Continuing our journey for luxury, comfort, pampered existence, and just good times, Gary and I chose Key West, the laid back town-lifestyle where Jimmy Buffet, the essence of cool calls home as our next vacation spot. The popular leisure vacation destination attracts more than one million visitors each year and is known for its unlimited water sporting activities, nightlife, port for cruiseships and the famous Key West Sunset that illuminates the sky every evening. A place where snowbirds flock to escape the harsh winter weather, and an allure for movie makers.
With more than 165 miles from Miami to Key West, Gary and I debated whether to jet to the Keys or take the scenic route and drive four arduous hours. Since it has been my first time to the area, we decided to drive.
There were a number of worthwhile sights along the way to the southernmost tip of Florida including the Seven Miles Bridge. The bridge is considered an important part of Key West’s history attracting filmmakers like James Cameron, director of True Lies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis and Tom Arnold among others. We drove down the heart of Key West, the famous Duval Street, known for its bubbling nightlife, bars and shops. And of course, Mallory Square, the place where Key West gathers to catch a glimpse of the disappearing sun.
Shadowed by some of the world’s largest cruiseships, the Westin Marina also serves as a shipping port. And Carnival Freedom was docked upon our arrival. We strolled along the marina for a while before hopping on our ferry to a private island to escape these giant boats.
Our 10 minutes ferry ride ended at the beautifully landscaped, exclusive island and Westin property, Sunset Key Island Guest Cottages. Sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, the island is set on 25 acres of a former Navy yard with distinctive Victorian style architecture synonymous to the Key West style home designs.
From what we have learned, the only way to gain access to this property is by booking reservations as a guest at the cottages starting from $465 per night, dinner or spa reservations or a beach pass costing $40 per day.
After check-in, we were escorted to our cottage, Coral which gives a garden view and an obstructed view of the ocean. The interior decor of our one bedroom cottage followed a nautical theme with bold shades of yellow-white-blue with full kitchen, master bed and bath and a dining area. The veranda furnishings were white Adirondack chairs and rocking chairs.
The cottages were beautifully designed to keep the theme of the key west style home designs, warm and inviting accommodations. And in our immediate view hung between two coconut palms was a beach hammock encouraging the laziness in us and inviting us to relax.
After resting from our auto-lag we made dinner reservations for an outside table to catch a glimpse of the radiant sunset that fades in the distance beyond the island at the island’s popular beachfront restaurant, Latitude. Latitude serves a variety of American dishes, desserts and specialty cocktails in an ideal setting for both casual and romantic dining.
We began dinner with pineapple martinis, a strong recommendation from our waitress, Andrea. Since we are not big eaters we skipped appetizers and ordered entree and dessert. Gary dined on surf and turf at a cost of $75 while I noshed on grouper. And of course there is always room for dessert. They had a delicious selection of sweet indulgences, however we shared the four cakes and a cup of coffee to wash it all down.
After a meal like that what do you do next? Well we were definitely not interested in leaving this peaceful island for Duval Street, so we walked the shoreline and planted ourselves in one of the hammocks by the beach and kissed each other good night.
On our final day on the island we decided to take it easy and relax a bit. We woke to breakfast basket delivered with fruits, cakes, muffins and the morning’s newspaper. Later we had brunch on Latitudes sandy deck with an oceanfront seat rimmed on the banks of the shore. While waiting to be served we gazed out into the ocean watching beach-goers enjoying the beautiful weather and the calm waters. In the midst of all that, very close to shore, we were entertained by a pod of dolphins who were later chased away by curious boaters.
The intention for our getaways is to relax and rejuvenate from our hectic work lives. So after brunch our lazy day continued as we soaked up some sun on the private beach, just steps from our cottage.
As evening drew nigh, I noticed hotel staffs preparing one of the cabanas with massage tables–my journalist instincts kicked in and I walked over to observe. Preparations were being made to accommodate a couple’s special request to be pampered. They had the ultimate spa indulgence costing $1200. The Sunset Romance package is timed around the sunset along the water. This package includes two 80 minutes massages while your champagne is being chilled, followed by a private dinner with a private server for the evening. The menu includes an appetizer, two entrees, and one dessert which is served from the resort’s famed restaurant, Latitude.
On our final night in paradise, we ferried to the mainland for dinner at Michael’s restaurant, a local and neighborhood favorite that serves delicious American cuisine. It was a packed house with a nice mix of young and older diners. We had the best seat in the house, the captain’s table which can be called the communal table. We were later joined by some locals and very sociable company.
Another interesting thing happened while we were seated at the table. We ran into some diners who dined across from us on the island the previous evening at Latitude. They said hello and greeted us as Sir Richard Branson and Naomi Campbell (really). So while they were mesmerized by the fact that Gary has a slight resemblance of Richard Branson, I pulled up the photo from our website of the two, and they were blown away. Before walking off in the dark in Key West, they made one last attempt to keep this afloat-they took some pictures with us.
While on the mainland, we strolled down Duval Street, walked through a parade, took in sights and scenes of this talked about Key West stretch. By the time we returned to the marina for our ferry, Mallory Square was a ghost town, after all it was a Tuesday night. So we savour the solitude and waited for the ferry to take us back to our artificial existence.
What was for many years an abandoned naval refuse, Sunset Island formerly Tank Island has developed into one of the most desired vacation destinations for the intelligent traveler seeking tranquility and rejuvenation and a winter refuge for snowbirds. Our time was well spent at this island resort.
We woke up early the day of our departure to prepare for our long drive back to Miami, plus I had to fly back to Chicago for work the next day, and Gary had a date with Larry King at the Hard Rock that same night. Taking in one last taste of paradise, as we waited for the ferry on the deck, we gazed out into the beautiful Windex blue ocean as the ocean breeze caressed the nape of our necks reminding us how important it is to take time for ourselves, to enjoy and appreciate life’s simple pleasures and gifts.