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Review: Key West

City/Town/Region/Island

Florida, United States

Returning to Key West

  • By SilverTraveller pzmaid

    30 reviews

    Ribbon Ribbon

  • July 2012
  • Husband

50 people found this review helpful

Returning to Key West in Florida after more than thirty five years was a daunting prospect. Back in the seventies when the phrase ‘gap year’ hadn’t even been invented I was fortunate enough to have spent a few glorious months in that magical paradise. However, I’d been told by more than one person that Key West had changed beyond recognition and I approached the trip with some trepidation. We drove south towards the Seven Mile Bridge, the roadway connecting all the small islands that make up the Florida Keys. If you look on the map you will see that the Keys run like a string of pearls all the way down to the most southerly point of the USA … Key West being the final island.

Approaching the town, they were right, I hardly recognised anything; there were so many hotels and as we sat in heavy traffic my heart sank as I watched the antics of hordes of tourists, millng in and out of shopping malls and high rise hotels. But, as we approached the Old Town, that unmistakable ‘laid back’ holiday vibe began to welcome us in.

We had pre-booked our accommodation on line at the Chelsea House Hotel, centrally located in the Old Town area of Key West, costing $80 per night, which I thought reasonable with a perfectly adequate continental breakfast included in the price.

The choice of ’things to do’ in Key West is overwhelming and there is something for everyone. Charter boat fishing, diving, snorkelling, aerial tours and sailing are just a few of the many activities available or you can just go to the beach and chill.

On our first morning we joined a narrated walk through the Old Town quarter of Key West, taking in the most interesting landmarks and historical spots, including Ernest Hemingway’s house, where the great writer lived for a couple of years back in the 1950’s. Not my favourite author but a major influence on 20th century American literature and the house is well worth a visit.

Strolling through the streets I felt a real pang of nostalgia, it was more or less as I remembered. I was pleased to see that the old colonial houses, mostly painted in pastel colours, are still maintained in pristine condition. Rocking chairs sitting on wide front porches add to the charm and the Spanish moss draping from balconies and trees casts a shadowy, ethereal feel to the whole area. The Old Town is the place to visit to get a real feel and insight into the fascinating history of Key West.

Key West has a large Cuban community, grown up over the past fifty years and it continues to add a vibrant Latino flavour to this already colourful town. From Key West to Miami Cubans have made this area their home, evident by the many Cuban restaurants and shops thriving in the area. It would appear that the United States, while not encouraging illegal immigrants, don’t make too much fuss if people are employed and paying taxes. How that works I’m not too sure. More recently, since the death of Castro things are opening up and Cubans are now able to move more freely and relations with the America are much improved.

The little hop-on open train that beetles through the Old Town is a must, particularly if you’re visiting mid summer; it can get very hot and I thoroughly enjoyed my sit down sight-seeing tour. Back in the day Key West struck me as the U.S counterpart of our very own St Ives, Cornwall. Both known for their natural beauty, colourful artists and musicians and most of all they were both huge hippy hang outs. These days in Key West you will still find that relaxed, hippy atmosphere but there’s a strong possibility that the loud ringing of cash registers will be drowning out any calls for peace and love and support for the diminishing whale population.

Duval Street, is still the hub of the town, buzzing with music, restaurants and night life. The most famous bar in the Keys, probably the whole State is ‘Sloppy Joe’s’ and remains as busy as it ever was. They still serve beer by the pitcher and of course the famous ‘Sloppy Joe’ sandwich; that’s a big white bap, filled with ground beef in a spicy gravy and is quite delicious. ‘It made us and Key West Famous’ their famous strap-line still adorns billboards all around town. The building and the spit and sawdust bar room remain exactly the same, possibly with a few refinements, mostly a very impressive daytime and evening menu.

Locally caught fish is a must. Crab, lobster and shrimp are to die for and you can’t go wrong ordering a fish platter, providing an impressive selection of expertly fried and grilled local fish. Gorgeous! There are some fantastic dinner cruises on offer, lasting two hours and costing around $60.00 each; perfect for a romantic evening. A trip to the ‘The Quay’ as the sun sets is not to be missed and the long held tradition of applauding the setting sun still holds. It started because the locals believed the fantastic spectacle of the sunsets in Key West deserved recognition. As the sun dipped into the horizon I along with a fairly large crowd clapped and cheered. Crazy but fun and oddly enough very apt.

Key West is without doubt more commercial and the market stalls that used to line the dock down on the Quay selling simple, handmade goods have turned into chic little shops selling expensive jewellery, carved ornaments and all the honest to goodness stuff tourists love to buy. I guess that’s progress.

There were as many Americans in Key West as visiting foreigners, like myself. It is considered a cool, holiday destination and a great place for everyone; the young and young at heart will be assured a fabulous time and I for one definitely won’t be waiting quite so long before going back the next time.

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This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.

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