cafe Sole

It was another gorgeous morning and it was definitely warming up. It was the first morning I didn’t need to wear a light jacket to breakfast. I dropped off a couple bags of laundry at the front desk so I didn’t have too much laundry to do when we get back home. Luckily the laundry service hadn’t arrived yet so were able to get our laundry back later on that day. 

After grabbing our Cuban Coffee Queen coffees, we walked down Duval – this time towards Mallory Square. 

My husband and I usually save Bagatelle’s for our last full day breakfast, but both felt like going there. We walked in and they just opened up. (I didn’t realize they didn’t open up until 9am). They sat us outside on the porch where we could watch the action go by on Duval. I remembered during our last visit I really enjoyed the salmon toast so I ordered it again. My husband had the huervos rancheros which are also always very well done (even though they forgot to add the refried beans to the dish). 

We wound up going back to the Gardens for a bit before going back out and walk around. 

Eventually we walked down to check out the Retro Room (aka Glitchcraft). They wound up changing the name due to another bar in the state had the same name. It looked the same as last time with all the old video games, 80s figurines and so many other eclectic things hanging from every inch of the place. It is quite impressive how they managed to collect so many iconic things. My husband had a beer and I had a white claw. I remembered the last time we were there how they were setting up for the Stranger Things premiere. This time they were setting up for the Big Game.

My husband felt like a snack so we walked down to the Dirty Pig. I wasn’t really hungry at that point so I just had something to drink. My husband ordered the wings with the dry rub and he said they were outstanding. I was tempted to have one, but I knew one would turn into more and it would ruin my appetite late for our dinner at Cafe Sole.

Our next stop was again Willie T’s to see Zack.

We didn’t stay for the entire show this time because we wanted to get back to freshen up before dinner. Our reservations were at 6pm so we went back around 4pm. 

Once we freshened up we had some time to see Scott the other bartender that works at the Gardens. He is a pretty funny guy once you talk to him. We were having a good time chatting with him and some fellow guests before realizing we had to get to Cafe Sole. 

We quickly walked down Simonton to Southard St. I find it funny how years ago we had a hard time finding the restaurant. Now we could probably get there blindfolded. When we reached Cafe Sole it was just 6pm so we made it. 

It was getting cooler out so they sat us inside. This was the first time we ever sat in inside and it was nice and cozy. I had the lamb chops to start and my husband had the escargot. Not really a surprise, we both had the hogfish entree for dinner. That dish never ever disappoints and always tastes so good.  (I think it is the sauce…. you could put that sauce on anything and it would taste good).

We didn’t really feel like going anywhere else after dinner so went back to the Garden’s. Scott was still bar tending so we talked to him for a little before he closed up the bar. It was an early night for us but I didn’t mind – I was tired.

Friday, January 31st – Last Full Day

Why does the beginning part of vacation go so slow and then when it nears the end it goes by so quickly? Well the end of our trip was near and it was already our last full day. After we freshened up, we packed up our luggage with the clothes we knew we weren’t going to wear for the remainder of the trip. I always hate doing it because it makes me sad, but it is a huge time saver to do it the day before you leave. 

Of course we went back to Cuban Coffee Queen for coffee and wanted to go back to La Te Da for breakfast. The air was very warm and the sun was trying to come out. There was mention of rain that day but so far it was holding off. 

We walked to La Te Da and sat at the bar. We ordered breakfast and talked about how we couldn’t believe how quick the week went but that we were glad to know we were returning in the not so distant future which made the thought of leaving a bit easier. 

After another solid breakfast at La Te Da we went back to the Gardens to relax for a little while. Then it was that time to get back out to walk around. We wound up walking down Duval towards Mallory Square again. 

We noticed that it was definitely more humid and almost getting a little hot – it felt great. When we walked by Custom House Museum we noticed that there is now a cafe shop inside. I am not sure who new it is but thought that it was interesting. 

We wound up back to the Sunset Tiki Bar at the Galleon and Grubby was working. 

We talked to him for a bit before moving on to our next stop. And of course our next stop was Rick’s to see Zack play one last time. 

Our favorite porch seats were open so we sat down and listened to his show. 

While we were hanging out another couple that we met the previous day at Zack’s show, Brad and Jen came by. Ironically they are fans of Zack and also enjoy my blog so that is always nice to hear. 

It was another fun afternoon hanging out and talking to nice people. We talked about how it seems so crazy that the Lazy Gecko is now a sandals shop?! I don’t know how that is going to stay open – such a shame that is what has come of that location. 

Then it was time to head back to the Gardens and figure out where to go for dinner. We said goodbye to Zack and would meet up again the next morning for our farewell breakfast. 

When we got back to the Gardens we saw that Scott was bar tending again so we grabbed a couple of seats and hung out for a little while before freshening up for dinner. 

We discussed some possible options for dinner and decided on Onlywood at the new location on Caroline St. I looked up the number on my phone and quickly made a reservation and was given the option to sit inside or outside so I decided on outside. 

When we walked over, I couldn’t believe how big the place was. The outside dining area was lit up with small outdoor white lights which I love. We were seated at a nice table and ordered the octopus and tuna tartare for apps to share. For dinner I had the branzino and my husband had the filet mignon carpaccio that was served over arugula, which I thought was an odd choice. Everything was okay, but in hind sight we probably just should have had a pizza, which they are known for. We saw them being served and they looked amazing. Next time.

We debated about going somewhere else after dinner but we were both getting tired and due to the fact he following day was the dreaded “travel day”, we agreed to go back to the Gardens. When we got back Scott was finishing up closing up the bar, but we had a few minutes to ordered one last drink. While we were sitting there we wound up meeting Kate’s (the owner of the Garden’s Hotel) brother. He was a friendly guy.

I wound up going up to the room and my husband stayed up a little longer and talked to Scott. 

Saturday, February 1st – Going Home 😦

It wasn’t the greatest night of sleep knowing that we were heading home the next day and plus I get the anxiety of making sure we get up on time, pack everything, etc.

When it was time to get up I noticed that it was raining. My husband mentioned that there was a loud storm that happened just after I went up to the room. I had no idea. We never usually experience and rain the day we leave. It is generally a beautiful day. I thought it will make it easier to leave in a way if was raining (not knowing it would affect our flight).

We freshened up and made our last walk down Duval to Cuban Coffee Queen. While we were sitting there we saw Zack and his son and also his other friend Tim that we met a few times walk in. They figured that we would be there (like we are every morning) and meet us there before walking down to Sarabeth’s for breakfast.

We all walked over to Sarabeth’s and were seated at a nice table outside. It was a nice way to end our stay in Key West just talking to them and having a good breakfast. Then it was dreaded time to say goodbye and told them we would see them again soon.

We walked back to the Gardens and packed up the rest of our things and waited for the taxi to pick us up to take us to the airport. 

Not before long it was that time and we rolled our luggage out the front of the hotel and into the taxi we went. 

Once we were dropped off at the airport we could not get over how long the line was to get through security. We had never seen it that long. The line went all the way to where you would check-in your luggage. I assumed it was because all the people leaving from the Mile 0 festival.

Luckily we heard someone mention if you have TSA Pre the line started up further. And it did. WAY further up. It must have saved us at least 45 minutes easy. We went through security, but then my luggage was stopped. I couldn’t figure out how or why? So the TSA agent brought my luggage to be checked, which is always so embarassing. She went through it and found a box of coasters. My husband asked that is what set off the red flag? She said it was, because it appeared to be a solid mass on the x-ray machine and they had to check it out. It made sense but who would think that a box like that would do that? (Incidentally the same thing happened to me a couple of years ago going through the St. Thomas airport – I had a box of ceramic coasters. Maybe no more coasters for me.)

After that ordeal we walked down to the gate and to the restaurant / bar area. Thankfully two seats were open and we grabbed them right away. We know in the past how crowded the place can get being that it is so small. Once we ordered a couple drinks I get the “oh no” text on my phone from United saying how our 1:15pm flight was delayed an hour. Great I thought, but at least we have seats. Then we started to hear how other flights were delayed. 

The rain that was coming through Key West was actually causing planes to get diverted to Miami. I guess the storm was a bigger deal then I initially thought. Then our flight was diverted to Miami as well causing another delay. Eventually our plane did land and we started to board around 3:30pm.

The boarding process was pretty quick since it is a small plane. And not before long we were on our way back home.

2 and 1/2 (bumpy) hours later we landed back in Newark Airport. We gathered our things and met our car service. We finally made it home around 7:45pm. It was a long day, but we made it home safely.

We wound up not doing too many different things this trip to Key West, but that’s what happens sometimes. You either do a lot or a little and we wound up somewhere in between which is fine by me – there is always next time! 

Key West will continue to be one of my happy places that I will never get tired of visiting – filled with great people and friends that makes us feel like we see our “Key West family” each and every time we return. 

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

Still My Other ‘Happy’ Place – St. John 10.26.19 – 11.2.19

Several months ago my husband and I traveled to Key West for our 3rd time in one year. I couldn’t believe that we were now going back to my other happy place – St. John. I love both places, and both are so different in certain ways – but St. John always holds a special place in my heart.

I had to think about it for a bit to figure it out, but realized that this was going to be our 15th time to St. John since 2003 when my husband and I first visited the island.

My husband and I at Caneel Bay Resort on St. John back in 2003

This would be two years since Hurricane Irma and I was curious to see how the island was doing since our last visit a year ago. The villa that I had been eyeing for several years was finally available the same time I was planning our trip so I was very excited to experience a new villa in a different part of the island that we had never stayed in. In addition, my husband and I were traveling with friends of ours that had never been to the U.S. Virgin Islands, so we were very eager to show them such a beautiful island like St. John.

Saturday, October 26th – Arrival Day

I made sure the alarms were set and ready to go for our car service pick up at 5:45am. Since we were sharing the car with our friends, it made the drive to the airport seem to go by pretty quick. Once we arrived at the United Airlines terminal in Newark Airport, we could not get over how crowded it was. People were just standing around and not moving… We were finally able to figure out which line was for TSA pre, which my husband and I are, since registering last year for it. (I highly recommend it, if you travel at least a couple times a year.) After we went through security we had to wait for our friends to get through the regular lines. Eventually they made let through as well and then we walked down to the gate to wait for our flight. I couldn’t get over that it was such a beautiful morning. Lately when we had been flying, there was usually some sort of storm system that was affecting our flights. We checked the status and saw that our flight was on time, but then they made the announcement that our gate changed. It wasn’t a huge deal since it was a few gates away. Eventually it was time to board our flight and soon we were on our way. The flight was about 3 and 1/2 hours directly to St. Thomas.

It felt like an eternity to finally see the islands appear in the water, but once they did, I couldn’t believe how excited I was to seem the again. 

Once we landed and walked outside the plane, I could feel the hot sun beating down and it felt great. We walked in to the airport and did the mandatory welcome Cruzan Rum shots and welcomed our friends to the Virgin Islands. 

We all had carry on so we didn’t have to wait for any luggage. We exited the airport to get a taxi to Red Hook to catch the ferry to St. John. There were so many people waiting, but we were directed into a taxi that was nearly at maximum capacity, but the taxi driver insisted there was room for the 4 of us. So we wound up squeezing in the remaining spaces (barely). We had to first drop off a couple of people at the newly renovated Margaritaville Resort. It looked very well landscaped and reminded me a little of the Westin on St. John. I started talking to the couple seated behind me, and they said that they were staying at the Ritz. It was nearing 2:00pm so I figured we would most likely get the 3:00pm ferry since the next stop was the Ritz, however to my surprise the next stop was Red Hook. I couldn’t believe that we were going to make the 2:00pm ferry (which we never had before). I made sure I texted the villa manager who was meeting us at the ferry dock to let her know we would be arriving soon.

We were one of the last ones to get on the ferry but were able to find a couple of seats up top in the sun. The weather was just perfect and the anticipation of getting back to St. John was growing. After about 20 minutes or so we slowly pulled into Cruz Bay. 

We had to wait a while to get our luggage since there were so many people on the ferry. Once we gathered all our belongings we met up with the villa manager. She walked us over to her vehicle where she drove us to Bougainvillea Leasing to get our jeep rental. After all the paperwork was filled out, we were given the keys and we all hopped into the jeep. My husband has been driving every time we come to St. John so he had no problems following the villa manager up the steep roads to the Virgin Grand Estates to our home for the week, Arc Du Soleil. 

I saw the photos of the villa online and was apprehensive about the open air concept. As soon as we walked in to the villa I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was and the views of St. Thomas. It was incredible. 

The villa manager showed us around, including the two fully air conditioned bedrooms. My husband and I choose the master suite, while our friends had the other bedroom. Both were similar in size, but our bathroom was larger. There was a 3rd bedroom on the lower lever as well. I sent a few packages ahead and they were waiting for us at the villa, along with provisions from Starfish Market (which I highly recommend). 

Once the villa manager left we all unpacked our things and changed into our swim gear. It was so much fun to get in to the pool and take in the views. 

After watching the sunset we all freshened up and headed to town for dinner. 

We decided to go to High Tide and were able to get a table even though they were pretty busy. 

Of course I had to order a rum punch which tasted quite good. I don’t remember exactly what everyone had, but everyone was satisfied with their dinner. I opted for the seared tuna which was very good.

We were all feeling the travel day so went back to the villa and turned in for the night. 

Sunday, October 27th – Trunk Bay, Tap Room, Greengos, Cruz Bay Landing

I didn’t have the blinds closed all the way so the sun woke me up early that morning. I didn’t mind since it was our first full day on the island. I was also surprised that I didn’t wake up with many bites. I normally get bitten up a lot while on St. John, however so far I was pretty good. I did notice they had the electronic bug swatters, so that made me nervous, but all and all we never had a problem like we did one time years ago while staying at Island Stones in Catherinsberg area off of John Head Road. 

I freshened up and made a large pot of coffee for everyone. Everyone eventually woke up and we discussed where we would go for the first beach of the trip. While I was cooking breakfast I thought that Trunk Bay would be perfect since it is the most iconic beach of St. John. After breakfast we packed up all our things and made our way to town towards the North Shore beaches. 

Along the way we stopped at the Caneel Bay overlook to show our friends the view. We told them how we used to stay there several times when we first came to St. John before staying at a villa. They couldn’t believe the damage to the resort and it was still difficult to see how nothing has been done to it – just left in ruin.

The next stop was the Trunk Bay overlook. Everyone took a few moments to take a bunch of pictures. I don’t know how many times I have taken pictures of the overlook, but it never gets old. Compared to last year, the green definitely seemed more abundant. 

As we were standing at the overlook, I mentioned to our friends about the St. John “smell”. They both agreed that it did have a skunky smell in the air. 

We hopped back in the jeep and my husband drove us to Trunk Bay. There were only a couple vehicles parked so we were able to find a parking spot quite easily. We grabbed all our gear and headed to the beach after paying the admission fee. We walked onto the beach and found a perfect spot to relax for a while. I noticed that we were practically the only ones on the beach. I couldn’t believe how empty it was. It was nice to show our friends such a beautiful place without being crowded. 

We spent hours swimming and talking. It was a beautiful to be spent on Trunk Bay.

After a few hours we wanted to go back to town to catch part of the Giants game. We wound up pulling into Mongoose Junction and going in to the Tap Room for a cold drink. 

Our next stop that we wanted to show our friends was Greengos. We walked in and I was thinking – wow everyone else has the same idea, watch football there since they have a bunch of large screen tvs that line the walls. Once we were able to find a couple of seats we ordered a couple drinks and looked over the menu. I remembered last year their mango glazed shrimp appetizer was very good – so we ordered a couple of them. And exactly like last year they were delicious.

We were able to watch more of the Giants game, so once they tied we made our move to go back to the villa for the rest of the afternoon to enjoy the pool and views. 

Unfortunately we had issues with the satellite dish and the tv so we were unable to watch the end of the game, which in hind sight it didn’t matter since the Giants wound up losing (again). 

We waited to watch the sunset again and hoped for a good one. It started off promising, but then the sun eventually disappeared in to the clouds. 

After everyone was freshened up, my husband drove the jeep back to Cruz Bay. We parked at Slim Man’s Parking Lot and walked over to Cruz Bay Landing for dinner. The bar was available so we sat down and ordered something to drink. I decided to go with the rum punch again. I was going to order the fish tacos, which I had there before, but they had a grouper special so I decided to go with that. I am glad I did because it was delicious.

Everyone else enjoyed what they ordered. There was even some live music which made it a festive evening.

We were all stuffed and thought it would be a good idea to walk on over to Drink for an after dinner beverage. We grabbed a couple of drinks but it was crowded so we didn’t stay long.

We walked back to pick up our jeep and my husband drove us back to the villa. I didn’t want to stay up late since we were going over to Jost Van Dyke in the morning so I headed to bed for a good night sleep.

Monday, October 27th – Day on Jost Van Dyke

Originally I had planned on taking the ferry over to Jost Van Dyke on Sunday, but later found out that since the customs office isn’t open on St. John, once you leave Jost, they take you over to Red Hook in St. Thomas and then you have to take the regular ferry back to St. John. I didn’t want to do that, so I wound up reaching out to Second Chance Charters, Michelle immediately got back to me and luckily we were able to book the day sail with her and her husband John whom we went out with last year and had a great time.

We woke up to another beautiful morning. I made a pot of coffee so everyone could have a cup before driving in to town. We grabbed our towels and passports and made our way back to Cruz Bay. Along the way we saw a beautiful rainbow. 

We looked for a parking space near the customs building, but with all the construction going on, there was no chance for us to find a spot since so many are no longer available.

We wound up parking at Slim Man’s for $30 for the day which wasn’t too bad. Then we walked over to have breakfast at Cruz Bay Landing. I wound up going with their standard 2 egg breakfast and my husband had the huervos rancheros. Our one friend ordered the tofu egg scramble and she said they were delicious and they actually looked like real eggs and our other friend had an egg sandwich. 

With our stomachs fueled up for the long day we walked over to the National Park Dock where we could see the Second Chance catamaran waiting for us. I gave Michelle a wave and they steered the cat close to the dock so we could all get on. 

We said hello to John as well and introduced them to our friends. They asked us if wanted to do any snorkeling but all felt like just going over to Jost for the day – so that’s what we did.

We set sail and it was gorgeous. The weather was perfect. It is always so nice to see all the surrounding islands out on the water on the way to Jost.

We made it to Great Harbour for customs, which is now up to $75 a person which I find quite expensive. John and Michelle used their dinghy so we could get to the dock. Once we got the okay we walked down towards Foxy’s.

There were only a few people walking around but did notice that there were more people by Foxy’s. We walked over and it was open. The bartender told us though that Foxy wasn’t there which I was a bit bummed because I wanted our friends to meet him. 

We all ordered a drink and hung out for a bit. I checked out the gift shop, but didn’t see anything that caught my eye. 

Once we were all ready we took the dinghy back to the catamaran. 

From there we sailed over to White Bay, which is always such a sight to see. The color of the water always gets me. It is just so beautiful. John and Michelle told us to have a great time and be back by 2:30pm. We thanked them and jumped off the cat and swam to the beach. I grabbed a swim noodle to make it easier. I usually don’t have a problem getting to the beach, it is the return swim I have problems, may be because of the painkillers?

Once we got to the beach, I found an empty table while my husband walked over to order us a round of painkillers. I did notice an unfamiliar face behind the bar. Unfortunately Leon Miller wasn’t working that day so we couldn’t get to see him. 

We still had a great time relaxing and taking turns going in to the water and enjoying the sun and beach. More people arrived as the day went on, but it wasn’t too crowded – most likely because it was a Monday instead of a Saturday when we normally would go.

It wasn’t 2:30pm yet, but I noticed dark clouds were coming so I mentioned to everyone that I was going to swim back to the boat because I didn’t want to get caught in the rain. My husband and our friends wanted to check out the One Love Bar before getting back to the cat, so I told them I would wait for them on the boat. I wound up talking to John and Michelle while I waited for everyone to return.

Eventually they did, but my husband and our one friend looked quite happy. Maybe too happy. Thankfully they were able to swim back and get back onto the cat.

We sailed back to Cruz Bay and settled up the payment before getting off the catamaran. We thanked John and Michelle and told them we would see them hopefully again.

We walked back to pick up our jeep and drove down to Margarita Phil’s to get our usual to-go order. When we drove by, we noticed Margarita Phil’s wasn’t open so we decided to go back to Greengos for our to-go order. We parked the jeep and our one friend wasn’t feeling too well. He was mentioning that he think he had a bad shot of alcohol at One Love. His wife wound up staying with him by the jeep while we went to grab dinner. Luckily we didn’t have to wait too long and we got our food order.

We drove back to the villa and our friend still wasn’t doing well. Once we got out of the jeep he had to go lay down for a while. Then my husband started not feeling well either. He also did a shot at the bar. I am not sure if it was a coincidence or not, but I didn’t have any and felt fine. It was still odd that they both wound up getting a similar reaction.

My husband was eventually feeling better to eat and the food was really good from Greengos. I wound up having the cheese enchiladas. After dinner we cleaned up and called it a night.

Tuesday, October 28th – Villa Gravity Day and Lobster Night at Morgan’s Mango

We woke up to another picture perfect day. I did the usual routine of making a pot of coffee. Everyone was feeling a bit sluggish from the day before so I mentioned to my husband about having a villa gravity and hang out the villa. He agreed and no one else seemed to mind – especially with the pool and the views the villa had it was hard to pull away from it each day.

We spent a good portion of the day relaxing in the pool and talking about the day before at Jost. No one could figure out if it was perhaps bad alcohol or what from that one bar but it was a strange. 

Everyone wound up rallying and we all freshened up and made our way down Centerline Road back to town. We parked the jeep at the usual spot and walked to Woody’s.

We ordered a couple drinks and sat outside for a few. Then we made our way to Longboard for another cold beverage. 

I was getting hungry and their food looked very good, but I had made reservations at Morgan’s Mango for lobster night so wanted to be sure not to ruin my appetite.

We left Longboard and walked back down towards Mongoose Junction and walked up the stairs into Morgan’s Mango. The reservation was for 5:30 and it was already crowded. Thankfully I made reservations. We were seated at a nice table near the balcony’s edge. 

We all of course ordered the lobster special. My husband actually ordered a pound and a half. I just stuck to the one pound which was more then enough for me, plus I started off an order of their snapper ceviche. The lobster was so fresh and delicious. Everything was tasty as usual.

We walked back to our jeep and my husband drove us once again to the villa. It wasn’t too late so we all stayed up for a bit and enjoyed the night views.

We were also joking about the other night when I tried putting on flip flops that I thought were on a rug. It wound up being a running joke throughout our vacation. There was this rug with three pairs of flip flops on it. At night, the yellow colored flip flops were hard to see and the purple ones would stand out. So at first it actually looked like a real pair of flip flops on a rug. 

It was a fun evening hanging out. We all eventually got some sleep.

Wednesday, October 30th – Francis Bay, Beautiful Sunset at the Villa

Again it was another beautiful morning. I kept thinking to myself – can it be this nice for this long? 

I wasn’t really hungry from all the food the night before so I was content with a couple cups of coffee while everyone else got ready for the day.

The next beach we decided to take our friends was Francis. We thought it would be a nice beach to relax and snorkel. Once again we packed up the jeep and were on our way to Francis Bay. Along the way we stopped at the Maho Bay overlook so our friends could see the view. 

Ironically we were talking about how we hadn’t seen any donkeys as of yet and sure enough as we got closer to Francis we saw a pair.

We were able to find a parking spot at Francis even though it was already filled with a bunch of jeeps. We grabbed our things and found a nice spot to hang out for the morning. The water was beautiful and calm. 

It was the perfect opportunity to snorkel. We all took turns snorkeling. There were a lot of fish that I saw especially to the left when you face Francis near the rocks. I was a bit disappointed I didn’t get to see any turtles this time, but it was gorgeous just to see all the fish. 

After a couple of hourso, we were all getting hungry so it was time to pack up our things and drive back to town. We parked our jeep once again at Slim Man’s and walked over to High Tide. 

We sat at the bar and ordered up a round of drinks and much needed food. I decided to have the caesar salad with grilled mahi. It definitely hit the spot. 

While we were sitting there we ran into a friend from our last trip – Brenda! It was great to see her again. She mentioned to us that herself along with fellow forumites (from were all going to meet up at Maho on Thursday so we told her we would meet up with her then. 

On the way back to the villa, we decided to grab some things to grill later on that night and stay in for the evening. We stopped at the Starfish Market and bought some fresh red snapper and a few other items. 

We spent the rest of the afternoon swimming in the pool and watching the sun set. It was the perfect night to stay at the villa, because we all witnessed a beautiful sunset. 

After the sunset, my husband grilled up the red snapper, while our friends prepared some sides. 

After a nice dinner at the villa we all retired to bed for the evening.

Thursday, October 31st – Gibney Beach on Halloween

We woke up to another wonderful morning. The sun was shining once again. I was feeling a bit hungry so I decided to cook up some bacon and an egg frittata for everyone to enjoy. It was a nice start to the day. 

During breakfast we thought again where to go. I was thinking maybe Cinnamon for the day. Once we were all done with breakfast and ready to go, we took the jeep back towards the North Shore beaches. While my husband was driving, we were thinking that if Gibney wasn’t crowded maybe we should give that beach a try since we had not been there since before Hurricane Irma. 

As we neared the entrance to Gibney, we realized there was no one parked there. I couldn’t believe, especially since we were a bit later in the morning. 

My husband parked the jeep and we made our way down the road to the beach. We walked along the beach and noticed that now you can easily see the Gibney Beach Cottages since the hurricane took down a lot of the trees and plants. We found a perfect spot on the beach and all immediately went in the water. It was a bit wavy but a lot of fun. The sand was so soft and the water was so clear.

We spent most of the time just hanging out in the water. Our one friend tried snorkeling for a little bit but she said there wasn’t really much to see. It was still a lot of fun enjoying the water. 

Everyone had their fill of being out in the sun for a while so we decided to get back to the villa and relax by the pool for a bit. It was always nice to be able to go back and enjoy the pool. Last year we rented a villa without a pool and missed not having one immensely. It did have a hot tub, but it wasn’t the same thing.

Once again we watched a beautiful sunset while everyone was getting ready to go out to dinner. 

Our one friend knew the owners of the Lime Inn who used to have a restaurant in Long Valley, NJ called Chesapeake Bay, so she wanted to check out the place.

After we were all freshened up we went back to town and parked in the usual place. It really was the only option this time to park. Even the parking in front of Bougainvillea Leasing (where we rented the jeep from). 

Since it was Halloween we did notice a lot of people dressed up walking around which is always fun to see. 

We walked along the road in to the Lime Inn. We grabbed a few seats at the bar and ordered something to drink. While we were looking over the menu, our friend was talking to the bartender about the owners. It turned out they were not around but she was able to leave a message for them. 

The menu looked good, but nothing really jumped out at us. So we decided to make a move and try somewhere else for dinner. We wound up going to La Tapa. We didn’t have reservations but they were able to accommodate us by seating us at a table along the road (which I always find entertaining). 

We ordered a bottle of red wine to share and a bunch of items off the tapas menu. Everything was delicious as I remembered from previous trips. I was glad that we wound up going there to dinner since everyone had such a nice dining experience.

After a nice dinner we headed back to the villa for the night.

Friday, November 1st – Last Full Day

How did the time go by so fast and it was our last day? I guess as they say ‘All good things must come to an end.’

We woke up to which I thought would be another beautiful day, however while I was enjoying a cup of coffee, we noticed rain above St. Thomas. Eventually the rain did make it to our villa. Surprisingly even though it is open air, there is enough coverage that we were able to stay dry. 

I knew that we were supposed to go to Maho that day, but with the weather being a bit iffy – no one was really up for going so we decided to wait out the rain at the villa.

While waiting out the weather, we wound up taking the opportunity to pack up our things since we were leaving the next day. It did eventually clear up a bit so we could enjoy the pool once again. 

We had snorkel gear that I wanted to ship back home like we did last year through Connections. My husband suggested that we could go back to town, get that taken care of and have lunch. So we hopped back in the jeep and went back to town. 

My husband dropped me off and I grabbed our snorkel gear. I saved the box that I initially shipped the snorkel gear in, so it made the process of mailing it back pretty easy. It took a few minutes to get all the paperwork filled out, but once that was done we walked down to Mongoose Junction.

I wanted to check out the 18/64 Restaurant that is now located in the old Ocean Grill location. We wound up sitting at the bar and enjoyed a nice lunch. I decided to try the shrimp cocktail and they were fresh and delicious. I remembered that the restaurant is the sister restaurant to Extra Virgin so I didn’t think their food would be disappointing.

After lunch my husband drove us back to the villa where we could enjoy our last afternoon at Arc Du Soleil. 

We were able to witness another gorgeous sunset. Earlier that day I called the Terrace Restaurant for reservations. Unfortunately the only thing they had available was a table inside at the time we wanted, but figured since we already have seen such spectacular sunsets at the villa, we wouldn’t be missing too much.

In addition during our stay, we had a couple of neighborhood cats stop by. Being that my husband loves helping animals (especially cats in particular) we stopped at Starfish Market to get food for them. At first we thought it was just one black cat, but then realized there were two that would come by throughout the day.

We witnessed once again another spectacular sunset at the villa.

We all freshened up and got ready for dinner for our 6:30 reservations. By the time we got to town, we still had some time before our reservation so we stopped by Drink for a pre dinner cocktail. The place was hopping again, but found a couple of seats at a table. I noticed that they got rid of the couches that they used to have, which I liked – but the tables and chairs did seem more practical.

Soon it was time to walk over to the Terrace Restaurant which is right next door. 

It was busy probably since it was a Friday night. We were seated inside – not the best table but it was okay. The server came over and told us about the specials for the evening. 

For dinner I went with the mahi mahi, our one friend went with the wahoo and the boys ordered the filet mignon. As a started I ordered the oysters rockefeller. The food was delicious as it was last year when we dined there.

When we were done with our dinner we wound up walking along Cruz Bay Beach before grabbing our jeep. It was a nice evening, but knowing it was our last it did make me feel a bit down.

We made it back to the villa and enjoyed the night views before getting some sleep for our long travel day the next day.

Saturday, November 2nd – Going Back Home 😦

My husband woke up first as he normally does on travel day since he can’t sleep in. We didn’t have to leave the villa until 9am so I tried to sleep in a little extra, but once he was up I couldn’t fall back to sleep. 

We took the time to clean out the refrigerator and make sure everything was the way it was when we first arrived. The villa had some guidelines for check out – such as leave all towels on the floor in the laundry room and leave the bedding on the beds, so we made sure we followed them as well.

Of course it was a gorgeous morning, which it always seems to be the day we leave. Once everything was cleaned and packed up we said our good-byes to Arc Du Soleil and made our way back to town.

My husband dropped us off near Cruz Bay Landing so we grabbed a table while he dropped off the rental. We noticed that everyone else had the same idea because of all the luggage lined up along the side of the restaurant.

We ordered breakfast while talking about what a great time we had. I decided to go with the smoked salmon eggs benedict which were delicious.

After breakfast we walked down to the “Creek” to catch the ferry that goes to the Crown Marina on St. Thomas. We wanted to take that ferry instead of the ferry to Red Hook to avoid the long taxi ride on St. Thomas.

We had to ask someone where the “Creek” was, but turned out it is the same location where we used to pick up the ferry to Jost Van Dyke before the National Park Dock. We walked through the gated area and were told to leave our luggage near the ferry.

The ferry was scheduled to leave at 11:00am. The person operating the ferry was very nice and told us that the ride would be about 30-35 minutes. Then it was time to board the ferry. We found a couple of seats in the shade. 

Soon we pulled away from Cruz Bay and St. John was left in the background. It is always so sad to see St. John “disappear”, but hopefully (fingers crossed) we’ll be back once again.

The views from the ferry were beautiful – after about 30 minutes we arrived at the Crown Bay Marina. We had the option to hang out at the Tickles Dockside Bar, but we figured it would be best to get to the airport.

Once again we were stuffed like sardines in a large taxi van, but thankfully the ride to the airport was only about 5-10 minutes vs. the 30+ minutes from Red Hook.

We arrived at the airport and decided to hang out at the outside bar/restaurant before going in through the terminal to the gate, since it was less crowded. A flight just arrived so the outside area was jam packed with people arriving which I always makes me so jealous – even though that was us one week ago. While we were waiting we got an alert that our 2:20pm flight was delayed until 3:10 due to it being delayed in Newark airport – great I though. At least we were not stuck in the terminal at that point so we were able to hang out a little longer.

Then came the time to go through customs, so we were grabbed all of our belongings and made it to customs. I couldn’t believe it was empty, so it didn’t take much time to get through. Plus the fact you don’t have to fill out a form anymore makes it a lot easier.

Once through customs we went through the TSA Pre line while our friends went through the longer regular line. While in line, we noticed a couple people behind us had pet carriers. It turned out they were doing the “Pets with Wings” – where you transport a shelter animal to the states for adoption. We thought about doing it but never followed through and regretted it after seeing them.

Then the couple had to take the two puppies out of the carriers to go through security. They were soooo cute. It turned out they were also going to be on our flight. They said it was very easy to do and that they would meet someone in Newark Airport to pick up the puppies. My husband and I agreed that we must do it next time.

We made it through security and as usual the terminal was packed. Unfortunately the duty free shop was no longer so we couldn’t get anything to bring home. However the restaurant/bar was back open so we found a couple seats in there. While sitting there, we saw another young lady with a pet carrier. She had a large black cat she was taking all the way to the west coast. She was also doing the Pets with Wings. We noticed even more people with pet carriers. It was great to see so many people participating in a great cause.

Eventually our plane arrived from Newark so we were able to board our flight. There were issues with one of the lavatories so we were delayed even more before take off. Finally we took off and the flight was uneventful. 

Once we landed we met up with the car service to take us home. 

We left the villa at 9am that morning and didn’t get home until 9pm. It was a long travel day, but I would do it again to go back to my “other happy place”.

I find that St. John is one of the most beautiful places with amazing beaches that seem to get more and more beautiful each and every time we visit the island. It is so great to see how much the island has rebounded after such a devastating hurricane just over 2 years ago. It was also wonderful to see our friends fall in love with the island as well. I have such great appreciation to have been able to visit this island so many times. Hopefully there will be more….

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog…. until next time! 

July 4th Week in Key West June 30th – July 6th, 2019

Hard to believe that this was going to be our 22nd time down to Key West and 3rd time for the year. You think we would get tired of going to the same place over and over, but that is not the case. I think I get even more excited each time we go.

Sunday, June 30th – Going Back “Home”

I had the alarm set for 4:45am and it was already a beautiful summer morning. Our driver was right on schedule and we made it to the airport just before 7:00am. I was a bit concerned that we were going to have issues with our flight due to the fact the previous day a United flight had to make an emergency landing into Newark Airport causing massive delays. I even got a message from United saying that if we wanted to change our flight we could. Luckily when we got to the airport it seemed that everything was back on schedule. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 8:55 am so we had time to have some coffee at the United Club Lounge.

Soon it was time for us to walk to the gate. Last time we had a bit of an ordeal with changing planes and gates. This time, however we lucked out. It wasn’t before long we were boarding the plane. The flight itself was a little bumpy along the way but not too bad. After about 2 hours I soon was able to see the beautiful hues of blues and greens of the water. 

The excitement of returning to Key West once again came back. We actually landed about 20 minutes earlier then scheduled so it was just about noon when we landed.

We exited the aircraft and made a quick dash to the taxi pickup. There was no line so we were able to grab the first taxi available.

The taxi driver was quite an interesting guy but we got a kick out of him. I always love seeing the water along the way to the hotel. Not before long I could see the yellow walls surrounding the Gardens Hotel. He dropped us off and we checked in. Jim, the Gardens Hotel GM was there, so it was great to see him again. Our room was ready so we unpacked all our things. Before making our way out for the afternoon we sat down on the outside porch for a moment and I thought to myself how nice it is to be back “home”.

Since it was a Sunday there wasn’t any live music I wanted to see in particular so my husband suggested we stop in at Jack Flat’s for a drink and catch the ending of the Yankees and Boston game that was being played in London. It was pretty hot out so it wasn’t a bad idea.

We made our usual first right onto Duval. It is always such a fun feeling getting back on the street and walking down. It was a fairly quick walk and we made our way into Jack Flat’s. It was kind of crowded but we were able to find a couple of seats at the bar. We ordered a couple of beers and watched part of the game. During the game, there was a large group of people came in. We just ignored them but they were getting pretty loud. They became so loud and obnoxious that local patrons were yelling at them to be quiet or leave. Eventually they were thrown out of the place. Apparently after they walked in, another party of two walked in. The large group ordered first, but the order for the party of two got their order first. I used to work in the service industry and it is quite common that the smaller order will come out first. I guess the large group didn’t feel that way and hence that is why the commotion happened. 

The Yankess wound up having a big lead so we decided to move on to another place. My husband suggested the Blue Macaw since it is back towards the Gardens and it is always a nice atmosphere there. We sat at the bar where we listened to some guy play steel drum music which I love because it reminds me of the Caribbean.

While we were sitting there we started to talk to the bartender, Travis. He mentioned that he also bar tends at the Hot Tin Roof which I always wanted to go to. We talked about any special drinks that he makes and he said that he makes a lot of different ones at the Hot Tin Roof and that we should come by. I wound up making a reservation for the following evening. So we told him we would see him there the next night.

We walked back to the Gardens so we could freshened up for Jazz at the Gardens which was the last one of the season so we wanted to be sure to check it out. When we walked back to the Gardens we saw a familiar face, Adam the bartender.

We sat down with him and talked a bit before getting ready for Jazz. Once we were all freshened up we grabbed a couple of seats near the bar and listened to the Jazz for a bit. Kate, the owner of the Gardens was also there. It was nice to see her before she left for Paris the following day. She always thanks us for our loyalty for always staying there and also how she loves the logo I did for the hotel. I told her we always look at other places but could never find anything comparable.

We were getting pretty hungry so we wound up leaving before the Jazz ended. Since it was getting later I suggested the Moondog Cafe since it is nearby. I also read that their dinners are very good there. We only tried breakfast the previous trip so I figured why not. 

We walked in and sat the counter/bar area. It wasn’t too crowded so our food came out quickly. We shared an ordered of truffled french fries which hit the spot. For dinner my husband ordered a burger and had their grilled mahi mahi fish tacos. Everything was tasty and enjoyed our dinners.

It wasn’t too late but being it was a travel day, we were both pretty tired so we called it an early night.

Monday, July 1st – First Full Day – Azur, Peppers, Hogsbreath, Willie T’s, Hot Tin Roof

We woke up to a beautiful day. It was already quite warm but still so pretty. We freshened up and walked down to Cuban Coffee Queen for our usual first stop. 

I couldn’t believe there was no one waiting but then again it was summer which is much quieter then in April.

Once we had our coffee in hand we walked down to Azur for breakfast. We usually go to Blue Heaven for our first morning breakfast but I wanted to try something different. We went to Azur several trips ago and I remembered it was quite good.

When we got to Azur we realized we were a few minutes early. The restaurant doesn’t open until 9am. Since we had some time we walked further down Grinnell St. looking for this new place called the Dirty Pig. We wanted to try it this time and wasn’t exactly sure where it was. So we kept walking down the street and there it was on the corner. You could smell the meat being smoked. It was bigger then I thought it would be too. We both looked at each and thought we will definitely be back.

It was just about 9am so we walked back to Azur. We were the first ones there and decided to sit inside since it was getting steamy outside. I decided to go with the smoked salmon eggs benedict and my husband ordered the gnocchi fritatta. My eggs benedict were a little on the cool side but still very good and my husband had no issues with his breakfast.

After breakfast we strolled around for a bit before walking into Peppers. 

We have been there so many times and are very familiar with their hot sauces so I wasn’t going to try any. They did have a few new items so my husband volunteered to taste a few. Meanwhile I was making the selection of hot sauces that I wanted to be shipped back home. We decided on a decent amount of hot sauces and a few marinades. I filled out the shipping info and we were all set. Ironically when we came back home, the box from Peppers made it home the same day we did.

We made our way to the Galleon’s Sunset Tiki Bar. It was getting hot so it was a perfect spot to grab a couple of seats and order a cold beverage. Also the bartender Grubby was working and he is always fun to talk to and full of energy. 

We kicked back a bit before deciding on our next stop.

I wanted to be sure to see my good friend Zack Seemiller (who I also do all his design/ad work for) at Hogsbreath but I remembered our friend Gabriel Wright was playing at Captain Tony’s as well. So we wound up going to Captain Tony’s first. We stopped in and immediately he recognized us.

As usual he wound up playing a set of songs we normally request which is always welcoming. We were able to talk to him for a bit once he went on break. Before I realized it, we were there much longer then intended but we were having a good time.

With not that much time to spare we said our good byes and made it to Hogsbreath. It was fairly crowded but luckily a couple of seats opened up. Zack saw us and gave us a shout out. While we were listening to Zack, we saw a familiar face – Wayne. We met him a couple of years ago at one of Zack’s show and turned out he is from Long Island which isn’t too far from NJ. We agreed that we would meet up then next day at Willie T’s. Just as Zack’s show was ending, his son Kai showed up. Once Zack was done, I got my obligatory photo before leaving. We had dinner reservations at Hot Tin Roof, so I wanted to be sure we had enough time to get ready.

Kai wound up walking back with us to the Garden’s so it was nice to catch up with him. We said our good byes and said that we would catch him tomorrow at his dad’s show, if not we would see him and his dad at Breakfast Club Too that Wednesday for breakfast. 

When we walked into the Gardens we noticed that Adam was bartending again, so we grabbed a couple of seats and sat down for a drink. We took turns getting ready for dinner. We also saw a familiar face at the Garden’s, David who works the front desk from time to time and Alicia who helps out around the hotel. It was fun to hang out and talk to everyone before dinner.

We realized we were cutting it close to dinner so we said good bye and walked at a fast pace down Duval towards the Ocean Key Resort. We made it to the front doors at 6:28 and our reservation was for 6:30 so we literally just made it. 

We walked up the stairs and asked to be seated at the bar, which was empty so it wasn’t any problem.

We didn’t see the bartender Travis that we met the other day at the Blue Macaw working. We asked the bartender about Travis and turned out he was out sick – all well. It was still a beautiful setting and I finally was able to see what the restaurant looked like. As we were deciding on what to order, I noticed more people coming in asking to be seated inside since it was so hot out. Usually people will sit outside to watch the sunset but not that night. 

For our first course I ordered the grouper ceviche and my husband ordered the tuna poke. I tried my husband’s poke and I actually like it better. The ceviche was good but not as flavorful as other places I have tried it, like Off the Hook and Turtle Kraal. We then ordered a half dozen of their east coast oysters on the half shell which were delicious. I then choose to go with the black grouper for dinner and my husband had their NY strip sirloin. My grouper was very good, however my husband’s steak wasn’t exactly. While it looked amazing, he said it lacked flavor – like it was freezer burned. He joked and said that’s what he gets for ordering a steak in Key West. Perhaps next time we will give Prime a try since we heard from so many locals that is where you go for good steak.

I was pretty full after dinner since I managed to finish everything on my plate. It felt good to walk back towards the hotel. 

On the way, I noticed Big Ed was bartending at the Tree Bar at Rick’s. We walked on over and said hello while ordering a couple of drinks. He mentioned that Carl and George were playing at Rick’s the following night so we thought perfect, we’ll be back the next night. We were both pretty tired at that point so we said good bye to Ed and walked back to the Gardens and got some much needed rest. 

Tuesday, July 2nd – La Te Dah, Pool Time, WIllie T’s, The Dirty Pig

We woke up to another gorgeous morning. It was already warm again but there was a nice breeze. We did our usual first stop to Cuban Coffee Queen. 

Our choice for breakfast this time was La Te Da. I enjoy the atmosphere there and you are right along the street where you can people watch – which in Key West, can be very entertaining.

We walked in and grabbed two seats at the bar. I didn’t have anything really planned that day so we both ordered a couple of screwdrivers to start.

I ordered the omelet of the day which hit the spot. My husband had the 3 egg breakfast with their candied bacon.

After breakfast we went back to the Gardens to relax by the pool for a while. It was the perfect decision after all the walking the previous day.

A couple hours passed and it was time to head back to town. After we freshened up we walked down to Blue Heaven for a drink. I was surprised it was pretty busy even though it was just after lunch. They had some entertainment while we were there so it was nice. 

We only stayed for one and walked on over to the Blue Macaw. We grabbed a couple of seats at the bar right next to the fan blowing that helped immensely. We chatted with the bartender Justin for a few. We actually remembered him from a previous trip, which isn’t much of a surprise since we go some many times of a year. I wanted to head on over to see Zack at Willie T’s but my husband wanted to stop at the Green Parrot first.

It is one of those places you have to stop in at least once during your stay. It seems like every time we go to the Green Parrot, there are always nice people we wind up meeting. 

Then it was time to go to Willie T’s. We walked in and I saw our friend Howard and his wife there. We sat down at a table next to them. We talked to them for a bit during Zack’s show. It was a lot of fun. They were leaving the next day so once Zack was done we got a few pictures and wished them a safe trip back home.

We mentioned to Zack that we were going to give the Dirty Pig a try, since one of his good friends is part owner of the place. He mentioned that he would stop by. We walked to the Dirty Pig and once again you could smell the smoke. It smelled so good that it made me quite hungry. Of course we choose to sit at the bar. The lovely bartender handed us menus and explained to us how the ordering worked. For example if you order one of the main entrees,  you get a choice of two sides, etc. 

My husband ordered the mac and cheese balls and I was craving something green so I ordered a caesar salad. The bartender asked if I wanted it small or large. I opted for the large and when she brought it out – it was HUGE.  So I decided to try the mango habanero wings as my main course and my husband had the brisket sandwich. The wings had a great smoke flavor to them. They weren’t crispy but they were so tender which was fine for me. My husband enjoyed the brisket sandwich but would have preferred the meat in larger slices then chopped.

While we were finishing up a familiar face stopped in, it was Zack. We told him that we enjoyed the meal. He told us that George who was supposed to play with Carl later that night at Rick’s was having issues with his eyes and wouldn’t be able to play.

So after we decided on a time to meet up for breakfast the following morning we walked around the bight a little bit before going back to the Gardens to turn in for the night.

Wednesday, July 3rd – Breakfast Club Too, Café Solé

Another beautiful morning and made our first stop once again at Cuban Coffee Queen.

We walked along Simonton Street this time towards Caroline Street up to Breakfast Club Too. 

We sat at the bar while we waited for Zack and Kai.

My husband ordered a bloody mary but I didn’t feel like anything to drink at that point but it sure looked good.

Once Zack and Kai showed up we grabbed a table. It was nice to hang out and catch up with them since our last visit. Everyone enjoyed their breakfast. I don’t think we have ever been disappointed there. It has actually become one of my favorite places for breakfast.

We thanked Zack for breakfast and told him we would catch him later at Willie T’s. We walked back to the Gardens to relax for a bit before heading back out for the day. 

After we freshened up, we made our way back on to Duval.

We decided our first stop would be First Flight. I hadn’t had a moscow mule in a while so ordered one. It was the perfect drink on a hot day. 

After our drinks we made walked down towards El Pepe De Mason for a couple of mojitos. 

However after we ordered a couple we realized that they raised their prices from $12 each to $14. I thought that was crazy for the size drinks you get.

So obviously we were one and done after that. 

Then we walked back to the Galleon Tiki Bar to hang out there for a bit. It was another hot day so the shade was perfect and plus you get the breeze off the water.

Eventually we made it to Willie T’s to catch the second set of Zack’s show. It wasn’t too packed so we got a table in the shade right next to the fan – it was perfect! We stayed until the end so I could get a couple more pictures. 

We told him we were going to Cafe Sole later for dinner. He invited us to stop by his house after dinner since it isn’t too far from the restaurant so he can show us the work he has been doing to it. We told him we would meet him later.

We walked back to the Gardens to get ready for dinner. Once we got to Cafe Sole we were asked whether to be seated outside or in so I suggested that we sit outside. The table they sat us at was really hot since the ceiling fan above us was broken. My husband asked our server if we could sit inside and they offered two seats right at this tiny bar inside. It was perfect. 

 My husband ordered the beef carpaccio and I had their tuna tartare. It was amazing. Then of course we each had the hogfish for dinner. 

The food was delicious. Cafe Sole never disappoints when we dine there and enjoy its location off the beaten path.

After dinner we got in touch with Zack and walked over to his house. He showed us around and suggested to walk to Don’s place – which is a local hangout that we had never gone to. While we were walking we noticed the skies became this amazing color of orange. It was beautiful. 

We walked to Don’s and sat in the outside area and talked for a bit.

 It was a nice way to end the evening. We thanked Zack and Kai for their hospitality and walked back to the hotel and went to sleep.

Thursday, July 4th – Independence Day at the Casa Marina

I always heard about how you can get tickets to be a part of the VIP picnic that is held every year at the Casa Marina to watch the fireworks. I saw the tickets when they went on sale and thought they were a bit pricey, but then after reading how it is a 3 hour open bar, gourmet buffett and live local music – I thought why not? Plus for the past couple of years we have been going out on one of the boats for the fireworks that it would be a nice change.

When we first woke up we could here rain, but by the time we freshened up, the skies had cleared. As we were walking to Cuban Coffee Queen I spotted a rainbow. It was pretty impressive. 

Once we had our usual coffees in our hands, we agreed to go back to Moondog Cafe for breakfast. We walked in and sat at the bar. Unlike last time, the inside was busier then the outside because it was another hot day. 

We ordered breakfast and I decided to try the huervos rancheros. I was a bit disappointed because they served it like a deconstructed style so I had to put everything together myself – it still tasted good but prefer them already assembled. 

Due to the fact we had the Casa Marina event later in the day, we thought it would be best to take it easy.

Plus we found out that in honor of July 4th, the Gardens was having a hot dog bbq from 2-4pm that afternoon.

As a result, we spent the rest of the day relaxing by the pool. Around 2 o’clock the hot dogs were ready. 

We even met a nice couple from Albany, John and Carolyn.

Another bartender by the name of Scott was working and we remembered him as well from our previous visits.  We were talking to him and the other couple about how they should check out the Smokin’ Tuna the next night because Caffeine Carl and Zack were playing. Then it was time to get ready for the fireworks. The hotel (Nancy) called a taxi for us since it was a bit of a walk to the Casa Marina. Just before we were leaving we saw her (who has been working at the Garden for years). She is such a sweetheart. 

We hopped into the taxi and soon we were at the Casa Marina. They had tables set up before you walk in to check-in. Once we walked through the lobby and outside on to the grounds, it was so magnificent – such a beautiful place. 

We walked towards the beach where they had tables set up. I was surprised when we were seated at our own private table. It was perfect, the setting, the location, etc. 

My husband grabbed a couple drinks for us while I was just sitting there taking in the view. Not before long they had the buffett stations ready for dining. 

The food was quite good for a buffett. They had beef tenderloin, grilled local organic chicken, paella with all kinds of shellfish, salads, and other sides. 

While we were eating, my husband realized he left his phone in the taxi. Thank goodness while we were going to the hotel, my husband remembered that the driver kept repeating the number 42 on his radio. So after a few phone calls, we were able to locate the taxi driver and he said that he did have his phone. We arranged that right after the fireworks, he would pick us up. 

The sun began to set making it an even more beautiful setting.

Really the only negative was that they wound up not having live local music. Ironically in the past Zack and his son would play at the Casa, but for some reason they didn’t have it this year. I honestly think it would have been so much better instead of the top 40 hits radio music they were playing.

As it neared 9 o’clock you could see the White Street Pier fill up with people and all the boats that went out for the sunset and fireworks lined up in the distance. It was strange to be in the opposite spot that we were usually at, to watch the fireworks.

Soon the fireworks began and they did not disappoint. You felt like you were so close to them. It was amazing to watch. The fireworks lasted probably around 20 minutes or so. Even the grand finale was spectacular.

Once the fireworks ended, we walked out of the Casa Marina and it was a mad house with everyone doing the same thing looking for a taxi. Luckily we spotted the taxi driver right away and he was able to get through the crowds pretty easily. On our way back he handed my husband his phone and said that another passenger after us found it and gave it too him – and without a pass code on it, I thought how nice that person was and how lucky my husband was to get his phone back. The taxi driver dropped us off and we turned in for the night.

Friday, July 5th – Last Full Day (Already)

We wound up sleeping in a little later since most likely we would be up late going to the Smokin’ Tuna later that night. So when we arrived at Cuban Queen there was a line.

Thankfully it moved pretty quick and soon we had our coffees back in hand. 

We both decided to go to Bagatelles for breakfast. It wasn’t too hot so we sat outside on the porch. I ordered the smoked salmon served on focaccia bread and my husband had the huervos rancheros (which were served the way I prefer). It was a great start to our day.

Once we were done with breakfast we walked around for a bit before stopping at Glichcraft, a small craft beer place on Simonton. 

Last time the bartender at the Gardens told us about the place and thought it was pretty cool and wound up doing some artwork for them. This time we were meeting up with one of the owners to talk about some t-shirts. We walked in and sat down. One of the owners, Adam was sitting there waiting for us. We talked for a bit about some potential design ideas. I told him I would get going on them once we got back home. 

While we were sitting there, they were setting up their screens for locals to come in and watch the Netflix Series Stranger Things Season 3. I didn’t want to stay because I wanted to wait to watch it once we were home. We thanked Adam for the beer and told him I would be in touch.

Our next stop was sunset pier.

We had not been there yet and wanted to see Al the bartender. When we got there we didn’t see Al. We asked one of the bartenders and it turned out he was off for the July 4th holiday weekend. We were both a bit disappointed but had one beer before going to Rick’s to see Zack.

We walked to Rick’s and were happy to see that the seats outside facing the bar were available. There were a bunch of people already inside so it was perfect to be away from the crowds. 

As we were sitting there, I noticed that Zack was wearing a shirt I designed for him for his up and coming birthday.

I laughed with my husband and told him he has to get a picture of it when he goes on break.

We hung out for a bit and Kai also showed up. It was fun but that feeling of leaving the next day kept coming over me, but I knew how lucky we have been to be able to come to Key West so many times – year after year. After Zack’s show, we told him we would see him later at the Tuna.

While we were walking back to the Gardens we noticed that since it was a Friday, they were closing off the portions of Duval again, like they did when we were there in April, which I think is a great idea.

When we got back to the Gardens we saw Scott bartending again. So obviously we had to sit down and have a couple more drinks. Then the other couple that we met the other day, John and Carolyn showed up. My husband and I wound up getting ready in shifts – first me and then my husband. When we were ready to go we told them again about going to the Tuna that night.

While we were walking trying to figure out where to go for dinner, I looked at my fitbit and saw that it was 7:30. How did that happen?

I knew if we went somewhere to eat we would never get a seat at the Tuna. So I suggested we go straight to the Tuna and that’s what we did. 

When we walked in it was crowded because the band the Nace Brothers were playing.

Luckily a couple left just as we were about to order drinks so we were able to get two seats at the bar. We saw Erin back behind the bar and it was great to see her again since we missed her the last trip. We ordered a couple appetizers to start but never ordered anything else – which in hind sight I probably should have.

Soon Zack showed up and we talked to him before the show. We even were able to get a few pictures with Zack and Carl. 

Then it was time for the show to begin. Not before long Zack’s son Kai showed up to watch with us. While we were hanging out and enjoying the music, we noticed the couple from the Gardens, Scott the Bartender, and David the front office guy – all showed up. 

It was hilarious to see them all there. We were having such a great time hanging out and they even thought the band sounded great. I was joking saying – why is the last day always the best one?

They wound up leaving before us but we didn’t make the mistake before like last time staying until the end of the show. We were leaving the next day and the last thing I wanted, was to feel terrible for the flight home. We were supposed to have breakfast with Zack and Kai before we left so we told them we would seem them in the morning.

Saturday, July 6th – Leaving “Home”

We woke up to another sunny day. After freshening up and packing up all our things we walked to Cuban Coffee Queen for one last cup of coffee. Kai wound up meeting us there because Zack was running later from his morning workout.

We then walked over to Sarabeth’s which is our usual go to place before we leave so you don’t have to get too warm from walking some place further away. We got a seat inside and ordered. Then we got a message from Zack saying he couldn’t make and wasn’t feeling well. I was really bummed out, but obviously hoped he felt better. We still had a nice breakfast with Kai.

After breakfast we said our usual good byes which I always hate. 

We arranged for a taxi to pick us up at 11:30am and soon we were on our way to the airport. Our flight left on time and even arrived back in Newark, NJ a few minutes early. There were severe thunderstorms forecasted to hit the area (which seems to be a regular occurrence lately), but luckily they didn’t arrive until we were pretty much back home. Before I knew it we were back home doing laundry and unpacking. 

Every trip to Key West seems to go by quicker and quicker. Some day I would like to stay longer, but at least we are fortunate enough to keep returning as many times as we do.

As I always say Key West continues to bring great memories filled with amazing people and special friends that makes it feel like “home”. 

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog… until next time!!!

Conch Republic Independence Celebration Days in Key West – April 20 – 27, 2019

Great Battle of the Conch Republic, Mallory Square April 26th, 2019

This was going to mark our 21st time coming to Key West. Yes 21 times since 2006. My husband and I started going just once a year which became twice a year to now three times a year. I guess you can see we really love this place. This time we were going down to Key West during the 37th Anniversary of the Conch Republic Independence Day’s Celebration. Having no idea that it was going on, I was beyond excited to have had our trip scheduled during the same time.

Saturday April 20th – Arrival Day

Over night there were bad storms that blew through our area, but luckily our flight was scheduled to leave on time (or so we thought). The car service picked us up on time and we were on our way to Newark Airport. Along the way the rains started to pick up again and it was a bit nerve wrecking but thankfully we got there on time. 

We got through security pretty quickly due to TSA pre. We had time before we had to board, so we went to the United Club Lounge for some coffee. I saw that our Gate was at 115 so I wanted to make sure we gave ourselves enough time to get to the Gate since the Lounge was near 90 in another section. While we were waiting I got an alert that our Gate changed to 87. Perfect! Once we finished our coffee we walked down to Gate 87 which is actually on a lower level and is very small. I looked at the status and it said our flight was having mechanical issues. Instead of leaving at 8:55am it showed 9:15am. I wasn’t too concerned at that point but 9:15am then turned into 9:40am. Eventually an announcement was made that they changed our plane to Gate 105 and we would have to go there. We gathered our things and walked to the other Gate. Once we got there, we saw other people on our flight make their way. The United Agent at the counter then made another announcement that we were at the right Gate but had to wait for the flight crew.

After about an additional 25 minutes or so the flight crew finally showed up and everyone applauded once they arrived at the Gate. By the time we boarded the plane and took off, we were close to 2 hours behind. I was a bit disappointed but knowing we were still going to get to Key West brought a smile to my face. Since the storms were moving out of the tri-state area, the take off was quite bumpy. The captain didn’t even turn off the seat belt sign until we were about an hour and a half into the flight. 

On our way to Key West, the flight attendant mentioned how there was a later flight at 10am that wound up leaving before us and was going to beat us into the airport which resulted us having to circle Key West several minutes in order to allow the other flight to land and disembark. Eventually we landed but then had to wait on the plane before the other United flight was boarded with passengers and make its way to the runway. I was trying not to be impatient, but when I saw that it was after 2 o’clock and we were supposed to land by 12:30 I was getting very frustrated. I also wanted to see my good friend Zack Seemiller, whom I still do design work for, play at Rick’s but I knew he was only there until 4. 

Finally they gave us the go ahead to exit the plane. We got all of our luggage and made it down the tarmac and into the airport. We quickly raced to the taxi line and didn’t have too wait long to find one. We got into the cab and soon we were on our way to the Gardens Hotel. I always love staying there and it is so beautiful every time I see it.

Once we were dropped off, we checked in pretty fast. The staff knows us by now so it is always a quick process. They welcomed us back and told us our room was ready. We walked up to our favorite Garden View room and unpacked all our things. By the time we were ready to go into town it was after 3 o’clock. I knew Zack wouldn’t be there much longer at Rick’s by the time we got there. I also saw on Facebook that he was also playing the Salty Angler later with his son Kai, I thought perfect. I figured that we would decompress at the Gardens Hotel Bar before going to the Angler.

We saw that Adam was bartending and we have enjoyed his company in the past and sat down. I thought to myself we have finally made it back “home”! While we were chatting with Adam he told us about how on Tuesday night the Gardens Hotel hosts the CIA Military Muster of the Conch Republic as part of the Conch Republic Independence Day’s Celebration. As a side note: Tuesday, April 23, 2019 marked the 37th anniversary of the Conch Republic Secession. It definitely sounded like something different for us to check out. 

After our drinks we walked down towards the Salty Angler. This was the first time we wound up walking down Angela Street and making a left instead of a right on to Duval.

It was a beautiful evening with low humidity. It was so nice to just get back and walk along Duval St. We made it to the Salty Angler where we saw Zack and Kai playing. They welcomed us back and it was great to see them. 

We were pretty hungry at that point so we ordered some food. My husband ordered their infamous thunder chicken thighs with a side of mac and cheese and I ordered a couple of grilled mahi mahi tacos. We didn’t wait too long for our food which was nice. Everything was tasty and hit the spot. 

Then Zack’s’ good friend Tim showed up (who we have met before) and his girlfriend. It was nice to him and meet his girlfriend. We wound up staying until they were down with their show. Once they were done we talked for a bit before walking down towards the Smokin Tuna to see Carl play. We told them we would see them around town and walked back to the Gardens to quickly get a long sleeve shirt since it was getting cooler.

Then we walked back onto Duval and made our favorite right hand turn. As we were walking by Willie T’s we saw John LaMere playing. We wanted to stop by to see him. We walked in and it was really crowded so it was standing room only. We didn’t stay that long because we couldn’t find a seat, but long enough to say hello.

Then we headed down Duval towards the Tuna. This was the first time to see how on the weekends they close off sections of Duval where you can walk down the street. It was pretty cool to see some restaurants had outside dining available along the road. It is only certain sections of Duval, but I think it is a great idea. 

As we got closer to the Tuna we noticed how packed the streets were. I forgot how crowded Duval gets on Saturday nights. We walked in and found a couple seats at the bar. I was hoping to see Carl’s wife Erin bartending, but she was home not feeling well.

Soon it was 9pm and Caffeine Carl, Joey Marchiano and George Chapman began to play. We probably stayed out a little bit longer then we initially intended, but it was fun to be back there and listen to the live music. 

Eventually it was time to make our way back to the Gardens and had reservations at Latitudes for Easter brunch the following morning.

Sunday, April 21st – Easter

I always love while we are away and when you wake up for the first time in the morning and think you are home at first, but then realize you are in one of the most beautiful places. I woke up and it was a beautiful day. The skies were blue and the humidity was still low. We freshened up and headed to Cuban Coffee Queen to grab some coffee and see our friend Joe. 

We walked in and sure enough he was there sitting in his usual spot. We talked to him for a little bit before walking down towards the Margaritaville Resort to catch the ferry to Sunset Key. It was nice to see he was doing well and told him we would catch up with either later or the following day.

Our reservation was for 9:45am and it was getting closer to that time. We walked down to where the ferry was and wound having a few minutes to kill. I forget how close everything is and it doesn’t take a lot of time to get from one place to the other in Key West. So we had time to walk around and saw this door. I remember hearing from locals about this place. 

Then we made it down to the dock to wait for the ferry. A few minutes passed by and then I could see the ferry on its way from Sunset Key to the Margaritaville resort. Once it was docked we watched all the guests get off the ferry. 

Then my husband and I noticed that there was a familiar looking tall guy walking off the ferry with his wife. We both did a double take and realized it was the coach for the NY Giants Pat Shurmur. Being that we are both NY Giants Fans we couldn’t believe it. We joked saying he is getting some r&r before the draft that was happening later in the week. By the time we realized it was really him he was long gone. Unfortunately no photo opportunity but it was still funny to see.

Then it was time for us to load up onto the ferry. Whenever I get on the ferry it reminds me when we used to take the Caneel Bay Resort ferry over from St. Thomas to St. John. 

It was a nice quick ride and walked up to Latitudes. The hostess seated us at a table right near the water. It was a perfect spot to have our Easter brunch. We ordered a couple of cocktails and their regular style breakfast of 2 eggs, bacon, toast and potatoes. It wasn’t anything special, but the views made it feel that way. We both enjoyed our meals before walking back to catch the ferry back to the Margaritaville Resort. 

Once we got back I remembered that our friend Dave was working over at the Galleon Sunset Tiki Bar that day. We walked down Front St. towards the Galleon and along the pier.

Once we got to the Sunset Tiki Bar we grabbed a couple seats. Dave recognized us right away. We sat and chatted for a bit. We also saw the owner of the Tiki Bar Phil as well who is always so friendly. We didn’t want to stay too long because we were also going to see friends that were in town the same time as us. We thanked Dave and told him we would catch him again at some point.

The day before we found out that good friends of ours were also in town and were actually on that other United Flight that beat us in. It turned out our friend Will Hoppey was playing with the Hippie Band for earth day and booked a trip down with his wife Lynda. They were the ones that initially talked us into going down to Key West back in 2006, when they used to come down for the winter season.

We walked into Rick’s and saw Will up on the stage. We also saw our friend Miguel bartending as well. Initially we were going to sit at the bar, but then saw Will’s wife Lynda sitting with some friends. We walked on our and sat down. We spent afternoon catching up. It was nice to see them both back in Key West at the same time as us. Ironically while we were there, a fellow TripAdvisor Forumite came up to me. It was KeyWestSteps. It turned out she is also very good friends with Will and Lynda. It was nice to finally put a face with the name.  We were having a good time and even Kai showed up for a few minutes. 

However, we were both getting quite hungry so we said our goodbyes. I didn’t have any dinner reservations planned, but I suggested that we would check out the Half Shell Raw bar for happy your since it was about that time. First we wanted to go back to the Gardens to freshen up but decided to just head towards the Bight. Once we got to the Half Shell, the place was hopping but we were able to find a couple of seats at the bar. 

We each ordered our own 12 dozen oysters and they were delicious. Since we were still hungry we decided to order the peel and eat shrimp as well. Everything tasted so fresh. It really hit the spot for both of us.

After our meal we wound up walking around and finally got our picture in front of the Cuban Coffee Queen’s famous mural Greetings From Key West. 

Our next stop was First Flight for a cold beverage. 

By the time we got back onto Duval and near Rick’s we saw that Big Ed was bartending. So we stopped by to talk to him for a little bit. 

 I remembered that Joal Rush was playing at the former Lazy Gecko and now called I.C. Double’s. Once we finished our drinks at Rick’s we walked across the street to I.C. Double’s. Immediately you notice all the hard wood and decor has changed. 

They did a great job after how the Duval Central remodeled it. I noticed that there are two bars along the front side and they moved the entertainment more in the center of the place. We saw where Joal Rush was playing and sat down at the bar. 

I decided to try one of their craft cocktails. The only drink of the list that sounded appealing to me was a blend of vodka, orange juice and vanilla. It actually tasted pretty good. While we were there Zack stopped by to tell us he was going with his friends and Kai to the new place the Dirty Pig. 

I wanted to check out the place but we weren’t really hungry and getting tired. We told him we would try if not we would see him tomorrow at Hogsbreath. Then after another cocktail that was it, I was too tired to make it to the Dirty Pig. It was a long day and it was that time to walk back to the Gardens.

Monday – April 22nd – Earth Day

We woke up to another picture perfect day. The skies were once again blue and the humidity was low. Typically our first breakfast in Key West is Blue Heaven, however being it was Easter the day before we had to delay our tradition one day. We slept in a little later then we wanted to but I thought that since it was a Monday, Blue Heaven wouldn’t be too crowded. We first had to make our way to Cuban Coffee Queen. 

We walked in and saw Joe again. We didn’t have too much time to chat but we mentioned to him that perhaps the next day we could get together. While we were leaving I noticed someone calling my name. It turned out it was one of Zack’s friends Natalie who I have met a couple times before in Key West. Her sister was with her and her kids. It was nice to see her and meet her sister. I thought maybe we would have run into her during our trip but never did again.

It was after 9am by the time we got to Blue Heaven. We noticed a few people standing but it was just a party of four. We only had to wait a couple minutes before being seated. We got a nice sizable table along the wall and out of the way which I prefer. I always feel uncomfortable being seated right out in the open and in the center.

We still had our coffees with us so we ordered some water. We each had the rooster special. I choose the bacon for my side while my husband went with the sausage. While we were waiting for our breakfast we noticed more and more people coming in and the line was getting longer and longer. I realized we came just in time.

We had to wait a little, but once we got our breakfast everything was delicious and hot. Since we were later too, we noticed that they had entertainment as well which was a nice little surprise.

Once we were done with our breakfast we went back to the Gardens to regroup for a little bit and relax. We walked back down Duval and into Rick’s. Miguel was working again so my husband wanted to stop by. We found our two favorite seats at the perch and talked to Miguel for a bit. While we were there Miguel’s cousin and his friend stopped in. They were hilarious. We wound up staying longer then we anticipated but we enjoyed talking to them.

On our last trip back in January we never got to see another friend of ours Gabriel Wright play. I remembered he usually plays at Captain Tony’s on Mondays. I saw on his facebook page it was his last show before he was leaving the island. I figured that we should make sure we see him before he leaves. We said goodbye to Miguel and walked down to Captain Tony’s and Gabriel was playing.

It is always fun to see him when we go down to Key West, because he always remembers our song requests and plays them. We sat for a bit and his wife and parents walked in. It was great to see them as well this time. It turned out that Gabriel and his wife Kim were leaving for Paris for vacation. We hung our for a bit and wished them safe travels before making our way to Hogsbreath. 

We walked into Hogsbreath and luckily found a couple seats at the bar. We said hello to Zack and watched him play the second half of his show. During the show I recognized another good friend of Zack’s Lynn. We wound up chatting for a bit and she was showing us the bumble bee she was building out of recycled materials for the Kinetic Sculpture Parade that was happening soon – really cool. She even took a picture of us!

I had made dinner reservations at Little Pearl and wanted to make sure we had enough time to freshen up and make our 6:00pm reservation. We said goodbye to everyone, and told Zack and Kai we would see them later that night at the Smokin’ Tuna.

We walked back to the Gardens and freshened up. Once we were all set we walked to Little Pearl.

The place is small but we still enjoy sitting at their little bar. 

We sat down and ordered some appetizers. I had oysters on the half shell again, which was some sort of special, and my husband had shrimp cocktail. For dinner I ordered the snapper and my husband had the shrimp and grits. Everything was spot on and delicious. When we got the bill, we noticed it seemed a bit higher then normal. We looked closer and realized my oyster special was $48. I couldn’t believe it! I know they were delicious, but had I have known they were that much I probably would have passed.

When we were done with dinner, it was about the time to head on over to the Tuna. I wanted to make sure we had good seats at the bar. We walked and our usual favorite seats were taken at the end of the bar. Plus they added a service station on that side of the bar as well which limits seating there. Then a couple people left and two seats opened up. Joal Rush was still finishing his set so it was nice to catch part of it.

As we were about to sit down we realized Zack’s friend Tim and his girlfriend Christine sitting right there. We laughed and wound up sitting right next to them. We chatted a bit before Zack went on. I also got the opportunity to get a picture with Zack and Carl.

In the back of my mind I wanted to stay for the entire show since I knew Zack wasn’t playing at the Tuna again that week. We sat back and enjoyed the show. Even Kai played a couple of songs.

When they went on break we were able to chat with Joey and Zack. Once they came back on we decided to stay longer. With a little persuasion, I was able to convince my husband to stay until the very end, and we did. It sounded like a good idea at the time, but I was getting tired.

We had made plans to have breakfast with Zack and his friends so we told him we would see him the next morning. We wound up getting a cab since it was so late and we were both exhausted. I think it was after 1am by the time we got to the Gardens.

Tuesday, April 23rd – Conch Celebration at the Gardens Hotel

It was another beautiful morning in Key West. Due to the fact that we were out late the night before we decided to sleep in a bit. Once we freshened up we walked down to the Cuban Coffee Queen for much needed coffee. We saw Joe again and talked to him for a bit. He told us that he was going to Lucy’s later that afternoon for Happy Hour. We told him we would meet up with him later.

We walked down to the Breakfast Club Too. We grabbed a table and waited for Zack and his friends. They did make it over and we all ordered something to eat. It was fun just having a nice breakfast with great people. Zack’s friend Tim and his girlfriend Christine were leaving that morning so after breakfast we wished them safe travels. We told Zack we would see him later at Willie T’s.

We walked around for a while before making it to the Sunset Pier to see Al. It was great to stop in and see him for a little bit. We only stayed for one and told Al we would stop in again to see him, but unfortunately we never got a chance to see him again. 

 After our drinks we wound up going back to Rick’s. Miguel was working again and our seats were open, so yes that’s what we did next. We sat down for a little while before meeting Joe at Lucy’s. Once we got to Lucy’s we saw Joe sitting at the outside bar on the side. We sat down and I looked around the bar and it reminded me of this place in St. John called the Longboard Restaurant. It had a very familiar vibe. 

We had a couple of beers and talked for a while before making our next move. We decided to back to see Miguel for one before going to see Zack at Willie T’s. 

We eventually made it to Willie T’s and got a table right in the front center, similar to the last time we were there with Joe.

Then we noticed Marcy (also from NJ) who used to work at Willie T’s was there working again for a few weeks. It was great to see her back at Willie T’s. We grabbed a table front and center and watched Zack’s show.

It was fun to listened to Zack and hang out with Joe for the afternoon. After his show we went back to the Garden’s to get ready for our dinner reservations at Cafe Sole or so I thought.

When we walked in to the Gardens we noticed there were a few ladies sitting at a table and we had to walk around through the building. Then when we walked into the courtyard area where we saw all these people standing around wearing military apparel. When we got to the bar I saw Jim the general manager of the Gardens and Nancy who also works the front desk. 

We wound up grabbing a couple of drinks at the bar and Jim starting explaining to us what was going on and how the ladies wearing C.I.A. were called “Cuties In Action”. Every year the Gardens Hotel invites its guests and locals to celebrate the Anniversary of the Conch Republic Secession. We didn’t realize we had tickets in our room for us but Jim knows us so we didn’t need them. It was so interesting to see all branches of the Conch Republic Military Forces walking around. My husband and I looked at each other and said that we should stay and watch the celebration so I called Cafe Sole and cancelled our reservations.

It was a fun evening and eventually had to grab some dinner. I wanted to check out the Moondog Cafe, but then when we were walking down Petronia we saw the restaurant Bliss was open. We walked in and it was pretty quiet. We were first seated at a table under this fan that was blowing so strong. We asked to move to another table which they did accommodate us.

For appetizers we each ordered the cartagena, which was shrimp and calamari sautéed in tomato, fresh basil, white wine and garlic broth. It was delicious. For dinner I had the pan seared yellowtail snapper filet and my husband had the fettuccine with homemade roasted red pepper – tomato – basil sauce. From what I can remember everything tasty quite good. We really enjoyed the food after the long day. We were stuffed and tired, so we just walked back to the Gardens for much needed sleep.

Wednesday, April 24th – Day out on the water with Billy

We woke up to another beautiful morning which made me so excited since we were going out on the water with a good friend of ours Billy who actually used to bartend at the Gardens. Since he was going to pick us up at the Gardens, we wound up having breakfast there after picking up our coffee at Cuban Coffee Queen. The Gardens has a very nice breakfast. They off both hot and cold food that usually includes an egg scramble of some sort. That morning the egg had potatoes and cheese in it.

After breakfast Billy showed up and took us to the Garrison Bight Marina where his boat was docked. It was so nice to see Billy again. Our last trip in January wound up happening during a cold spell in Key West so we never made it out on the water.

Soon we were on our way out of the marina. Since we enjoyed going to Snipes last time we decided to do it again.

Along the way we stopped a few times to see dolphins swim in the water. We weren’t expecting it and it was fun to watch them.

We made it to Snipes and there were already a few boats that beat us there. It was a beautiful day. I was debating about going into the water, but as we were looking around we saw a shark swim by the boat and that made my decision. 

We spent the day relaxing and catching up with Billy. It was so nice to see him again and doing well. 

Eventually it was time for us to head back to the marina. Billy dropped us back off at the Gardens and told him that if we didn’t see him before we left we would see him again soon.

Even though we didn’t go in the water we wanted to freshen up because of the salt air that sticks to you. After feeling invigorated with showers we walked back down Duval to Rick’s. We wanted to be sure to see our friends Will and Lynda before they were leaving the following day. Unfortunately it was nearing the end of Will’s set so didn’t see them for too long. We told them we would see them this summer back up north in NJ and wished them a safe trip back home.

We still had time to catch the end of Zack’s show so we walked back down to Willie T’s.

As we were sitting there I noticed that I got pretty sunburned from the boat. We wore sunscreen but that sun was strong that day. Next time I am going to reapply while out on the water.

After Zack’s show we decided to try the new Off the Hook location. We used to always go to Deuce’s on our first night in Key West since it was located right behind the Gardens Hotel. We made our way down Caroline Street to  Off the Hook. We walked in and the place was huge. It was pretty empty and told the hostess we preferred to sit at the bar. We opted for the back bar since they had sports on the TV. I was hoping to order their ceviche special but unfortunately it was conch. I learned the hard way in the past that for some reason the only seafood / crustacean that I am allergic to for some reason is conch so I couldn’t have their ceviche. Instead I had their tuna poke as an appetizer and their grilled mahi mahi fish tacos. My husband ordered their shrimp deviled eggs and gnocchi. Their food was just as I remembered – very very good. We both really enjoyed their meals but kind of missed the intimacy of their old place. I am sure it will do well regardless.

Once we were done with dinner we were both pretty full and wanted to walk around. We wound up walking by Rick’s again and saw Big Ed. We also saw our seats were open so sat down and said hello. While we were talking to Ed we heard a familiar voice behind us. It was Carl! We said hello and asked him how his wife was doing. He said she was feeling better but probably wouldn’t be back to work until after we left. Then he mentioned he was playing with George in a few so we decided to stick around to watch him for a few songs.

While we were waiting we also saw another familiar face driving down Duval.

Soon George and Carl took the stage and began to play. Then the place started to fill up. Eventually we started to feel the long day and we couldn’t stay any longer. We tried to rally but it wasn’t happening. We said goodbye and took a cab back to the Gardens. 

Thursday, April 25th – NFL Draft

Once again we woke up to another beautiful day. I did notice that it seemed warmer and the humidity was starting to return. It was still a gorgeous morning. I wanted to try the new restaurant, the Moondog Cafe. So we walked down Whitehead St. to the Moondog Cafe. 

They had both indoor and outdoor seating. The outside area was packed. We walked in and noticed that the counter/bar area was available and not crowded at all. We sat down and noticed that they served Cuban Coffee Queen coffee there. I thought perfect since we didn’t stop there that morning. We ordered a couple cups of coffee and just ordered the standard two egg breakfast. 

The food came out fairly quickly. The eggs were cooked perfectly too. Once we were done with breakfast we walked outside and realized that we were right next to the Hemingway House and that the place used to be the Six Toed Cat. 

We walked back to the Gardens to relax for a few before making it back out. We decided to walk up towards the bight near Dante’s.

I was so glad we did because along the way we noticed two girls with a water hose near one of the docked boats and there were two manatees drinking the water! It was a mother and her calf. 

This was the first time I have ever seen a manatee in Key West. I was super excited and couldn’t believe it. It was amazing to see them and how gentle creatures they are. After taking about 20 photos we decided to walk down to the Galleon Sunset Tiki Bar. When we walked in we heard this loud sound and the smell wasn’t too pleasant. 

We sat down and talked to the bartender Grubby. He told us that the Hilton next door was dredging out their sewer system. While we were sitting there we saw Dave again. We chatted with him for a few. We wanted to stay longer but couldn’t take the smell.

While we were walking down Front St. my husband remembered Adam (the bartender from the Gardens) mentioning this new craft brew place called Glitch which is located next to the dive shop on Simonton St. So we decided to check it out. When we walked in we were both overwhelmed with the funky and eclectic decor. We started chatting with the bartender and one of the owners, who used to work at the Porch. It was a cute little place and even the bathroom had a toilet that lights up. 

It was pretty crazy and fun. We told him that we both enjoyed the place and hope that it does well.

We finished our beers and made our way back out on to the street. We realized one of the places we hadn’t hit yet was El Pepe De Meson. We walked over and sat at a couple seats that were open at the bar. We chatted with the bartender Thomas for a bit. He was a very friendly fellow all the way from Brazil. 

We only stayed for one drink before making our way to another place we had not visited yet and that place was the Green Parrot. Ironically the Green Parrot to me doesn’t seem that inviting during the day, but for some reason whenever we go in there we find people that we wind up talking to for a bit. I guess it is just one of those places. We actually wound up staying for a couple of beers before our next stop. I realized too that it was around 3pm and I wanted to check out Zack and his son Kai playing at Willie T’s. 

Along the way my husband wanted a bite of food so we stopped at Frita’s for a burger. I wasn’t really hungry so I just had some water while my husband waited for his burger. And waited…. and waited… it seemed like an eternity and it wasn’t that crowded, but finally they brought out the burger for my husband. I joked with him and said it better be the best burger he has ever tasted after that wait. He said it was pretty good but not worth the wait.

Eventually we walked back onto Duval towards Willie T’s but then my husband noticed his favorite side street musician playing. My husband is a huge Jethro Tull fan so he always requests a few songs. I was getting antsy about missing most of Zack’s show so I told him I would meet him there since he wanted to hear a few songs. 

I walked in and waited for a table. Finally a table opened up and I quickly jumped on it. It was right in the sun but stuck it out. My husband then arrived shortly after. It was towards the end of the show so missed most of it which I was a bit disappointed. However I was still able to get a picture.

Then we saw John LaMere come on to the stage and decided to stay for a bit. It was fun to see him again. It was getting close to the time that we planned on going to Jack Flat’s to get seats at the bar to watch the NFL draft. So we said goodbye to John and walked down to Jack Flats. 

We found a couple of seats at the bar and my husband was able to get one of their boxes so we could hear the broadcast of the draft. We were both pretty excited to see who the Giants were going to pick and were hoping for this guy Rashan Gary from Michigan. While we were waiting we ordered some food. The draft started and it seemed to drag between each pick. I then realized the Conch Republic Celebration parade was happening on Duval. So I walked outside and I was able to watch it before the Giant’s selection. It was so much fun to see. 

By the time I walked back into Jack Flat’s the Giants were about to make their selection. Once the NFL commissioner made the announcement we couldn’t believe they took a QB at the sixth selection. We were terribly disappointed. You could even see the reaction on the TV screen.

We didn’t stay much longer after that and called it a night.

Friday, April 26th – Last Full Day Already

I woke up and the feeling of sadness was starting to set in. Tomorrow we were leaving and this was our last full day in such a beautiful place. Once we freshened up we walked to Cuban Coffee Queen for our usual coffee. 

We didn’t really have any plans on where to eat for breakfast. After saying hello to Joe so we walked down Duval.

I was thinking that maybe we can go to Bagatelle’s for breakfast since we hadn’t been there yet. However, when we got there it was pretty crowded. Then I thought about going to the Key West Key Lime Shoppe for breakfast, but as we were passing Island Dogs it was quiet and remembered they have breakfast. We usually don’t stop in there but figured why not.

Surprisingly the food was good and the service was friendly. Once we were done with our breakfast we walked around again for a bit of some “window” shopping.

Eventually we walked down to the Tiki House. My husband wanted to check it out plus it was getting hot out. We walked in and we were the only ones in there. We decided to order a couple of mojitos. It was getting to be that point of the trip where every drink you try doesn’t really appeal anymore. However, the mojitos were quite tasty. It took us a while to get them down but we eventually did.

I knew that Zack was playing at Rick’s too that afternoon so I wanted to be sure to catch him since it was our last day. We walked on over and it wasn’t too crowded yet. Our seats were open so we sat down and listened to Zack for the afternoon. Once he was done he mentioned to us that his son Kai was playing sunset at Mallory Square which worked out perfectly because we heard about how that evening was the Great Battle of the Conch Republic down there as well.

We said our goodbyes and made it back to the Gardens to regroup for a bit. We made it back onto Duval and my husband suggested stopping at Mangoes for something to drink before we head to Mallory Square. It was more or less a stop out of curiosity since we hadn’t been there in quite sometime even since they redid the place. We walked in and the place was nice and spacious. I had a glass of wine and we sat and relaxed for a bit.

We were both pretty hungry so we walked back to First Flight. We grabbed a seat near the bar and ordered some food. 

After feeling a bit revived from getting something to eat we made it down to Mallory Square where we saw Kai registering for sunset. We walked around waiting for the Battle start. We even grabbed some coconut water and I joked about how when I first tried it I wasn’t a fan. Ironically now I do like it and buy it for home.

Soon the Battle began and it was a blast to see. I never saw anything like it before. Planes would fly overhead and drop toilet paper to simulate bombs. It was so much fun!

We even got to witness a beautiful sunset.

Once the battle ended we walked on over to listen to Kai play a few songs and even Zack showed up for a little bit. We told them we would meet for breakfast in the morning before we left.

Knowing it was our last night I wanted to see Carl play at the Tuna, plus it was on our way back to the Gardens. We walked on in and it was packed. We had to wait for a couple of seats, but eventually two opened up – ironically at the end of the bar which are our favorite seats.

We ordered a couple of drinks and even Kai stopped in. I wanted to stay longer but I was getting really tired and couldn’t drink anymore – I hit my wall. So we said our goodbyes to Carl and told Kai we would see him in the morning.

Saturday, April 27th – Going Home

Our flight wasn’t until 1pm so we had time to have breakfast with Zack and Kai. It has actually become somewhat of a tradition to have breakfast with them before we leave. We were up pretty early to get everything in order so we had time to stop at Cuban Coffee Queen. We stopped in and saw Joe again for one last time. 

Then we walked down the street to Sarabeth’s. We were a little later so it was crowded. They were able to accommodate us inside. It was a very odd room (where the service station was) but it was roomy enough. We all ordered and just talked for a while. It was a nice way to end our trip with such great friends.

It became that dreaded time to say our goodbyes. We wished them well and hope to see them again real soon.

We walked back to the Gardens and grabbed all our things. The cab picked us up on time and we were on our way back to the airport.

Our plane already arrived so there weren’t any delays this time. Before I knew it, it was 5:30pm and we were back home. 

I know people say why do you keep going back to Key West and yet so many times a year? I just tell them the same thing – it’s a beautiful place like no other, filled with many memories and great friends. And I hope to continue to make more.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog…. until next time!!

Winter Escape To Key West – January 21st – 26th, 2019

After our last trip back in July, my husband and I wanted to return again before the spring. I knew how during the Winter months can become so dreary with cloudy skies and gray trees. So I decided that the 3rd week in January would be the perfect time to break away for a few days. I called the Gardens Hotel and was able to book our usual room for our 20th stay.

Monday, January 21st – Arrival Day

A day before we were supposed to leave, we had a snow and ice storm that came through. Luckily it had passed but the temperatures dropped way below normal for NJ. We woke up and it was only 1 degree. We thought what a perfect time to leave NJ. I was also concerned about getting through TSA at Newark airport since the Government shutdown was still in affect. When we arrived at the airport surprisingly the lines were not that long and we breezed through security. Once we had all our things in place I checked to see if our gate had changed since I checked us in the day before. It turned out that not only our gate changed, but the terminal changed.

I thought that we were going to have to go back out through security, but it turned out that there was a shuttle bus available that can take you from Terminal C to A. We walked down to the lower level to catch the bus which was not heated at all. Thankfully we didn’t have to wait too long for the bus to take us to the next terminal. Once we got off the bus we had to go back up a flight of stairs in to where our gate was. We had a couple hours to spare so we were relieved to find a United President Club lounge was also in Terminal A. It was actually a really nice lounge that must have been recently completed.

I kept checking my phone to see if our plane was at the gate. The alert said that our plane was flying in from Louisville and that it was behind schedule about 15 minutes which later turned into a half hour. It seemed like a long time to wait and eventually I saw our plane had arrived at the gate. We grabbed our things and saw that people were already boarding. I couldn’t believe that we almost missed boarding our flight. Once we went to the ticket agent, she asked us if we were going to Milwaukee. We immediately stopped in our tracks and told her no. It turned out the gate we were at had two gates. One was A25A and the other one was A25 and the doors were literally side by side. We were supposed to be at A25A and stepped back into the waiting area. We didn’t wait too long to board the plane. Once we were settled in the pilot came on the speaker to tell us that they were waiting for the water trucks to thaw out so they can fill the plane’s lavatories with water. It turned out to be about a 15 minute delay which could have been worse. We actually made up the time in the sky.

Since it was a direct flight to Key West it took about 2 and a half hours. Soon you could see the different hues of blues and greens of the water. It was so nice to see after looking at bare trees for months. Once I saw Key West come in to view I became so excited. I couldn’t believe we were coming back in January. 

Once we landed we immediately deboarded the plane and walked into the airport. I noticed that even though the skies were brilliant blue, it was quite chilly for Key West. 

It was quite breezy and it was only in the low 60s. I didn’t care though, we were back in Key West! We were one of the first ones off the plane so we were able to get a taxi right away. The taxi took us to the Gardens Hotel to check in.

We saw Nancy and Jim the general manager and they both welcomed us back. Our room wasn’t ready but it didn’t really matter, since it was so cool we just kept our clothes on we wore on the plane.

We walked down Angela St. and made a quick right hand turn onto Duval which we both always love to do. I noticed the streets seemed quieter then usual. I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as crowds go for the third week in January. It turned out it wasn’t much different then when we go in the Spring. I knew the musician Zack Seemiller who I have been doing artwork for the past several years and have become good friends with was playing at the Hogsbreath Saloon with his son. However, we wanted to stop at Rick’s to see our friend Miguel who was bartending that day. We walked down and crossed the street to Rick’s and sat down on the outside porch seats. Miguel was happy to see us. Unfortunately it was so cold we had to move inside. We talked for a bit before making it down to Hogsbreath. He told us that it was supposed to warm up for a couple of days. It was nice to see him again. 

Then we walked in to Hogsbreath. Zack and his son were on break but I was able to spot them at one of the tables having lunch. His son Kai knew we were coming and tried to surprise Zack but we wound up blowing the surprise. We walked on over and it was great to see them both.

They were finishing up so we wound up getting a table to sit at to watch their second set. I wanted to sit at the bar because the table was not protected from the wind, but all the seats were taken. We ordered a couple of beers and listened to them play. It was so much fun and that’s when I realized it was great to be back in Key West, not only because it is such a beautiful place, but we have become friends with people on the island.

After their set was done I noticed that I got a call from the Gardens Hotel letting me know our room was ready. So we said our goodbyes and told Zack we would catch him play at the new Tuna location later on. 

Once we unpacked our things we realized that we hadn’t eaten since the plane. Or tried to eat on the plane. As a side note, the food they served us must have been on the plane where it wasn’t temperature controlled or due to the fact the outside temperature was so cold, everything was frozen solid. I tried to eat the yogurt and couldn’t even get a spoon through it, so needless to say we were both really hungry. We used to have dinner on our first night at Deuce’s which was located right behind the hotel and was so convenient for our first night. Unfortunately since our last trip it had closed down. I did hear however they will be opening up at a new location, but not as close to the Garden’s.

I didn’t have a preference where to eat, as long as it was indoors since the temperature was dropping. Luckily I packed a knit hat so that helped a lot. It wasn’t that it was so cold, it was that the winds were strong and cold. So once you were in a place that was protected by the wind, it wasn’t so bad. 

My husband wanted to check to see if there was a place to catch the ending of the Nets basketball game and then Jack Flat’s came to mind. It was a perfect decision. We walked in and it wasn’t too crowded and we sat down at the bar. The bartender even changed one of the tvs so my husband could see the game. We ordered a couple of drinks. For our appetizer we split their coconut shrimp which hit the spot. I decided to go with their wasabi tuna and my husband had their meatloaf. It wasn’t a gourmet dinner but it definitely satisfied us.

While we were eating another friend of ours Dave, who we met a couple years ago who bar tends at the Galleon Sunset Tiki bar, asked us where we were. We told him that we were on our way to see Zack at the new Tuna location.

We walked down Duval and found the new Tuna location. It was turned into a sports bar that was wide open and went way back. The place was quite large. The stage where Zack was playing was off on the side. We made sure he knew we were there and then grabbed a couple of seats at the bar.

Then not before long we saw Dave walk in. Ironically he moved to St. Thomas a couple years ago for about a year and we were able to see him while we were vacationing on St. John. We hadn’t seen him since, so it was nice to see him again. We hung out for a bit before he had to leave. We told him we would try and meet up again another day.

Once Zack’s show was done (of course I had to take a couple of pictures before making our way to the old Smokin Tuna location), he told us that if we keep walking back in the new Tuna it will connect you to the old one. He was right! It was so odd how they all connect.  We walked on in and it wasn’t really crowded so we were able to grab our two favorite seats at the end of the bar.

I noticed that Scott Kirby was finishing his set. We were hoping to catch Caffeine Carl, but unfortunately he wasn’t playing due to not feeling well.

However George Chapman and the Joey Marchiano were still playing. We did miss Carl, but the band did put on a good show. We sat for a bit and chatted with another couple and had fun. It was crazy how it was only our first day, but I felt like we were already there several, which was a great feeling. We were both getting tired and thought that it would be a good idea to go back to the Gardens and call it a night.

Tuesday, January 22nd – Banana Cafe, Martin’s and a lot of walking around

I woke up pretty early for me on vacation, at around 7:30 and couldn’t sleep anymore. I knew it was a shorter stay then we normally do so I wanted to get up and start the day. Once we freshened up we checked outside and noticed that it definitely was warmer then the day before. I still had to wear a jacket at that point but it felt a lot better. We made our usual stop to Cuban Coffee Queen for a couple of con leches. 

We usually have our first breakfast when we are in Key West at Blue Heaven, but it was so early in the morning that it wasn’t warm enough to sit outside. I remembered how our last visit we tried to eat at Banana Cafe but it was too crowded. I figured that we could try eating there again since we were up so early. It was a nice quiet morning to walk down Duval. The love it when the streets are so quiet.

When we walked into Banana Cafe, there wasn’t a wait. We were seated right away but my husband wanted to sit at the counter/bar area which was fine. I decided to go with the smoked salmon eggs benedict and my husband had one of their signature crepes. Everything was delicious.

After breakfast we agreed to walk off our breakfast. We made it down by the bight and walked into a couple of shops and looked around for a while.

Eventually we made it to Sunset Pier. We wanted to say hello to the bartender Al who is always a pleasure to see. Once we got to the pier it was so nice to see it rebuilt again. It looked beautiful. 

We went up to the bar and said hello to Al. We talked for a few and ordered a couple of beers. We sat along the pier and just took it all in. It is such a nice view looking at the water and seeing Sunset Key in the distance. The temperature was getting warmer but not warm enough to go in the water.

Instead we decided after our beer was done was to go towards First Flight and have a beer there.

I do miss the old Kelly’s but the atmosphere there hasn’t changed much and I always enjoy it. We walked in and noticed there was some live music which was a nice surprise. 

Then my husband wanted to see Miguel again at Rick’s so we walked down to see him. This time it was warmer so we were able to sit out on the porch area which is great for people watching. We talked with Miguel for a while and before you know it my husband and him (which are both wrestling fans) had to do a few poses for me to take pictures of. 

I was looking at my watch and realized Zack was playing at Willie T’s. I wanted to catch him play so we finished up our drinks and walked in. We were able to find an open table and listened to him play for a while. He is always so much fun to see. I think it is great that I actually do artwork for such a talented musician. While we were there his son stopped by for a little bit before he had to go for work. 

It was getting later in the day and once again are stomachs were telling us that we should get something to eat. My husband suggested that we go to Martin’s for their happy hour. I had no problem with that, but that meant we had to leave because we didn’t have much time before it ended. So of course I had to do a couple pictures with Zack again before we headed on out. We made plans for breakfast the next day so we told him we would see him then.

We walked down to Martin’s and the bar was packed. The hostess was able to find us a table towards the front of the place which was fine.

Immediately we opened our menus and picked out a bunch of appetizers, ranging from lamb chops, escargot to pork schnitzel. I think the total was around 8 or 9 appetizers. My husband had a martini and I had a glass of wine and everything came to around $54. You simply can’t beat that price for all that food.

I wasn’t sure if it was from the food or from the long day but we were both pretty tired at that point so we walked back to the Gardens. When we walked past the bar we saw Kate the owner of the Gardens. She welcomed us back and our loyalty of staying there every time we come down to Key West. She even gave us a bottle of champagne to celebrate. We thanked her and told her how we wouldn’t stay at any other place and how we love it there. 

We got back to our room and sat on our porch. I don’t think I got through much of the glass of champagne before heading in for much needed sleep.

Wednesday, January 23rd – Breakfast Club Too and Food & Wine Festival Kick Off Party

We woke up to another warm day. It was probably the best day weather wise we had during our short visit. Once we freshened up we were ready for another full day in Key West.

We wound up walking down Simonton instead of Duval and head towards Cuban Coffee Queen. We started talking about our stay so far and before we realized it we missed the street completely and we were pretty far down the road. Then my husband mentioned how we were supposed to meet another friend of ours Joe the next morning for coffee at this place called Coffee Plantation. So we figured we would try and find the place and get coffee there. It wasn’t too far to find as it was located down Caroline St. We walked in and the place was decorated so festive and welcoming. We ordered a couple of con leches and sat on the front porch for a bit. 

We were meeting Zack for breakfast so we had some time before walking over to the Breakfast Club Too. We walked back over towards the bight and then made our way to the restaurant.

Once Zack got there we were seated at a table inside. This wasn’t our first time eating there and remembered how the last couple of visits the food was really good and this time it was the same. Everyone enjoyed what they ordered. It was nice to sit for a while and just hang out.

After breakfast Zack offered to show us the Key West Theater since we never had the opportunity to see a show there. We walked down the street and first stopped at a place called The Studios of Key West located across from the theater. He introduced us to one of his friends that work there and he showed us their current gallery which was made up of clever ways to show poetry on signs and what not. It was a different type of gallery I am used to seeing, but it was very creative.  Then we walked over to the guitar shop The Grateful Guitar where his son works. We walked in and it was cool to see the photos of all the musicians that play in Key West. 

Our next stop was the Key West Theater. It was really great to finally see what it looked like inside. There was also another area in the theater where they have more intimate shows. Unfortunately Zack played there a couple days earlier and we literally missed it by one day. After that we just walked around and Zack showed us other places along Duval. Then it was time for him get a few things done before his show later on that day. We thanked him for taking the time and giving us a walking tour if you will, of Key West. 

Eventually we made it to the Galleon to sit down and enjoy the view. 

We ordered a couple of drinks and sat for a while chatting with the bartender. Our next stop was to see Miguel again at Rick’s. We hung out for a bit before going back to the Gardens to freshen up. 

As a side note, a couple of months ago I found out that Key West’s Food and Wine Festival was going on while we were there, so I purchased tickets for the Food and Wine Festival kick off party. The event started at 5pm and was being held at The Garden at the Oldest House Museum. I wanted to get ready for it and then stop by and see Zack and Kai play at Willie T’s.

When we said goodbye to Miguel he told us he wasn’t working again until the weekend so we wouldn’t see him again before we left so we thanked him again for always having a good time when we see him. 

While we were walking back to the Gardens we noticed two cops on horses walking down the road. We have seen them before, but it still looked so odd watching them walk Duval Street. 

We made it back to the Gardens and freshened up for the kick off party. Thankfully it was still mild out so I was able to wear something else besides yoga pants and a sweatshirt. We walked back down to Willie T’s to catch Zack and Kai play. While my husband was ordering us something to drink at the bar, I noticed there was a familiar face. It turned out Zack’s photographer was there watching him. I have used a lot of his photos for the different ads I create for Zack to post on social media and never officially met him in person. We wound up sitting with him and chatted for a bit.

I was also so happy to meet Zack’s good friends Natalie and her boyfriend Ron.

Then it was that time to say goodbye and walk to the Oldest House Museum. It was pretty impressive to walk in to a beautiful garden behind the house. 

They had stations set up where you can select a glass of wine. Servers would come out with a variety of hors d’oeuvres. 

In addition, they had this Doo-Wop band called The Fabulous Spectrelles which were really good. 

We danced a little and talked to other people that were attending the event. It was something different for us to do and it was a lot of fun. I probably didn’t need any more wine at that point but we enjoyed ourselves. I would definitely recommend trying the event.

After we left we walked down Duval Street and noticed that Caffeine Carl and George were playing at the new Tuna. We walked in also saw Carl’s wife, Erin bartending. 

We had not seen Carl yet, so of course we stayed. As they were nearing the end of their show, we found out that they were playing at Rick’s next. So we left the Tuna and made it to Rick’s and saw Miguel again and Big Ed. 

Again, I probably should have just gone back to the Garden’s but wanted to see them play. Right before then went on, I was able to get a photo with Carl. 

It was fun to sit and watch them play for a while.

Eventually we called it a night and went back to the Gardens.

Thursday, January 24th – a day with Joe and the Rooftop Cafe

When we eventually got up I was feeling the night before, however after a shower and a couple of Advil I felt better. This was the morning we planned on meeting our friend Joe who we met a couple years ago while sitting at the Galleon Sunset Tiki Bar. 

The weather was still mild so I just threw on a tank top and shorts. We walked down Simonton to Caroline St. and down to Coffee Plantation. We spotted Joe and said our hellos. We mentioned that we were going back to the Breakfast Club Too for a late breakfast. He decided to join us and we walked down to the restaurant. This time we were seated outside.