As we set off on our “friendcation” aboard Royal Caribbean’s Empress of the Seas leaving from Miami, all I could think was, thank goodness everyone made it. But that is a story for another time. Anywho! Our first port was the next morning in Key West… or the Conch Republic if you please. Here is a brief history of the alternate name, if you’re interested.
My first impression getting off of the boat was “meh, it’s hot.” But that is because I am a jaded Florida native and we were still in Florida. However, we were provided with a complementary shuttle (tour guide included) to the city center and seeing all of the pretty houses (and the chickens!) made me warm up to the place a bit more.
After walking the city and seeing just how much there is to do, I grew to love it and would like to spend more time there. This trip, I really just wanted to get some sight seeing done, since all of our drinks and food were paid for on the boat. It seemed silly to spend the day eating and drinking off the boat as well. Here are a couple of places that we got to check out and I definitely recommend you make a part of your trip as well.
Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
When you type in “things to do” in Key West in TripAdvisor, this is the first thing that comes up. The couple that we went with also said that it was “badass.” And that it is.
Our boat docked the same day that the Disney Cruise docked, so this place was crowded with kids (which was disappointing because I prefer to avoid children like the plague). But once you are actually in the conservatory, it’s so magical that you kind of get lost in your own little fairy dreamland with butterflies land on your nose. I’m sure it’s even more magical when there aren’t nearly as many people, but regardless, it is worth experiencing.
The “Touristy” Points of Interest:
Mile 0 – which is literally just a 0 mile marker on US 1… nothing fancy, and yet you have to get a picture of it to say you were there. It’s the thing to do.
The Southernmost Tip of the Continental United States – the “tip” that is the photo-op had a line a mile long. I thought that was ridiculous. I cared more about standing at the edge looking out to the water and being like “I’m standing on the southernmost point of the continental US.” But that’s just me. Of course the buoy looking thing is the monument and what everyone recognizes.
Mallory Square and Market Place
You can’t miss this market place, all of the tours and trolley rides leave from the area. There are tons of shops and feels as if it is the city center. We wandered around here but didn’t actually do too much besides purchase a souvenir. There are a bunch of museums and restaurants to check out though, one of which is the Key West Museum of Art and History at the Custom House.
The Custom House is a huge building next to Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. It boasts a 25-foot statue of the iconic (and one of my favorites) Alfred Eisenstaedt image of a sailor kissing a nurse to celebrate Japan’s WWII surrender to the US (mini history lesson, if you didn’t know). Seward Johnson is the artist behind the larger-than-life sculpture and it is simply breathtaking.
Aside from the markets, museums and restaurants, Mallory Square is right on the water. We went during the day, and it was nice to walk around. You can people watch, birdwatch, jet-ski watch… basically just chill. However, apparently at night there is always a gathering to watch the sunset. This is because of “The Green Flash.” I won’t go into how it works, so if you’re interested you can read about that here. Apparently Key West has a great view of this rare phenomenon. We actually learned about it on the trolley ride back to the cruise.
Back on the boat, ~20 miles away from Key West, our dinner time was 6:00pm, but sunset was at 6:17. I left the table at 6:15 and went out onto the balcony. Sure enough when that last bit of sun pinched the horizon, there it was, the green flash. There was a group of older gentleman watching for the same thing and they got so excited when it happened that it made me feel like I wasn’t seeing things. No one else in our group walked out to see it with me, but given that it’s apparently more rare than you might think, I’m glad that I didn’t skip out.
Eating in Key West:
OK, yes, even though I said we didn’t want to eat in Key West, we still did. Simply because the couple that we were with had been to a tapas restaurant that they loved and wanted to take us there. It didn’t disappoint.
This place is amazing! Everything is tapas, so small and shareable plates. I think between the four of us we ordered half of the menu. They have just about everything… meatballs and pasta, pate, lamb, bruschetta, you name it.
And even though their tapas is small, they have salads that are huge! The waitress warned us, but I didn’t believe her. We ordered the avocado pear salad and it was ginormous. But so delicious. Seriously, if you are in Key West, don’t miss this place. It was more than worth the money that we didn’t plan to spend.
Key Lime Pie
Of course, the Key Lime Pie is a staple of Key West, so you have to try it. It’s not very hard to find, just about every shop or restaurant you go to will have some. We got it from a little market/bakery and it was tarte and delicious. We also got a chocolate covered frozen pie on a stick from a gift shop. I thought it was different, but still worth tasting… when in Key West, right?
Our friends came to this place previously and said the food wasn’t that good, so we didn’t eat. But the drinks are delicious and it has a great atmosphere. We sat on the patio and had a cocktail before we went to Santiago Bodega. It was crowded when we arrived, but not overbearing. The bartenders were cool as shit and there was a live band. There was even a set up where a madam was doing tarot card readings. All in all, a quirky little place to hang out with a drink and listen to some good music. It’s also pet friendly… I tried not swoon over the dogs that were there… I was unsuccessful.
Have you been to Key West? Where were your favorite places to go? Let me know in the comments!
If you’d like to see know more, check out part two of our cruise adventures in Cozumel and Belize below.
And feel free to follow my adventures and come say hi on instagram.