We woke Thursday morning to find ourselves docked in Key West.
With a day full of sightseeing ahead of us, we ate a quick breakfast and prepared to disembark. We walked off the ship, ready to explore the city of Key West, the first stop on our five day cruise.
Key West is an island city in the Straits of Florida. The city lies at the southernmost end of U.S. Route 1, the longest north–south road in the United States.
Key West is the southernmost city in the contiguous United States and the westernmost island connected by highway in the Florida Keys.
The island is about 4 miles long and 1 mile wide, with a total land area of 4.2 square miles. Duval Street, its main street, is 1.1 miles in length in its 14-block-long crossing from the Gulf of Mexico to the Straits of Florida and the Atlantic Ocean. Key West is about 95 miles north of Cuba at their closest points.
The island is popular for its eccentric, wild and laid-back vibe that is highly inviting to most cruise passengers. So popular is the island that it has provided seasonal homes to notable figures such as the 33rd president and one of the world’s most prolific writers.
With the exception of Toby, the rest of us had never visited this southernmost Floridian city. Toby had visited Key West as a teenager, and had fond memories of the area. We were excited to take in the sites and learn more about this unique city. We decided that the best excursion to accomplish this was a city-wide scavenger hunt. We thought it would be a great way to learn about the area in a fun and engaging way.
We walked to the starting location of the scavenger hunt and logged onto the website that began our hunt.
By using a cell phone, we were given clues to follow and puzzles to decode that led us on a three hour foot race around the island.
We had to seek out monuments and places of interest by relying on general knowledge, problem solving, keen observation and by utilizing the knowledge of the locals.
It was a blast, and we were a pretty great team.
It helped that we had a myriad of strengths between our team members, with some serving as the navigators, some were especially good at the puzzles that had to be decoded, while other’s had a strong knowledge of US history that we could tap into.
Then there were our extroverts who boldly approached anyone and everyone to help weigh in on the questions we were seeking answers to.
As we moved around the island, seeking out the next clue at the next location we learned much about the island’s history and soaking in its unique culture.
Combining 19th-century history with its vast tropical charms, Key West is a haven for adventurers and historians alike.
Its unique beauty mashes together brightly colored picturesque colonial houses with lush tropical gardens.
Its narrow streets are lined with vintage shops, eateries, and watering holes. The coastline as well is breathtaking and is graced by the azure waters of the Atlantic and Gulf stream that boards the island on either side.
And then there are the chickens…
Can we talk about the chickens?! They wander the streets like they own the place, something I found charming but that Gracie found terrifying.
They are her greatest phobia. But like them or not, they are definitely part of the Key West ambiance!
As we walked around Key West, the scavenger hunt clues led us to the following fascinating locations:
If mystery is your thrill, visit Key West Cemetery to learn the interesting part of the town’s former times. The gravestones of fallen soldiers and townsfolk go into depth about the life and death of the individual. Epitaphs like “I told you I was sick” among others can be traced in this location, making it a twisted but interesting fun thing to explore. Here we had to seek out certain tombstones then add up the combined years of life to unlock our next clue.
Key West, Florida, has a wild nightlife. One of its most iconic bars includes Sloppy Joes. Sloppy Joe is an old vintage bar that brags of Ernest Hemmingway as a longtime patron. Here we had to figure out whose picture was on the wooden sign out front. (It was Earnest Hemmingway.)
Then we headed over to the Hemmingway House, an 1851 Spanish colonial building that hosted one of the world’s greatest writers of all time. The most intriguing thing about this home is that the famous writer lived here for almost a decade.
The house is located in a picturesque, lush, peaceful environment and is easy to see why Ernest Hemmingway was inspired to write some of his masterpieces here.
Another home that required our attention was the Little White House. This home was originally a naval station’s command headquarters during World War 1 and World War 2. Harry Truman, the 33rd US president, called this house, home for several winters. Truman visited Florida 11 times and used to reside in this little white house. Our mission at this location was to figure out what other U.S. presidents had visited the Little White House.
Our hunt led us to another iconic location. This one however was not historical but rather culinary.
Kermit’s Key Lime Pie Shoppe is one of these popular restaurant destinations and has been for over 27 years. Being a signature dessert for Key West, Florida, Key Lime Pie is a taste visitors don’t want to miss!
We entered Kermits with the mission of solving the riddle asking us to name the ingredients in a key lime pie, but ended up doing some shopping and spending time loving on Pirate, the shop dog.
We continued our hunt, seeking out 20 different locations by answering 20 different clues, to win the hunt…Woo hoo!
We ended up returning to Kermit’s at the end of our hunt to indulge in one of their famous Key Lime Pies.
We just couldn’t leave the Keys without tasting their most iconic dishes. It was AMAZING! Best Key Lime Pie I have ever eaten!
We were done at 2:00 and had until 4:00 before we had to be back on the cruise ship. We debated as to what to do with our remaining time. Tyler and Braden were eager to get back on the ship so they could get in the pool and cool off. That sounded good to Zach too, so he took the boys back to the ship.
Toby expressed a desire to revisit an attraction that left an impression on him as a teenage boy: Mel Fisher’s Treasures.
There is a well-known treasure hunter called Mel Fisher, who made the discovery of “Atocha” the sunken vessels.
Nuestra Señora de Atocha (Spanish: Our Lady of Atocha) was a Spanish treasure galleon and the most widely-known vessel of a fleet of ships that sank in a hurricane off the Florida Keys in 1622. At the time of her sinking, Nuestra Señora de Atocha was heavily laden with copper, silver, gold, tobacco, gems, and indigo from Spanish ports at Cartagena and Porto Bello in New Granada (present-day Colombia and Panama, respectively) and Havana, bound for Spain.
Beginning in 1969, American treasure hunters Mel Fisher, Finley Ricard and a team of sub-contractors, funded by investors and others in a joint venture, searched the sea bed for Nuestra Señora de Atocha for sixteen and a half years. In 1980, Fisher had earlier recovered portions of the wrecked cargo of the sister ship Santa Margarita. He also proposed the idea to several other potential helpers, who were discouraged by the fact that this dangerous professional diving job would be paid at minimum wage unless the ship could be found. The Nuestra Señora de Atocha wreck and its mother lode of silver, gold and emeralds was finally discovered in July 1985.
The treasure is on display at Mel Fisher’s Treasures, a place Toby was eager to visit again, so he and Grace headed to the treasure museum for a daddy/daughter date.
One of my bucket list items was a visit to Southernmost Point Monument. It was a 25 minute walk from the port, but despite the hot and humid weather, we thought it was worth the hike!
After all, how else do you let the rest of the world know you have been to Key West? One must take a photo of onesself at the Southernmost Point Monument. This monument is a giant buoy built in the ’80s to represent the southernmost point of the United States.
Molly and Rusty opted to join me. We enjoyed our stroll, then patiently waited in line for our chance to snap one of these iconic photos.
We returned to the ship with 30 minutes to spare.
It was a beautiful day in a beautiful city. I fell in love with Key West and hope to return again for a visit someday!