I thought we could have some fun on the blog this week and get a little off-topic to talk about some spring-break travel goodness. The more I considered the idea, the more it makes sense for this blog. There is so much more to building happy in your home than the building or remodeling part. Traveling and taking a break from “life” are vital to making sure that your home and everyone in it can relax. You know what they say…
“The magic thing about home is that it feels good to leave, and it feels even better to come back.” - Wendy Wunder
A couple of weeks ago, we were first-timers to the Florida Keys on a spring break trip that we had looked forward to for almost an entire year! I traveled with my husband, kids, my sister and her family, and my parents. We chose the Keys because we wanted to find the warmest place possible in the continental United States. Two years prior we had taken a trip to Ft. Myers beach and we happened to arrive at the same time as a Florida cold snap. Not just any cold, but the kind where iguanas were falling from the trees because it was freezing overnight! After playing at the beach that week in our coats and hats, we thought we were destined to have better luck with weather if we went even further South to the Keys. So, we did! Our recent trip was a blast, the weather was amazing, and we made so many memories!
If you’re considering a trip to the Keys, you first have to figure out how exactly to get to the islands. You have three main options. You can fly into the Miami airport and drive to your destination in the Keys, you can fly into the Ft. Lauderdale airport and drive, or you can fly into Key West (the southernmost island of the Keys) and then drive to wherever you’re staying. There are pros and cons to all of the options. Flying into either Miami or Ft. Lauderdale are more cost-effective plane tickets, but you’re at the mercy of traffic and time of day to get you across mostly one-lane highways (once you get off the mainland) in what should only be a 2-3 hour drive. Or you can pay extra for your flight and fly into the little airport in Key West (you actually get off your plane right on the tarmac) if your end destination is a closer drive to there. If you do this, you most likely do have to make a connection, probably in Atlanta, if you’re flying from an airport in the Midwest. Since we were traveling with small kids, and we wanted to keep our sanity throughout the day of travel, we opted for the quickest way to get from point A to point B – we saved up the extra money and flew right to the Key West airport. It was a good choice for us this time and the travel was pretty seamless for the most part, but the plane tickets were expensive! If we get to take a trip like this again, I think I would give ourselves more time on the front and back of the trip so that we could save some money and fly into Ft. Lauderdale (easier airport/area to navigate than Miami). With the extra time we could stay overnight there before making the drive the following day if needed. I think it really all depends on where in the chain of islands you’re staying and how close it is to either of the airports.
We decided to stay at a resort on Duck Key called Hawk’s Cay. After tons of research online, I think I was drawn to this resort because it reminded me of what it feels like to stay at an all-inclusive place in Mexico. The resort had a few different pools, its own themed restaurants on-site, and a golf cart transportation service that would take you wherever you needed to go. Side note – This resort also offers a pretty deep discount for first responders (police officers, military, etc.) so that was a selling point for me too. This resort, like so many, was devastated by the hurricane and had been rebuilding ever since. There were so many features that I loved about our choice, and only a few things that I wished were different!
We rented a 4-bedroom villa at the resort so that we could all split the costs and stay together in a unit that had its own full-kitchen. The bonus was that the unit also had its own small, private pool in the backyard too. Our kids had a blast in the private pool and honestly, this was one of the highlights of our trip! We woke up in the morning and instead of waiting to go down to the resort pool, they would go from jammies to swim suits in a matter of minutes and be swimming away while we all drank our morning coffee on the patio. The resort pools were also very nice. The one thing that I appreciated the most was that the pool water was WARM. If you’re like me at all, there is nothing that can wreck a pool experience quicker than cold water! We spent the majority of our days at the kid’s pool which was pirate themed and even offered daily entertainment with mermaid visits and pirate music shows. Although I’m sure it wasn’t on the resort’s agenda for the days, the iguanas would even visit the pool area right about the time that everyone around there started eating lunch. Being the Wisconsinites that we are, we thought this was awesome. The kids got such a kick out of the iguanas that were being so bold that they would jump on the pool chairs to steal hamburgers!
There are just two main things that I wish were different about our trip and where we stayed. Earlier in this post I mentioned that our resort made me feel like I was at an all-inclusive place… and I realized that the whole time we were there I kept wishing that it really was. I’ve done research on this before and I’m pretty sure that there aren’t any (or maybe just very few) all-inclusive vacation options in the United States at all. Although our resort was amazing in so many other ways, eating at the on-site restaurants or even just ordering a drink at the pool bar was super expensive for us. If you have kids like mine, they think about snacking all day (what kids don’t, am I right?) and since it wasn’t all-inclusive every trip up to the snack shack or the ice cream shop cost money. I think this is one of the reasons why we had a better time hanging out by our private pool and snacking on what we picked up at the grocery store.
The other thing that I wished were different about our trip to the Keys was the beaches. Any disappointment that I felt about this was 100% my lack of research or understanding about the area in general, but I assumed that of course white sandy beaches would be in no short supply in the Florida Keys. I was wrong, it’s actually super hard to find a sandy beach! However, the islands have this amazing boating and fishing feel to them instead which I fell in love with. But it just made me wish that we had a boat to take out too! For our little kids that were with us on the trip, digging in the sand was at the top of their priority list, so we ended up driving about 20 minutes or so to find a good beach for them to play at.
I’m fully admitting that what I know about the Florida Keys can be summed up into hardly anything – but hey, it was just our very first visit. Here are a few of the fun places that we visited throughout the week, in between dips in the pool. I am sure that there are so many more gems of the islands that we have yet to discover, but here are some places where we had a lot of fun!
Robbie’s: This would be my number one recommendation for anyone visiting somewhere close to Islamorado in the Keys. Robbie’s is a perfect little ocean-side restaurant nestled in between some of the fun and vibrant island activities that you can do while you’re on your trip. The restaurant/bar is laid-back and fun, the kind of place where you write your name and where you’re from on dollar bills and stick them to the ceiling. The food is great, the
views are good, and you can’t beat the fact that so many fun things are going on right around you. A short walk out to the end of the pier here and you can pay a few dollars to get a bucket of fish and feed the tarpons. Not just a few little tarpons, but an entire area filled with huge tarpons just waiting for someone to dangle fish near the surface of the water. It’s truly an amazing experience. While we were there, we even saw some 6-7 ft. sharks swimming among the tarpon too, and I should mention that you do have to compete with the pelicans for space on the dock – but for us, it all added to the uniqueness of the area. Finally, there’s also a flea market going on right next door with tons of little shops that you can visit. There’s a snow-cone shack, a place to rent kayaks or paddle boards and take them into the mangroves, and even a little colony of ducks walking around as you stroll the area. Basically, it’s the kind of place that can keep you busy for an entire afternoon!
Fishing Charter: One other thing we booked right from Robbie’s was a fishing charter for the next day. We went out with the kids on a calm day, and we had an absolute blast. Our fishing guide was great (kind of like going out fishing with a patient grandpa who only cared if the kids were having a good time) and we had the best luck too. Within a minute of putting a line in the water, we were reeling in fish and it didn’t stop for the entire two hours that we were out! The kids would squeal with excitement every single time they pulled the line in, just to see what brightly colored fish they were catching this time. If we would’ve had more day of vacation, I think we would’ve had to come back for round #2 of deep-sea fishing!
Habanos: Our fishing trip wouldn’t have been complete without taking things full circle and eating our catch. So, the next day (at the recommendation of our fishing guide) we took our fish to a Cuban restaurant on the water called Habanos where they beer battered and served us our own fish that we caught, family style! What a fun lunch, and the kids were so proud that we were eating the fish that they worked hard to catch!
Sombrero Beach: On our quest to find a sandy beach for the kids to play at, we found Sombrero Beach. It’s a great public beach in the town of Marathon. It’s exactly what you’d think of when you picture a Florida beach… white sand and turquoise water! It was a fun spot to relax for an afternoon!
Lorelei Restaurant and Cabana Bar: On our last night in the Keys, we were lucky to find a table at this amazing oceanside restaurant in Islamorado. With a nautical theme, Lorelei was that perfect spot for us to watch the sunset and take in some live music while we sat on the patio that evening. The food was good and the atmosphere was even better!