One of my favorite books is 1000 Places to See Before You Die by Patricia Schultz. Every time I travel, I read it to see if there is something I need to “cross of my list.” When I had the opportunity to visit Florida in November for business, I checked the book and decided that I needed to extend my trip for a few days and celebrate Thanksgiving in Key West.
Although there are flights to and from Key West daily, the best way to experience the true essence of the Florida Keys is to rent a convertible and drive. Take the top down, play your favorite Jimmy Buffet or Bob Marley songs, and soak in the sun as you make your way to the southernmost point in the continental United States. The Keys are linked by 42 bridges scattered along 126 miles of historic U.S. 1, including the impressive 7-mile bridge. Although I am generally not a fan of road trips, I must admit the drive was spectacular. Four hours on a two lane highway seemed to fly by as I watched birds soaring by and beautiful blue water on both sides.
Upon arrival, I checked in at Key West Marriott Beachside Hotel, a seven-acre waterfront property with beautiful tropical gardens, and a wonderful waterfront swimming pool. My room was a one bedroom suite and it was stunning. With over 800 square feet, the room featured a half bathroom; a gourmet kitchen with granite countertops and high-end appliances; a beautiful dining room for six; a comfortable living room with a large LCD flat panel television; and a gorgeous master suite with a marble Jacuzzi tub. Just off the living room was a large balcony, the perfect location to sip my morning coffee and enjoy views of the waterfront, swimming pool, and lush landscape. I have stayed in amazing hotels around the world and this property ranks among one of my favorites simply because of the large, tastefully decorated rooms in what I like to call, “island elegance”. In addition to the one bedroom suite, the Marriott also offers two and three bedroom suites, perfect for large families. Although I was tempted to cook my own Thanksgiving dinner in the beautiful gourmet kitchen in my suite, I chose to dine at Tavern and Town, the fine dining restaurant at the hotel. The ambience of the restaurant was exquisite and the food was delicious. I thought I might actually miss slaving away in the kitchen for my traditional Thanksgiving, but I must admit this meal was far better than anything I could have come up with.
The Marriott offers a free shuttle to the heart of the action, Duval Street. It is called the longest main street in world because it goes from coast to coast – from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. The street is lined with unique shops, restaurants and bars – including Sloppy Joes, a Key West tradition and Hemingway hangout. See where Ernest Hemingway lived and wrote in Key West for 10 years at the Hemingway House and Museum, located just one block off Duval Street.
Key West is known for the world-famous sunset celebrations. There are nightly extravaganzas held at Mallory Square featuring a wide variety of vendors, artists, musicians, and street performers. It is like an outdoor carnival with a colorful cast of characters. One evening, I chose to sail on the “Commotion on the Ocean”, a full-size catamaran with live music, appetizers and cocktails. The warm ocean breeze and beautiful tropical waters provided an excellent backdrop for the magnificent sunset. Regardless if you experience it from land or sea, the Key West sunset should not be missed.
While the waters of Key West are famous for shipwrecks and treasure troves, water sports and deep sea fishing are some of the most popular activities. I had the opportunity to sail on the Fury Catamaran on their Ultimate Adventure. If was a full day on the water that included snorkeling, jet skiing, and my new favorite adventure: parasailing. If you really want to see Key West, get up in the air for the birds-eye view on a parasail – it is amazing! The Ultimate Adventure also included kayaks, a water trampoline, and rock wall. It was a full day of fun in the sun and a great way to enjoy the water playground in Key West.
Although I only had a few days to enjoy Key West, it was one of the most fun and relaxing Thanksgiving holidays I can remember. The locals have a saying that captures the true essence of The Keys. It’s from the Jimmy Buffet song, “Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude”. If you want to “change your attitude”, turn off your cell phone, leave your laptop at home, rent a convertible and head for a relaxing drive to Key West for a few days. It’s a welcome change of pace.