This year I’ve been working with Marriott, The Americas to highlight different areas of the country I think make for fun and interesting getaway destinations. In the process I’ve been able to visit several spots that have long been on my own personal bucket list, most recently the Florida Keys. I think we all have a mental image of what the Keys are like, I know that mine was strongly influenced by the Beach Boys’ “Kokomo” and other pop culture references. Of course the reality is always different from our mental constructs, so before I start writing about my Keys experience in earnest, I first wanted to share my initial thoughts about visiting one of the country’s most unusual but remarkable vacation destinations.
Nothing Like the Florida Keys
From my experience, most beach communities are pretty similar. There’s a high-end area, a low rent area, many bars and restaurants, t-shirt shops and so on. They’re fine, but they’re predictable. That is not the case with the Florida Keys. First of all, the Keys really aren’t a beach destination per se. The great draw to the communities lining these small islands is diving and snorkeling, which is absolutely amongst the best in the world. Sure, some hotels and resorts have established small beaches, but they’re not endemic to the Keys. Instead, it really is about enjoying the destination for what it is. Long cut off not only from the rest of the country, but the rest of the world, the feeling in the Keys is totally unlike any other place I’ve visited. It’s laid back for sure, but it’s also warm and accepting of anyone, no matter who they are. There’s a certain egalitarian spirit in the Keys that is inviting and unique, which I suppose is what draws people there in the first place. The word unique is used far more often than it should be, but in this case it’s certainly applicable. The Keys are one of a kind and my only regret is that it took me so long to finally visit.
Key West is Indeed Amazing
Over the decades Key West has taken on an almost mythical reputation. An enclave for pirates and anyone looking to escape from the rest of the world, a home for Hemingway, a vacation for Truman – the community has earned its reputation over the decades as being a place of not only escape, but refuge and it was a lot of anticipation that I finally arrived into this strange little town at the edge of the country. What helped set the tone for me was my very quirky but also very luxurious boutique hotel, The Saint. Part of the Autograph Collection of hotels the distinctive mix of design and decadence matches its central Key West location with ease, and it also prepared me for the day that was to come. Key West will get several separate posts from me, but suffice it to say that not only did I have a lot of fun during my far too short day exploring the area, but it impressed me much more than I thought it would. Key West is popular not only with cruise ships but anyone looking for a party, and I was a little worried that the city would feel like Bourbon Street on steroids. But that’s not at all the case, instead I found a lovely series of neighborhoods flanked by art deco design, beautiful views and some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. In short, yes, Key West is indeed amazing and deserves all of the mighty praise it has received over the years.
So Much More Though Than Key West
I think that when many people think of the Keys, their thoughts start and end at Key West, but the area is so much more expansive than just one community. The full length of the Keys is about 150 miles and to drive from Miami to Key West on a good day should take about 3 hours. But it’s what lies in between those two points that is so magical. Technically, the coral cay archipelago starts just about 15 miles from Miami and almost immediately the shift from urban to pastoral calm is palpable. I spent a couple of days in Key Largo, partially inspired by the Beach Boys, where I stayed at the Key Largo Marriott Resort – a perfect home base for my explorations. Over the span of a couple of days I spent time in several nearby communities, like Islamorada, and even went out on the water to appreciate the area from a different point of view. Looking back at it now, it was important for me to experience these smaller towns before first visiting Key West. I learned to love their unique qualities and it indoctrinated me into the slower pace of life for which the Keys are so very well known. When I go back I’ll follow a similar schedule, just at a much slower pace.
I honestly didn’t know what to expect from my first visit to the nearly mythical Florida Keys. Like most people, I had many preconceptions and while some were accurate, many others were just completely wrong. I’m continuously amazed by the diversity of the US, and how many unique enclaves exist, like the Florida Keys. This is not your normal beach getaway, it’s something so much more than that. It’s slightly ethereal, definitely spiritual and just a lot of fun. There aren’t too many places in the world that can claim these qualities, and I know that’s why my first visit is the start of a beautiful new travel relationship.