United States of America · 6 Days · 26 Moments · May 2018

May 2018 - Key West


23 May 2018

We wanted to catch dinner early enough to be able to also catch the sunset at Mallory Square. So off we walked again to the opposite side of the island. Dinner was at the Half Shell Raw Bar, where we knew they would have stone crab available. I thought we ordered a pretty decent sized dinner: Stone Crab to share, grilled mahi mahi sandwich, oand Caesar salad with shrimp. The first dish to come out was crab, and it consisted of only two claws. Two claws! I ordered 1/2 pound okkkmf crab, at the large size, thinking I would have to argue

21 May 2018

One of the suggested spots for us to visit was the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory (or as I’ve been calling it, the Butterfly House). I’ve been to butterfly exhibits before, but this one was so much than an exhibit. This massive greenhouse houses all sorts of different vegetation as well as many varieties of butterflies and birds.
We had made the decision to return to Punta Gorda a day early, which meant leaving Key West today. This last minute decision of ours meant leaving an unused hotel night, rearranging our ferry tickets, and also securing transportation back to Punta Gorda. But it was going to be worth it: we would get another full day with our family. We grabbed lunch at a waterfront restaurant called the Southernmost Beach Cafe. With the high heat and humidity, it was nice to have the wind blowing through the restaurant as we were eating. We continued with our seafood trend, where we split a half pound of peel-and-eat shrimp. Aaron ordered the catch of the day sandwich, a grilled mahi mahi and I had a blackened shrimp Caesar salad. As usual, our seafood choices didn’t disappoint.
As part of my birthday gift, Aaron had booked a couples massage for us. This was no ordinary massage though. We’re talking a beach-side couples massage, complete with sounds of the waves rolling onto shore and the ocean breeze cooling us off from the sun’s heat. It was Aaron’s first massage ever, and my first ever out in public. No matter what, this was bound to be an experience we wouldn’t forget. When we finished with our eighty minute massages, I think we both had trouble walking straight. We were so relaxed that our bodies almost felt limp trying to make itself work again. Obviously the massages were effective in getting us to a relaxed state of body and mind. I was initially worried about having people walk by our massage tent that was sparsely blocked by small palm trees. After this experience I would do it again. Once it began, I forgot about all the outside distractions and felt totally immersed in the experience.
Our day began with a re-visit to a Blue Heaven - this time having brunch. We got there about 40 minutes after it opened, and people were already lined up. Reviews for their lobster benedict was that it was a must-try item, while our waitress highly recommended the BLT version of the same. We both ordered the BLT lobster bennie and weren’t disappointed. Creamy hollandaise sauce atop a perfectly poached egg, fresh tomato slice, and succulent Florida lobster bites along with fresh fruit was our breakfast. Absolutely yum-o. We were absolutely stuffed from our meal. If I wasn’t so full, I probably would’ve ordered their key lime pie too. But that’ll be for the next time.

20 May 2018

While back at the hotel, we got to talk to Aiden, Lily, Grammy and Grandpa. We hadn’t been away from the kids for this long ever before, and especially on a day like today I really missed them. Aiden got to show off his homemade birthday card to me, and Lily was being as cute as usual. These are the sweetest kids ever. ❤️
Since this was an aimless kind of day, we decided to head towards the water and walk along the wharf. Near one of the piers, huge tarpons were hanging out next to one of the boats there. The biggest one in this little school of fish was at least 4 feet big. It was amazing to see this size fish so close to the docks. We revisited Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shop to buy the fudge that we liked from our first trip. While in the store, we got to sample other products like sauces, candies and even drinks. It was all so tempting to buy. Lucky for us, Aaron told the cashier we were here celebrating my birthday, and then the cashier gave us a slice of pie in the house. We walked in just for one item; we walked out with 4 other things too. When in Rome, I guess. At this point, skies had cleared up, the sun was beating down, and we wanted to sit and relax. Back to the hotel we went.
Not much was planned for today, and that might’ve been a good thing. The day started out with a pretty strong thunderstorm that didn’t want to end. By late morning, the rain did let up enough for us to venture out. We were starving, so we headed to the closest breakfast place that we hadn’t tried yet. La Grignote Cafe & Bistro was a quick walk to Duval Street. We shared a pasteis de nata (a Portuguese egg tart), a smoked salmon benedict and a Belgian waffle. The food was light, yet delicious. A family sitting nearby asked for our opinions of our dishes. In return, they gave us a couple of suggestions for places to eat. One of them was a bakery, called Old Town Bakery. This was supposedly a favorite of the locals, where popular pastries often sell out by midday. We went there right around noon, and got an apricot croissant and a chicken wrap to go. The croissant was tasty, and Aaron thought the wrap was good. Overall it was ok, but not sure I would feel it was necessary to return to.

19 May 2018

Lately I have been on a salad kick, especially for Caesar salad. So for dinner, I convinced Aaron to go to the Thirsty Mermaid where I knew they had Caesar salad on the menu. The restaurant was not very big, and it had a casual yet upscale kind of feel. We settled on the seared yellow-fin tuna for Aaron and a “Mermaid” Caesar salad with a tuna poke app for me. The reviews weren’t wrong - everything was delicious! I was happy I finally got my salad, but the favorite dish of the night was Aaron’s seared tuna. Another restaurant worth revisiting. We hopped over to a nearby ice cream shop called Kilwin’s. When you walk in, the smell of fudge encapsulates you. Not surprising since fudge-filled display cases make up half of the store. For ice cream I chose the Key West Mud, a vanilla ice cream with pecans and caramel swirl, and Aaron chose chocolate chip cookie dough. If I had to compare this shop versus Matheesson’s, I’d probably choose Kilwin’s. Thumbs up from both of of us.
We dropped off our snorkeling gear back at the hotel, and walked to the closest train station. By this time, the sun was out, skies were clearing and temps rising. Another silver lining to staying on land today: we both probably would’ve gotten sunburned if we had gone out snorkeling. At least we were covered while taking the train tour. The tour took us to our first stop: the Shipwreck Museum. One key piece of Key West’s history was from “wrecking”: salvaging items from shipwrecks which made Key West one of the richest cities in the United States during the 1800’s. Without the technology of lighthouses, ships would crash into the coral reefs surrounding Key West, and locals would cry out “wreck ashore” to rush out and start salvaging from the wreck. The locals would then sell their finds and profited considerably.
By the time the Conch Tour was finished, we had to take a break back at the hotel room to recuperate from the days activities. Besides all the interesting facts we learned about Key West’s history, we also learned that the kids finally made it out on the boat today. Grandpa has a small pontoon boat, and Aiden had been looking forward to riding it. It was just a short boat ride, but it looked liked the kids loved it. Meanwhile for us, we didn’t have any hard plans for the evening, so we decided to stroll around before deciding on what to do for dinner. Today, we photographed many different flowers and foliage on the island. We even found out that there were mango trees here - wouldn’t that be great to have in the backyard! Along our stroll was the buoy located at the Southernmost point in the continental US. A highly sought after photo op, we purposely waited until it was less crowded in the evening to visit.
We had lunch at the Fisherman’s Cafe after our visit at the Shipwreck Museum. Aaron had a grilled grouper sandwich, and I had a shrimp club wrap. Both items were absolutely delicious. The fish and shrimp were well-seasoned, and our side of potato fries were on point. We wanted to finish off our meal with the much-hyped-about chocolate covered key lime pie on a stick. This was a dessert that came highly recommended to Aaron. We purchased ours from Kermit’s Key West Lime Pie Shoppe, which had great reviews. Maybe we were full from lunch or we don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but neither of us cared for it. Way. Too. Sweet. At least we can say we tried it. On a positive note, their key lime fudge was pretty tasty, something worth going back to buy.
We continued our Conch Train Tour, after pausing it for the Shipwreck Museum and for lunch. Our first tour driver Todd drove us past the only cemetery in Key West, an above ground cemetery that inters over 75,000 people. The majority of the tour was led by Manny, who gave us some interesting tidbits: 1) The banyan tree is a type of tree that has aerial roots that extend from its branches to the ground to grow additional trunks around the host trunk. 2) The only Cuban cigar company to survive an 1886 fire, which destroyed nearly all of the cigar industry in Key West, was made of brick and had a tin roof. Since the fire, it became law to have buildings roofed with tin to prevent future fires from spreading. 3) Key West was originally 2x2 miles big, but the Navy decided to expand the land by digging up sand from the Gulf side and laying it down on the Atlantic side. It was a 30 year project, and it resulted in a 2x4 mile wide island.
We had a second snorkeling excursion planned for the morning, which required an early start. We had to make it across to the north side of the island by 8:30am, so we wanted to grab breakfast nearby before boarding the boat. Cuban Coffee Queen is famously known not just for their coffee, but also their Cuban sandwiches. We both ordered their Sunrise Special, a very good bargain consisting of a half Cuban sandwich with pork and an iced cafe con leche for breakfast. It was the perfect size at a great price. I’m not a coffee connoisseur, but this did seem like strong coffee that was pretty smooth. Would definitely recommend little coffee stand as a great breakfast spot. As we sat down to eat, we received notice that the snorkeling trip got canceled due to the chance of thunderstorms in the forecast. The silver lining was that at least we now had a free day. So, we opted to take the highly recommended Conch Train Tour and to visit the Shipwreck Museum.

18 May 2018

We had an early dinner at Sun Sun Bar and Grill, the outdoor restaurant located beachside at the hotel. Besides the water view with a cool ocean breeze, we also got to see a wedding that was happening at the same time. The entire atmosphere definitely lended to the romantic feel in the air. Aaron and I decided to share our entire meal. We ordered the yellow-fin poke and a spicy chorizo and mussels appetizer to start. Both were pretty good takes on our usual favorites. For our main meal, we shared grill mahi mahi with a lime beurre blanc sauce. As to be expected, the seafood was obviously fresh and this dish was no different. Right after dinner, we headed to Blue Heaven for some key lime pie and drinks. Years ago, I visited Key West and had the best key lime pie at Blue Heaven. This time around, we weren’t disappointed. Delicious dessert in a fun, relaxed setting.
Our snorkeling trip tired us, so we stayed at the hotel to relax a bit. On our stroll around the property, we met a crab frolicking along the sidewalk. Apparently, this crab has been around the grounds for at least 3 days now. Looking at him crawl, it didn’t seem like he was in a hurry to get anywhere. We knew Aiden was battling a fever that wouldn’t break, so we wanted to check in to see how the kids were doing. We called to FaceTime with them and was able to see only Lily. Aiden had finally taken a nap after doing Legos and watching “My Neighbor Totoro”. Fever hadn’t broken yet. Lily was so happy to see us, but eventually was goofing off with a laundry hamper over her head. At least both kids were having a great time with the grands.
After our dolphin watch, we were taken to a spot just about a half our away to snorkel. Aaron and I were the only ones to bring snorkeling gear, which probably made us look like veterans. That might be true of Aaron, but I still get butterflies in my stomach when I first jump in the water. Once in the water, we both shot off. We swam over red coral, and quickly made our way out toward an uninhabited island. Here, the water was shallower and with less fish. We worked our way back towards the boat, spending more time in the deeper red coral where fish were more abundant. We spotted parrot fish, sea urchins, and basslet among others. Aaron, being the more experienced swimmer, took pictures with our underwater camera by diving to capture closeups. Snorkeling lasted for about 45 minutes, and then we headed back to shore. It was relaxing to sit in the sun with the wind drying us off. Snorkeling in Florida made us crave for the waters of Hawaii. Still, it was a great day for snorkeling.
Our first snorkeling excursion actually included a dolphin watch as well. Aaron had booked the trip with Barefoot Billy’s, which was affiliated with our hotel. The excursion was supposed to start a bit before noon, which meant we would either have a very early lunch or a very late lunch. Since we already had our late breakfast at Frenchie’s, we brought along some bananas, nuts and jerky for snacks while out at sea. After a short can ride from the hotel to the dock, we boarded the pontoon and off we went. About an hour later we arrived to a location northwest of Key West, where local bottlenose dolphins live. There are about 150 dolphins that live in the area, but typically they spot pods of about 6-10 dolphins. Today, we saw two groups of 3 dolphins each “playing”. Two males, one female - more likely, they were mating.
We have a midday dolphin watch and snorkeling trip planned. We wanted to start with breakfast at Frenchie’s Cafe. It was a nice short walk from the hotel, and thank goodness too. Today, the skies are clear and the sun was already beating down. We both ordered the smoked salmon croissant sandwich with cream cheese and capers. Light yet filling - a great way to start the day.
While we enjoyed our smoked salmon sandwiches, the kids enjoyed their pancakes, courtesy of Chef Ed. These were based on Aaron’s recipe for his famous “party pancakes”. Party pancakes are dairy- and egg-free, so that Aiden can enjoy them. Because they taste so much like regular pancakes, we normally make one big batch and the whole family enjoys them together. Based on the looks of their faces, pancakes by Ed were enjoyed by all!

17 May 2018

We ended our day with a lovely beach side dinner at Salute, a restaurant next to our hotel Casa Marina. Aaron had a yellow-fin snapper and I, a caprese salad with a side of shrimp cocktail. I’m quickly learning that you can’t go wrong with seafood down here in the Keys. Everything was delicious, and we definitely would go back again.
An hour later, we arrived at the ferry dock in Fort Myers. The ferry, the Key West Express, was not your typical Cape Cod style ferry. An enormous boat, it can hold 450 people. The ferry appeared to be a newer vessel with very comfortable seating with tables and TVs throughout the cabin. We boarded just before 8am, traveled for about 3.5 hours, to arrive in Key West just a bit after noon. By this time, we were both exhausted from our early morning traveling. We chose to drop off our luggage at the hotel first before setting our sites on lunch.
Early Thursday morning around 5 o’clock, we woke to Aiden asking for a tissue for his nose. Because he kept asking and we never responded, Lily woke up too. Aaron got up for the tissue, and then brought Lily into bed. We both tried to go back to sleep, but it was too late. Both kids were in bed and climbing all over us. This was the start of our first full day of vacation. After a quick breakfast of leftovers, it was time to load up the car and head out. I admit, leaving the kids wasn’t easy. Lily had already walked off to another room, but Aiden asked, “Will you miss me Mommy?” I have to say that his question really tugged at my heartstrings, but I assured him we would call him and that we’d be back soon. Who knew it would be so tough to leave for vacation?
After a most satisfying lunch, we continued our walk down Duval Street, which is the main strip in Key West that runs in a SE to NW direction. Duval Street is lined with shops, restaurants, and other colorful attractions for the entire length of the street. We walked from one end to the other, and found ourselves at the Key West Aquarium. A small aquarium, it still had some neat exhibits like a touch tank with conch, hermit crabs, horseshoe crabs and sea cucumbers. We walked by a presentation on lionfish, an invasive venomous fish that has been a threat to coral reef ecosystems. An interesting comment we heard was that the lionfish population can be controlled if more people order it from a restaurant menu. Definitely news to me.
Aaron and I had the same idea. We needed to find a place with: good reviews, someplace close by, and also satisfy our hunger pains? The answer was obvious: lobster rolls! After walking for what felt like hours (remember, at this point we were tired and hungry) - we got to eat Maine lobster rolls from DJ’s Clam Shack. It wasn’t exactly close, but the long walk was definitely worth it. The best lobster rolls we’ve had in awhile - better than ones we recently had in Massachusetts!
During our day excursions, we received some Aiden and Lily updates. Aiden, though not feeling 100 percent, loved swimming in the pool. Lily, on the other hand, wasn’t sure about joining her brother in the water. Instead, she lay claim to the kitchen by plopping herself down in the middle of the floor. After our aquarium visit, we really needed to head back to the hotel to rest. On the way, we grabbed ice cream from Matheesson’s Homemade for a cool afternoon treat. Once at the hotel, we took a dip in the hotel pool. Only 4 feet at its deepest, the poll water was the perfect temperature for a refreshing and comfortable swim.