Spring Break, 2022—Key West, FL

Travel log and diary for our Spring Break adventure to (and from) Key West, Florida—March 12-16, 2022.

March 12 (Saturday)

We started our day by packing the car and heading off to the airport. It always seems to be par for the course, but we made it maybe two or three miles before we realized we left something. We went back to get a headphone cable and, once again, headed out for the airport. We made it in plenty of time, checking in Meg’s bag at the baggage counter. The bag weighed 48 pounds, making it under the limit by a mere 2 pounds.

The flight from Jackson to Atlanta was a breeze. John sat with me, and Charlotte sat with Megan. We planned to get lunch at the airport, but every place seemed to be experiencing difficulty at the exact same time. I was going to get Five Guys, but we were informed that the wait after placing an order is 30 minutes. We called that off and went to Chick-fil-A. We tried to get Charlotte a hotdog from The Varsity, but they were not able to take any orders. Again, it seemed like all the cards were stacked against us. We finally got Charlotte some cheese pizza and sat down to eat.

We made our way to gate D13 to wait for the boarding call scheduled for 1:11. The plane was delayed and we finally boarded and flew out at 2:51. The flight to Key West was uneventful. However, as we were getting near Key West, the winds picked up, keeping us from landing. The pilot informed us that we had enough fuel to circle the airport for about 10 minutes, and if the winds didn’t die down, we would have to make our way to Fort Lauderdale to refuel and try again. We did just that, adding an extra hour to our trip—30 minutes to and from.

It really is amazing how advanced our technological world is. I watched the Kentucky/Tennessee SEC Semifinal game on the flight, which I wouldn’t have seen the end if the flight would have concluded in its regular fashion. It’s not convenient to be rerouted, obviously, but it’s a point of necessity to realize that 10-20 years ago, this wouldn’t have been possible. I would be left to my CD player or iPod instead of having a basketball game on the headrest in front of me.

As I write this, we are heading to the rental car portal to rent a car. The plane has been rescheduled for 7am tomorrow, and there’s nothing offered by Delta in any form of hotel stay or voucher. So, we drive. Looking at possibly a four hour trip south. If the sun was up, it would be a beautiful drive. But, as of right now, it’s 5:55pm, so the scenic beauty of south Florida will look oddly the same as any other nighttime drive. I could be wrong, but we’ll see.

March 13 (Sunday)

We made the drive from Fort Lauderdale to Key West. I’d say it was in record time, but coming down Hwy 1 at 45 to 55 mph doesn’t leave many records to be broken. Nonetheless, we’re here. I was, however, impressed with the little Camry we rented. Not a bad car at all.

We contemplated what our plans were going to be in regards of getting around. We had to return the Camry by 4pm today, so we took advantage of having it, and made our way towards the Hemingway house around 9am. This served to be a good decision because it was still very quiet downtown. We found a coveted free parking spot and strolled lazily towards Earnest’s Key West house, beating the crowds to it. We took the tour, saw the cats, and marveled at the home. Meg and I visited here on our honeymoon in 2007, so it was cool to bring the kids and to revisit some memories. It’s bound to happen, but with time, the sharpness of those memories fade.

Today’s visit helped to better establish those memories. And of course, I loved hearing the story of Pauline building the pool and Hemingway saying she spent his last red cent, throwing a penny in the pool. She had it set in glass to commemorate the beauty of that moment. They divorced soon after, but it had more to do with Hemingway’s infidelity than with the construction of the pool.

Hemingway’s “last red cent”

We ended up renting an electric golf cart for two days, taking care of the travel conundrum. We took the car back to the airport, getting to pass by the beaches and seeing more of the island. After a brief nap at the hotel, we let the kids swim while we soaked up some sun.

For dinner, we planned to go eat at First Flight which is a restaurant and brewery houses in the building that were the PanAm offices when the first international flight occurred. When we arrived, we were told we needed reservations, and there were not any left tonight. So we made reservations for tomorrow night and made our way to Mallory Square to watch the sunset and get some food.

When we arrived, we happened upon a street performer who was gathering an audience. His name was Tobin Renwick from New Hampshire, and he really put on a show. He entertained with juggling routines like juggling upside down, juggling fire sticks and juggling multiple objects. As usual, he acquired volunteers from the crowd, and somehow I ended up being a volunteer at the end. He extended a ladder all the way to over 20 feet and did a hand stand on it. I was one of the adults who helped keep the ladder up.

International performer Tobin Renwick

The kids watched him and a second performer while Meg and I stood in line for freshly made guacamole. We met Buddy, a 200-pound St. Bernard. He was beautiful, but saying he was large is an understatement.

We watched the sunset, which was breathtaking, and made our way back into the inner part of the island to try more slices of key lime pie. This time, we tried a regular slice and a chocolate covered slice from the Key Lime Pie Bakery, the alleged home of the Key Lime Pie recipe.

We have one day of “island time” left, with plans to visit The Little White House and dinner at First Flight. I’m very thankful tonight did not consist of driving four hours through the Keys. Time change with us going from Central Standard Time to Eastern Daylight Saving Time has us on a mixed internal clock. But if that is the largest issue I’m dealing with, I’ll count that as a win.

March 14 (Monday)

Unlike our Baltimore trip, we intentionally scheduled our time in Key West to be easy going. It really paid off when we arrived downtown with the simple idea to enjoy the day. Renting that electric golf cart was probably the best decision of the trip. So far, we’ve made it around the entire island without having to charge it. Even though we don’t get it for the full time tomorrow, it’s served us well. We even have our bearings set pretty well.

After parking downtown near Clinton Square, we made our way towards the marina where we will disembark tomorrow for our water day. The marina was quite impressive. There were probably half a dozen to a dozen wooden schooners as well as state-of-the-art million-dollar yachts. We walked the boardwalks getting a good look at all of the vessels. The kids had their picture taken in front of a huge fiberglass marlin.

Their story is as real as the fish.

We meandered around the boardwalk, eventually making our way back inland. We found another local place claiming to have the best key lime pie, so we had to make a stop and try it out—Kermit’s Key West Lime Shoppe.

At the Key West Lime Shoppe, we ended up unintentionally buying two slices on a stick: a slice of traditional key lime pie dipped in white chocolate and a slice of strawberry key lime pie dipped in milk chocolate. These slices were nowhere as tart as the ones from the Key Lime Pie Bakery. Meg preferred them less tart, but Charlotte and I have are bent towards the tarter slices. The guys inside said their desserts were voted best key lime pie in the recent two years and were featured on Food Network—twice.

We then walked over to Seaside Cafe at the Mansion where we enjoyed an outdoor lunch on the beach. It was almost too hot to enjoy the outdoor meal, but in the shade with a breeze, it was just perfect. Megan and I split a sandwich and fried conch fritters for the first time. The waterside lunch was amazing, and, of course, we were visited by a plethora of roosters and pigeons. Before we left, we walked to the end of a nearby pier and looked south. John said he could see Cuba, but he was looking in the wrong direction.

Protected and in your face.

My cousin visits Key West pretty regularly, and she sent me a message with a small list of musts. We had a few of them on our list already, but one thing we didn’t have was the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. It was amazing to see so many butterflies in one spot. They swarmed us, landing on a few of us. I had three on me at one time, hitching a ride on my hat and my clothes for their own tour. John, however, didn’t have such a great time. The all encompassing number of butterflies overwhelmed him in a difference sense, causing him to hide for cover. I’ve never seen someone so terrified of butterflies, but it served for good fun and for what I call “giving him a hard time for the rest of his life content.”

We’ve had plenty of people shooting us ideas, telling us about various hole-in-the-wall spots where we can find great food and, of course, the best slices of key lime pie. One such place was Blue Heaven. It was located off Duval on Thomas Street. The restaurant itself was fairly nice, but across the street was their outdoor waiting area and gift shop. We went to the outdoor spot and ordered two slices of their Key Lime Pie. It was probably the most unique pie. It as tart enough but was stacked with meringue at least 6-inches high. The meringue countered the tartness and provided unique texture.

Monday served as our longest day. We had some down time on Sunday, but we used the entire Monday to make the most of our time in Key West. Prior to leaving Mississippi, we booked tickets to tour the Little White House where Harry S. Truman lived for a fair portion of his presidency. I remembered seeing it from a distance during my 2003 senior trip and when Megan and I visited on our honeymoon in 2007. We didn’t have time to visit it on either of those trips (never mind the fact that seniors in high school didn’t want to visit a museum on their senior trip), but we made the time to do it on our 2022 trip.

It’s a museum, yes, but if any president wants to use the facility at any point, he or she can. The Trumans used it regularly, but so did the Eisenhowers, the Carters, the Kennedys, and the Clintons. Colin Powell even facilitated Middle East peace talks from the same table where Truman played poker. It was a great tour that put Truman in a more jovial light than some of the other historical references.

Since we didn’t have a reservation for First Flight on Sunday, we made one for Monday at 5:30. We arrived and were seated on the outdoor patio. I tried a flight of seasonal beers and ordered their fish special. The kids had fun watching the families of poultry wander through the legs of patrons. One girl wasn’t paying attention to where she was walking and either accidentally stepped on “slash” kicked a chicken in stride.

After dinner, we toured around more of downtown on the golf cart before we finally made our way back to the hotel to get some rest for our water day on Tuesday.

March 15 (Tuesday)

Today was the day that was either going to be really awesome or a complete bust. We booked a six-hour water adventure with Sebago. There are plenty of companies offering water adventures. We were down to Sebago and Fury. A friend recommended Sebago, saying it was a little less expensive but offering the same events. We had a great time.

The wind was a bit too much for the previous days, causing the company to cancel their daily trips. We were told that our day was going to be perfect, and it was as close to perfect as it could be.

The beginning of our adventure had us pointed south for an hour’s journey to Rock Key where we were to snorkel in the open water. We found ourselves, however, combatting John’s sensitive stomach on the high seas. He didn’t get too sick or have his day ruined, but he had to focus hard not to have the day end soon. Once we made it to Rock Key, we were given our snorkel school lesson and released to the ocean.

The waves were a touch high, and we were told that snorkeling could be a bit overwhelming. I jumped off the side of the boat to meet everyone at the snorkel stairs. Once everyone got into the water, that overwhelming sense we were warned about made itself known. The kids made their way back to the boat to reorientate themselves, then we made our way out for a second time. We saw fish and ocean life, but the water was a little cloudy, keeping us from seeing too much.

We made our way back to the bay, stopping at the Barge where we could play in the water, ride jet skis, ride on a banana boat and go parasailing. This was actually the first time Meg or I had been parasailing, so we took advantage of it. The kids were a touch nervous, but once they were airborne, they loved it.

John and I made our way around the bay on a jet ski. It was the first time I’d driven one, and it was a good amount of fun. We circled a yacht several times where a man was hanging out on his deck. He waved and looked like he was having a good time.

The outfit had plenty of lunch and snacks as well as drinks for the entire trip. Charlotte fell in love with ginger ale and spent a good amount of time on the tanning deck. Again, the day was either going to be a complete win or a complete disaster, and it looked like we were headed towards the latter. But the day ended up being a win for us all.

We made our way back to the hotel and planned on getting some food from Kim’s Kuban, but they closed after lunch. Instead, we ordered Cuban food from Frita’s Cuban Burgers and had a spread in the hotel room. We packed up our belongings and had an early bedtime.

March 16 (Wednesday)

Wednesday was our travel day, and since we didn’t get to land in Key West on Saturday, it was our first time inside the Key West airport.

After we readied for the day, we checked out of the hotel and checked our bags into the luggage hold at our hotel so we could get one last downtown Key West meal—breakfast at The Breakfast Club, Too. It’s common knowledge that my favorite sandwich is a Cuban, and they had a “Cuban” Eggs Benedict. It was great. Megan ordered strawberries and cream French toast and the kids enjoyed link sausage and home fries.

Since this was our first trip without our reliable electric golf cart, we caught an Uber back to the hotel to get our luggage and to the airport. Again, this was the first trip inside the airport for the Champans, and we are all surprised it was so small. The gates were simply doors that lead to the runways, and we loaded the plane from the tarmac. I guess we can pretend we were loading a G-6.

Of course, we can’t have a simple exit on any trip. This time, as we were halfway across the tarmac, Meg realized she left her phone inside at the gate and went back to get it. They said they would bring it to us, so she came back to the plane. When they brought the phone onboard, they asked whose phone it was over the intercom, making us the center of attention, but reunited with the phone nonetheless.

The flight into Atlanta was uneventful, taking off and landing in textbook form. We disembarked from the plane and made our way in a leisurely manner from Terminal B to C. We enjoyed some Five Guys, since they were actually making food this time, and I watched Arsenal hold their own in the first half against Liverpool, but slowly give it away in the second half, resulting in a 2-0 loss.

Right about that time, the rain rain rain came down down down and an update from Delta made it to my phone letting me know that our 7:10 flight was now a 9pm flight. Also, we would be relocating from Gate C43 to Gate D05.

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