40th (Ruby) Wedding Anniversary Cruise
Key West - Florida - USA
DAY 22 - 26th Feb 2018 - Landed Key West, Florida, USA
It was our 40th Wedding Anniversary treat, what you might call our Ruby cruise! We have been to Key West before in August 1997 with the boys, I have included a few of those memories here but if you wish to see more of that trip please CLICK HERE . Had a lovely time on the trolley bus seeing much of Key West, it was much nicer than we remembered it. The bus took us around most of it including the Wharf, Martello museums, Mangrove swamps, the Southernmost tip and much more. Walked down Duval street into the Hard Rock Cafe and then into the NEW sloppy joes bar where Hemingway supposedly supped daily. Beautiful houses, saw an igunana which are apparently overrunning the island, a coral key, are stripping all vegitation. Moni-G on the trolley bus was a hoot. We ended back on the water front at sunset pier. We met pals Brian & Lorraine in their hired electric car outside the HRC but declined their invitation for a lift. If you would like to read the detailed BLOG of the trip including the Captains log please CLICK HERE
So much better than we remembered, came here with the boys in 1997
The Guide to Key West
The Florida Keys are a necklace of subtropical islands stretching into the heart of the Gulf of Mexico. Key West, located 135 miles southwest of Miami and just 90 miles from Havana, has enjoyed the most colourful history and clientele of them all. Visitors, historians, marine enthusiasts, gourmands and shoppers are all drawn to this truly charming town at the southernmost tip of the United States.
The Spanish conquistadors named this island Cayo Hueso, Island of Bones, for when they first landed they were rather disconcerted to find human bones scattered along the waterfront. It has remained inconclusive to this day as to why the bones were there, but fortunately the island’s grisly name has been Anglicised - rather than translated - hence ‘Key West’ is no reference to geographical location.
The Florida Keys are a necklace of subtropical limestone and coral islands that stretch for about 150 miles from the southern tip of mainland America into the heart of the Gulf of Mexico. Closer to Havana than to Miami the tiny island of Key West is only four miles from east to west and two miles in width. This is the southernmost city in the continental United States and has a population of approximately 24,800.
As a member of “The Sunshine State” of Florida, it is not surprising to learn that the average annual temperature in the Keys is 78°F (26°C), ranging from 70°F in January to 84°F in July. Winter is the driest time of the year and the summer brings along high humidity with frequent electrical storms.
Time used to stand still in these back of beyond islands, the only inhabitants being smugglers, criminals and madmen explorers. All of this changed in 1912 when Henry Flagler extended his railroad to Key West. Spurred by his vision of carrying sportsmen to exotic fishing camps, Flagler’s remarkable feat of engineering connected over three dozen islands with more than 100 miles of rail-track. Though the railroad was destroyed in 1935 by a hurricane, the surviving structures were incorporated into the Overseas Highway, and now the Keys are accessible to everyone who wants to partake of their individual attractions.
It may feel as though you are in the middle of the ocean as you cross bridge after bridge over an ever widening expanse of sea, but strange as it may seem, no depth around the Keys is greater than sixty feet.
The Calusa Indians were the first known inhabitants of the Keys. They were lured from the Florida mainland by the abundance of fish and shellfish just waiting in the waters to be caught. The native hardwoods of the islands were an added attraction, supplying sturdy wood for their homes. Many Indian mounds have been discovered on the islands along with sunken dugouts. Arawak and Carib Indian settlements followed in the pattern that is echoed throughout the Caribbean, but European settlers could not seem to navigate their way through the coral reefs. They decided that a watery grave was too high a price to pay for these little islands and so settlement was left to brave mainlanders and pirates.
In their efforts to carve out an existence for themselves in the 18th century the islanders turned to fruit-farming. Produce included breadfruit, limes, pineapples and tamarind. In later years the Keys’ economy was further boosted when Big Pine Key saw a shark processing factory established, the hides of which were sent further north to be processed into shagreen leather. In the 19th century British
loyalists, American merchant seamen and Cubans also infiltrated the economy of the islands, setting up factories to produce those big, fat, Havana cigars.
It is a simple exercise to reach Key West by sea these days and if you travel through the Keys by road the journey is definitely one to appreciate. The modern aspects of the tourist trade have blended so well with more traditional ways that on arrival in Key West you may wonder why it took so long to become popular. For instance, early in the last century, the Spanish owner sold the island to an American businessman for only $2,000 because piracy was frightening off the settlers. But soon the sponge divers prospered, up to 100 million cigars were rolled annually and ‘wreckers’ - people who made a living from rescuing people and salvage - did a roaring trade. At the turn of the century, the population had reached 18,000 and Key West became per capita the richest city in the United States.
Such prosperity could not last. The 1929 stock market crash, the failure of the sponges and the departure of the US Navy and the cigar rollers all spelled decline and decay. Key West became the poorest city in the US, but the residents remained and dug in their heels, determined to forge a new wealth by way of tourism. And how they have succeeded, with sunshine, sand, sea and sports - this is what the inhabitants of Key West live for today.
The Old Town
The main street in Key West is Duval Street - said to be the longest street in the world as it connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. The Old Town has plenty of authentic houses, or at least houses restored to their original 19th century condition. Often these houses were constructed by ships’ carpenters with gingerbread railings and wide verandahs being essential prerequisites. Houses such as Conch House (pronounced conk) boast heady arrays of shutters, cisterns and scuttles to let hot air out through the roof, a feature copied from the Bahamian and New England styles. The conch, by the way, is almost the symbol of the Keys and the nickname of the native born people.
There are two other conch houses on Caroline Street, the Captain George Carey at 410 and George A. T. Roberts at 313. The Bartlum/Forgarty House in Eaton Street had its frontal structure floated over from the Bahamas on a schooner. Duval Street plays host to the Oldest House which shows the history of wrecking through paintings and artefacts.
Audubon House and Gardens
Whitehead Street. This three-storey frame house is held together entirely by wooden pegs and is a fine example of the shipbuilders’ craft. Built in the early 1800s it now serves as a museum dedicated to the period and life of Jon James Audubon, a famous painter and naturalist. Exhibits include antiques, Audubon’s original engravings, and a videotape presentation of Audubon’s Birds of America. That his memory is served so well by this building is one of life’sxuriosities as he only stayed herefor a few weeks in 1832.
Whitehead Street. Here in this beautiful coral-stone house where he lived with his wife from 1931 to 1940, Hemingway created such masterpieces as A Farewell To Arms and For Whom The Bell Tolls. Completed in 1851, the house sits on a one-acre lot - an enormous luxury for such a small island. There are daily tours through the house and its gardens, and keep your eyes open for the sleek, six-toed cats reputed to be descendants of Hemingway’s own.
For those with a literary bent, a visit to Tennessee Williams House in Duncan Street may also be worth a visit. It is a Bahamian-style cottage where the writer lived until his death in 1983. In fact, many notable writers and artists have chosen Key West as their home, including the poet Wallace Stevens. Today there are more than a dozen Pulitzer Prizewinners in residence.
Duval Street. Allegedly the oldest house in Key West, dating from the 19th century. Its exhibits include sea artefacts, models of ships and an exquisite miniature house in the Conch style.
Mel Fisher’s Museum
Greene Street. In this Maritime Heritage Society Museum, breathtaking riches materialise before your eyes in the shape of jewels, chains and gleaming coins, all treasures gathered by Fisher and his divers from sunken ships. You can be a millionaire for a moment when you hold the golden barl
East Martello Museum
S. Roosevelt Blvd. This historic structure houses a museum dedicated to the history of Key West and its artists. The citadel, with its fine vaulted ceilings, affords a glorious view of the island’s position in the Atlantic.
East and West, were built for defence purposes in the 19th century, possibly to fend off a Napoleonic invasion. Fort Zachary Taylor was strengthened about the same time and now houses a superb collection of Civil War cannon.
Waterfront area. This is the place which attracts the crowds at sunset when the cries of street-performers reach a crescendo as the sun sinks down onto the horizon. The oldest attraction in this area is the Aquarium where daily shark and turtle feeding and the touch tank offer guests hands-on experience with the sealife.
St Mary Star of the Sea
Windsor Lane. The second oldest catholic church in Florida with unusual features including tin arches and metal columns. In the grounds stands a small grotto; built by a nun and dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes it is said to protect the island from hurricanes - so far it has done its job.
Key West Cemetery
Not as morbid as it sounds for there are many humorous inscriptions to be found on the stone caskets, such as ‘I Told You I Was Sick’ and ‘At Least I Know Where He’s Sleeping Tonight’.
Conch Tour Train
A well-narrated hour and a half tour will show you the best of Key West. The little open-air ‘train’ covers many unusual and historical sites and will help familiarise you with the layout of the town. The trains leave at regular intervals daily from Mallory Square.
Harry Truman Little White House
This attraction is just a few hundred yards from Mallory Square and was President Truman’s Winter Retreat. He visited Key West several times while in office and continued the visits for many years after he left office. The Truman Little White House is Florida’s only Presidential Museum and was where Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and US President Kennedy met in the 1960’s.
Key West Cruisers, 500 Truman Ave Suite 1.
Tel. 1-888-800-8802. Experience Old Town, Duval Street and the Beach in the slow moving electric vehicles, known locally as “Conch Cruisers”. For an island who’s top speed is 35 and traffic that moves at a much slower pace, the “Cruiser" is the perfect way to see paradise!
Hertz, 3840 N. Roosevelt Blvd, Tel. 294-1039. Budget, 3202 N. Roosevelt Blvd, Tel. 294-8858.
Taxis are available but most attractions are within walking distance.
Old Town Trolley
The Trolley Tour runs every half hour and covers the entire island.
Given its island location, Key West surprisingly has very few beaches and they tend to become very crowded in peak seasons. The best bets for a bathe are Smathers Beach, which lies just off the S. Roosevelt Blvd and has clear waters for swimming, and Higgs Beach, along the Atlantic Blvd with shallow water areas suitable for children. Both resorts have plenty of facilities. You may also wish to try South Beach at the end of Duval Street which is next to the Southernmost Point.
Swimmers should wear foot protection against sea-urchins.
Plenty of hire facilities are available at the beach resorts for snorkelling, scuba-diving and other aquatic activities.
Key West Resort, an 18-hole course with club and cart hire available. 5450 College Road.
Public courts are available at Bayview Park, 1310 Truman Ave. Tel. 294 1346 and at Higgs Beach.