Florida Keys Drive, North to South

Florida Keys Vacation SpotThe Florida keys as a vacation spot is both “standard Florida” as well as an escape of everyday life.  I recently took a drive down this island chain, via the Overseas Highway.  I marveled at what had changed…and what had stayed the same from my last visit, roughly 10 years ago.

Key Largo — Enter the Keys

While it’s not really the northernmost island, Key Largo is considered the gateway to the rest of this tropical island chain.  This area changed the most from the last time I ventured down.

Key Largo has always been the most like the mainland, in terms of chain restaurants, chain hotels, and outlet stores.  And, I am sad to say, that this influence is even more pronounced now.  At least in comparison to points south.

Still, there are reminders that this isn’t just a piece of the mainland.  John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is one of them — a diving mecca for the world.  Little motels have still survived here and there, as well as tiny restaurants that boast unique Keys-inspired offerings.  So if you can’t make it to points further south, you can still have a great time in Key Largo.

Islamorada — The Keys Begin

It’s not really until we got to Islamorada that the Keys really started looking like what they are — coral and limestone islands in a sea of ultra-clear tropical waters.  Not to say they don’t look that way in Largo…just that you can’t see the waters from the highway.

But starting in Islamorada, the island spiWaters in the Keysrit begins.  There are more unique places to stay, interesting places to eat, and the icon of the Keys, Theater of the Sea.  Not to mention one of the big draws of the islands — the beautiful waters.

There are plenty of places to pull over on the side of the road and mosey over to the water.  The waters are for the most part pretty shallow in these areas, but clear and warm.   Limestone rocks dot the shore, and if you bring some snorkeling gear, you can see sights below the surface — fish, sea grasses, maybe even a lobster or two at certain times of the year.

If you’re looking for sandy beaches, though, you may be in for some withdrawal symptoms.  Anne’s Beach is in the Islamorada area, once of the few natural sand beaches in the Keys.  However, there isn’t all that much of it (sand, that is).  Still, it’s natural and it’s pretty, so it’s worth a stop.

One restaurant worth mentioning in Islamorada is the Green Turtle Inn.  It’s a shadow of its former self, in that the building that used to be the entire restaurant only about 1/3 is still the restaurant proper.  However, if you would like some lobster mac and cheese, it’s definitely the place to stop  (in a word…YUM)!  The catch of the day is also superb, and the Key Lime pie is still as tasty as ever.  Be prepared for a large tab for your meal, though, as it is pricy.  The food is worth it, though.

Further on Down the Chain — Marathon and Beyond

Marathon is roughly the middle of the drive between Largo and Key West.  It boasts an airport (very tiny) as well as chain stores, restaurants and hotels.  It also boasts some places to stay that are not the standard chains, restaurants that prepare seafood in a variety of delicious ways, and some unique places to shop.

Florida Vacation SpotOh, and the waters here are fantastic for boating, snorkeling, diving, fishing…you get the idea.  I must say that Marathon didn’t change a whole lot since my last visit, even though it passed through some hurricanes since then.  The pace is slower here, more like the “Keys time” that I remembered.  Still, if you are hankering for a Big Mac, you can find one, so it’s rather a pleasant mix of mainland and tropics.

The 7 Mile Bridge is what links Marathon, in the Middle Keys, to the Lower Keys.  It’s a wonderful drive over the stretches of waters that vary from green to turquoise to blue and back again.  Plenty of sea birds float the skies or sit on the wires of the phone and electrical lines.  And while the phone and electrical lines aren’t the most scenic, they are necessary.  And, they are only on one side of the bridge.

Bahia Honda Key is on the other side of the bridge, and Bahia Honda State Park takes up a good deal of the island.  Worth a stop if you like beautiful tropical beaches — and this one is natural sand as well.

After Bahia Honda and Big Pine Keys, you’ll come to various small islands, and finally terminate your drive in Key West.  On our trip, we turned around before we got to Key West, since we were only taking a day drive, and the traffic in Key West would have added an hour all by itself.

The Keys as a Florida vacation spot, is a destination very much worth considering, even if it’s just a day trip.  The scenery, the places to stop, the food to eat — they all spell a wonderful place to spend a day, a week or even longer.  Enjoy!

 

 

Wilderness Lodge Resort at Walt Disney World

The Wilderness Lodge resort at Walt Disney World in Florida is Disney’s idea of the Pacific Northwest.  You’d think that it would be hard to pull off, this being the land of sunshine and hot weather…but somehow, Disney manages to do it!

Wilderness Loadge Resort, Walt Disney WorldThink of lots of cedar, a soaring totem pole and landscaping that gives a Pacific Coast feel.  Add to that Disney’s unerring splashes of colors, sights and sounds and you have a success on your hands.

Or at least a really nice place to stay, LOL.

Things to do at the Resort

First let’s talk about what you can do while you’re staying here.  This being a Disney Deluxe resort, you know there has to be a lot.  In fact, here’s a list to get you started:

  • Bike rentals
  • Spa and Health Club
  • Horse-drawn carriage rides
  • Fishing (catch and release)
  • Watercraft rentals
  • Video rentals
  • The Buttons & Bells Arcade
  • Jogging
  • Chip ‘n Dale’s campfire sing-along
  • The beach on Bay Lake
  • Themed pool (of course!)

Lobby at Disney's Wilderness LodgeOf course, there are the theme parks as well — they are accessible via the free Disney transportation (usually buses).

Restaurants at the Wilderness Lodge Resort

So, what about eating options here?  Like all resorts in the Deluxe category, Disney has provided one quick-food stand – Roaring Forks Snacks – and two restaurants — Whispering Canyon Cafe and Artist Point.

Whispering Canyon Cafe is the more casual of the two table-service restaurants.  It is an all-you-can-eat style, so come hungry!  And I can vouch for the food — it is very good.  And while you do get up and serve yourself the food, the wait staff brings your drinks and also provides entertainment of sorts,  Not exactly a show, but they get everyone laughing with their antics.

Artist Point is a more formal restaurant, and it’s also quieter and more intimate.  The food is to die for, but beware of the cost; this restaurant is not inexpensive.  However, you can get an appetizer or two and it may be enough – the portions were pretty big, so ordering appetizers only will save you some money.

And of course Roaring Forks gets you “food on the run”, when you don’t want to sit down for a full meal.

Rooms at the Wilderness Lodge Resort

The rooms are good-sized, at around 350 square feet — room to spread out some.  Rooms have two queen beds, a queen and bunk beds or one king bed, so there is plenty of sleeping space.   A few rooms can accommodate six people.

There are also suites available, with sleeping space for four.

Since this is a Disney Deluxe resort, the prices are higher accordingly.  However, since Disney has seasonal rates, if you book in the off season (late August through late September as well as most of January), you can stay here for a much better price.

So that’s Disney’s Wilderness Lodge in a nutshell.  It’s not too far from the Contemporary (and there is even a water taxi between the two resorts), so it’s also in the Magic Kingdom area.  It’s a great hotel for a Disney vacation!

Key West Vacation Spots

Key West vacation spots are many and varied.  Do you like beaches, or do you prefer sight-seeing?  Attractions or boating?  Does shopping get your heart racing?  You can do all these and more here on this island at the end of Florida.Florida Keys Map Showing Key West

The Florida Keys are a string of islands that are a part of the US, but aren’t like anything else in the United States.  And Key West is both “end of the line” and “life of the party”!  It’s both an island and a city. There is plenty to see and do, so let’s get started.

Beaches

There are several beaches on the island of Key West, some public and some private.  None are very large, but they are full of life!

There are all kinds of beaches here, from family-friendly to not so much.  This means there’s probably something for everyone.

The family-friendly public beaches on Key West are:Beach on Key West

  • Smathers:  This is the beach most people think about when they hear “Key West beach”.  It’s the largest at 1/2 mile in length, and has plenty of “beach toys” and activities.
  • Fort Zachary Taylor:  This part of a Florida State Park, and has some nice patch reefs nearby, so it’s great for swimmers and snorkelers.
  • Higgs Memorial:  This is the second largest of the island beaches.
  • C.B. Harvey Rest:  Right next to Higgs, and also the pier.
  • Dog Beach:  A place to enjoy the company of your four-legged friend.

Those are the highlights; I’ll talk a little more in-depth about these beaches in another post.  Meanwhile, here are some other Key West vacation spots to think about.

Sight-Seeing, Attractions and Shopping

These all involve Duval Street at some point, so I’ve grouped them together.   For sight-seeing, your best choices are a pedal cab, the trolley or bicycle.  And unless you are used to cycling in traffic, pedal cabs and the trolley make more sense.

Oh, and walking is also an option.  By car, it’s so-so.  Parking is at a premium and the streets are narrow and often congested.

Duval Street is the place to be for shopping.  It’s also sight-seeing because of some of the famous places like Sloppy Joe’s.  And naturally, Duval Street is part of any island tour.

Attractions are many and varied; they include the aquarium, the southernmost point, museums (the cool kind, like with pirates and treasures) and more.  One of the most popular is the ghost tour!

Snorkeling, Diving and Boating

Very popular are the sunset cruises — the Keys are legendary for great sunsets.  The island is also great for boating, with several places for rentals and charters for the back country (i.e. Florida Bay).

There are quite a few tours that offer diving and snorkeling trips; they range from beginner tours for reef snorkeling, all the way up to wreck diving.  You can even take a tour out to Dry Tortugas for some awesome waters!

Key West Vacation Spots

Those are just a few of the Florida vacation spots on this island in the Keys.  I’ll be writing up some more detailed posts, but for now, I hope this has helped!  🙂