The Keys to the Florida Keys

Travel

The Keys to the Florida Keys

The Florida Keys are a great winter getaway. If you are looking for some tips to help you plan your next trip, take a look!

The Florida Keys are a beautiful string of islands that start off the cost of Miami and run about 130 miles into the Gulf of Mexico. From the tip of Key West and US Highway 1’s mile marker 0 to where the highway meets the mainland, there is plenty to do for families, animal lovers, SCUBA divers, and foodies alike. We found something new to do every day we were there even with rainy weather and high winds wreaking havoc on the plans we made before we got there. For us, the biggest thing was staying flexible and being ready to run out the door as soon as the weather report changed (it did a lot).

Our Accommodations

Fiesta Key was our home base for our week in the Keys. It is an encore resort that we are able to stay at for $20 a night with our Thousand Trails membership, but because we planned the trip about two weeks before we got there….we paid almost full price (yikes). Overall, the cost was worth it since we only stayed for six days, but you can bet we’ll look a little farther into the future next time.

The entire island of Fiesta Key is the RV resort, which makes it easy to find when you are driving across down the highway. As you drive onto the island from the mainland, there is a turn to the left which goes to a pumping station and a turn to the right which takes you into the park. As they say in real estate, location is everything, and Fiesta Key is perfectly positioned for a trip to the Keys, as it sits right in the middle of the island chain, halfway between Key Largo and Key West.

location
Location Location Location

The resort itself has everything you need while you are staying there and a good set of activities set up for families and guests. There is a restaurant onsite which serves fantastic seafood, a store to get your essential groceries and camping supplies, and a playground that serves as a great place to meet other families while the kids burn off energy.

The only real negative of the resort is the “beach” - which is a common theme for the Keys in general. It’s not really a beach as much as it is a thin layer of sand that was obviously shipped in from somewhere else held in place by a rock wall that runs into the water. For young kids, I wouldn’t recommend a beach day. And since dogs aren’t allowed on the beach, we didn’t spend more than five minutes there the whole trip.

General Activities

One thing the Keys don’t have a lot of is beaches. The ones that exist are rocky or continuously destroyed by hurricanes. Granted, this is our fault for not checking before we visited, it is important for people to know that just because there is an island there, it’s not a guarantee of sandy beaches and basking in the fresh ocean air. In the Keys, its more likely that to get to the water you are either stumbling over rocks or wading through a stinky swamp. Again, not a the end of the world if you have your expectations set right – so just make sure you do.

For every beach that the Keys lack, though, there is a charter captain waiting to take you out fishing, diving, or just cruising for the day. Even better, the prices are not outrageous. Signs for $70 fishing charters are everywhere, and even private diving or cruising is possible for the low 200s. I say this is cheap because comparing prices to Hawaii or other locations, these trips come in at around half-price.

Another benefit to diving in the Keys is they are home to the only living reef in North America. There aren’t any other locations on the mainland United States where you will see the variety of sea life that you will off the coast of Florida. And since the whole chain sits relatively shallow in the water, you don’t need to go on deep or complicated dives to see amazing things. So our advice is to get out on and under the water if you want the most of your trip.

Marathon/Islamorada

Our campsite was nestled right in the middle of Marathon Key and Islamorada – two islands with plenty of activities to keep you busy and food to keep you happy. This group of islands really is the heart of the Keys and there is so much to do and see that we are definitely going back to spend more time there.

The best part about most of the things we did is that they were dog friendly. It is rare to be able to take our dog with us for everything we do, but the businesses on the Keys are very willing to accommodate pets, and we all appreciated that every day we were there.

The first place we went was Robbie’s of Islamorada. More or less, its a dock. But on this dock you can feed tarpon by hand, which sounds really boring until you do it. These fish will jump 3-4 feet out of the water to take the food right out of your hand if you are lucky. Or if a pelican doesn’t take the food from you first. Riley the wonder dog was able to join us on the dock and in the restaurant afterwards. He had fun chasing the birds away, and everyone was glad to have him protect their bait while they tried to feed the tarpon. For less than $10, we got about half and hour of fun feeding the fish and getting some sun on the dock. And since it was about 10 minutes from Fiesta Key, it was a nice quick trip after getting settled in to our site.

Tarpon
Photo Courtesy of TripAdvisor

Aquarium Encounters is another dog friendly business that gives you the chance to get up close and personal with shark, stingrays, dolphins, alligators, and other marine life. While we were there, I was able to do a SCUBA dive inside a tank and feed rays, sharks, and other fish swimming about. Sophie and Megan got to watch through the glass and had fun walking around the park while I was in the water. The staff was very friendly and knowledgeable, and they spent lots of time teaching us about the environment around the Keys and the history of protecting the sensitive life that surrounds them.

Another dog friendly aquarium-style activity was our visit to Theater of the Sea. Of all the places we went, this was probably the most fun. Riley was able to get nose to nose with a sea lion for the first time, so he made a quick friend there. He wasn’t so sure about the dolphins so we had to miss that show, but overall the park was a good experience. We got to see crocodiles, alligators, dolphins, birds, turtles, and all kinds of other animals close up while the trainers performed medical checks and let the guests feed them. This was probably one of the more expensive things we did in this section of the Keys, but since we could bring everyone along for the day, it was worth the money we spent.

Key West

We spent one day in Key West, and it was probably enough for us. Its a pretty typical tourist town, and two cruise ships were in port the day we were there so it was PACKED. That said, it is a nice, walkable town that has a lot to offer between shopping in the marketplace, eating local cuisine, and seeing some historical or geographically significant sites.

We parked about a half-of-a-block from mile marker 0 of US Highway 1, which was cool to us (we know it probably isn’t for you) because we spend so much time on the road that it is fun to see where it all starts. There were some of your typical tourist trap shops on the corner selling cheap souvenirs that we didn’t want, and we moved quickly to the main drag and marketplace along the cruise ship port. While we were there we got some good seafood at Hog’s Breath Saloon which was great fuel for the rest of the day.

After eating, we took a couple mile walk to Ft. Zachary Taylor and stopped at the public park along the way so Sophie could go down the slides for a bit. Ft. Zachary is an old army fort that was used for hundreds of years and never came under attack so it is in great shape considering its age. For $5 we got to walk up on the walls and look out into the bay for some photos. Its definitely worth it to us to pay so these sites can stay in good shape and be around for years to come.

ft zachary
Great Views from the Walls

Our stop at Ft. Zachary was our last for Key West, and we wrapped up our day with a walk back to mile marker 0 and our truck. Overall the day was well worth the time to drive there from Fiesta Key (about an hour and 15 minutes) and back. For people who like history, food, and shopping, Key West has it all in a small, walkable area. If you don’t feel like walking, there are on and off tours that you can take advantage of for a full day of easy site-seeing.

Overseas Highway

OverSeas Highway
Photo Courtesy of Southeast Florida Climate Compact

The most interesting part of the Keys is US Highway 1 taking you from the mainland over 120 miles out to the tip of Key West. Also known as the Overseas Highway, this road cuts through the middle of the island chain and gives breathtaking views of the blue waters are you hop island to island via bridges that stretch for miles.

Of course, speed limits are not the highest, and it is only one lane in either direction, so traffic can be an issue at times. Especially if they are repairing bridges or someone is driving slow. For this reason, a 45 mile drive can take up to an hour and a half on a bad day. But really, just go slow and enjoy it. This is one of the most beautiful and unique drives in the country, so you’ll want to soak it in.

With a travel trailer in tow, another potential issue is wind. There were some 50 mph gusts during our stay on Fiesta Key. Luckily we weren’t driving at the time, but it is something that you might want to consider before setting off. The good news is you aren’t allowed to drive very fast anyway, so its easy to maintain control. But if anything was to go wrong, there isn’t a lot of space on the shoulder. So make sure your vehicle and trailer are in good shape before starting the drive.

So What’s the Verdict?

The Florida Keys are a stunning island chain with enough nature, history, and tourism to keep you busy for weeks. The only bad part of our trip was how short it was. We are already planning our second trip back for the summer and are really hoping to get outside and on the water more than we were able to our first time around. But even with fairly bad weather while we were there, the islands provided a week full of fun for everyone in the family, that will bring us back for more as soon as possible.

sunset
Bye For Now

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