Day 153 (10/31/14): Fort Lauderdale, FL | Key West, FL
While we were staying in Bar Harbor, ME, the camp host at the RV park told us that he spends his summers in Maine and winters in Key West, FL. We had always been intrigued by Key West, thinking the destination was a type of tropical paradise. But, when the camp host told us crazy stories about Key West’s Fantasy Fest, a nearly-naked 10-day costume festival, our visions of a laid-back, relaxing environment were negated, and we instantly added Key West to our route plan!
While we didn’t make it in time for Fantasy Fest, we at least arrived for Halloween! As we made our way through the Keys, we stopped at a roadside bakery advertising Key Lime Pie. You can’t be in the Keys without having some key lime pie (and apparently without seeing iguanas)! This was where we noticed several of the first indigenous iguanas we’d see. After that, they seemed to be everywhere along the road, some at least several feet long!
When we reached Key West, the southernmost Florida Key as well as the southernmost city in the Continental U.S., we were somewhat apprehensive. Not quite knowing what to expect, we were still slightly shocked when we saw “clothing optional” (basically nude) establishments, such as hotels and bars. This is going to be interesting! We quickly discovered that Key West is a lively party town. With live music, bars on every corner, and people dressed up in costumes for Halloween, the town seemed like a combination of Waikiki, Las Vegas, and Mardi Gras! Good times!
While Key West is somewhat tropical, it is in no way low-key and relaxing like we had initially assumed. You go to Key West to live it up, not to sip fruity drinks on the beach. In fact, there didn’t seem to be any beaches at all, which was surprising. However, the Historic Seaport and Harbor Walk at Key West Bight featured street vendors and performers along the waterfront. And while most of the establishments seemed to be in colorful, older historic buildings, many of them were tacky gift shops and chain restaurants.
People didn’t appear to be too concerned with shopping or eating though as their primary focus seemed to be drinking and simply having a good time in general. The streets were flowing with scantily clad partiers walking, biking and riding scooters with drinks in hand. In addition to all the people, there were chickens running around wild as well! The entire Key West scene was quite entertaining!
Day 154 (11/1/14): Key West, FL | Everglades National Park | Naples, FL
As of today, we’ve been traveling on the road by RV for 5 months now! We celebrated by having brunch at the Southernmost Beach Café, an open-air café on South Beach, one of the few beaches in Key West. For a commemorative drink, we absolutely had to have the Key Lime Coladas! What better drink to have while we were in the Florida Keys than a key lime beverage?! And, wow, was it the right choice! The Key Lime Coladas were like drinking key lime pie through a straw. Dessert and alcohol in one – what a great concept!
After our celebratory drink, we walked to the Southernmost Point in the continental United States just down the street from the café. We were somewhat disheartened when we noticed the long line of people waiting to take their picture at the famous site. But, we still took our place at the end of the line knowing we couldn’t pass up this photo op. We were expecting to be there for a while when suddenly rain started pouring down and everyone scattered, running to take cover and leaving their place in line. Next thing we knew, we were at the front of the line taking our photos with the concrete buoy marker. We were drenched, but it paid off!
The rain stopped as abruptly as it started and we continued walking around the area surrounding the Southernmost Point. Every nearby place claimed to be the “Southernmost” something or other – the Southernmost Beach, the Southernmost Hotel, even the Southernmost Southernmost House (no, that’s not a typo, there really is a house advertising that they are the “Southernmost Southernmost” – haha!), etc.
We had now seen it all! This concluded our time in Key West. We were ready to move on to our next destination of Naples, FL. As we headed back to Florida’s mainland, we stopped briefly at another beach we came across. This was the second beach we found in Key West, both of which were on the south side of the island. We really thought there would be more beaches in Key West, but as I mentioned earlier, beaches don’t seem to be the main focus there. The drive on the two-lane road out of the Keys was long and slow with a speed limit of 45 miles per hour most of the way.
There are so many places to visit in Florida though, including several National Parks, making it a great National Park RV Rental destination! When we reached Florida’s mainland once again, we took a detour to Homestead, FL where we visited Everglades National Park. We entered the Park at the main entrance near the Ernest Coe Visitor Center and continued driving 4 miles to the Royal Palm Visitor Center. From the visitor center, we took the Anhinga Trail, a 3/4-mile loop on a boardwalk over a freshwater sawgrass marsh. We thought the Everglades would be swampy and muddy, but the shallow water was surprisingly crystal-clear. We could actually see the stems of water lilies reaching down to the floor of the marsh.
A short walk across the wood planks brought us directly to two alligators! One of the gators was sunbathing right next to the boardwalk! The other smaller gator was nearby in the water. Neither of them moved the entire 10 minutes we took pictures and stared at them. Watching their motionless bodies felt almost as if we were looking at amusement park statues rather than viewing live alligators in their natural habitat.
However, we were still glad we saw them. The trip wasn’t a total loss as the main purpose of us visiting the Everglades was pretty much to see alligators. Being from the West Coast, the large reptiles almost seemed like a mythical creature. We had only seen them in zoos before, so we were still excited to see them in person. We also saw some birds, including herons. Sadly though, other than the birds, some fish, and a few alligators, we didn’t see any other wildlife. While peaceful and pretty in its own way, Everglades National Park was not what we were expecting and was slightly disappointing. Then again, we did only see a small portion of it, so our view is limited. Perhaps there are better areas of the park that we didn’t have the pleasure of witnessing.
By the time we were done with the trail, it was late afternoon. Knowing we still had another 126 miles to drive to Naples, we were forced to cut our time short at the Everglades. We left the National Park and returned to the main road. As we drove through Florida from the east coast to the west coast along the US-41, the landscape was extremely flat and desolate. There was nothing for 79 miles other than a single gas station. Definitely not our favorite part of the state! By the time we reached Naples, it was already dark. All-in-all, it was a busy day going from Key West to Everglades National Park up to Naples. Glad we were able to squeeze it all in though!