Dave and I once tried to drive to Key West while visiting my parents in Florida in 2005. It was the Christmas holidays and traffic was a nightmare. We got as far as Key Largo, and with vehicles moving at a snail’s pace we gave up, turned around and made a b-line for Miami. We’ve wanted to go back to give it another go ever since.
Our Key West Vacation
Staying at the Crowne Plaza La Concha Hotel in Key West
When the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) offered us enough points to cover our stay and excursions for a trip anywhere in the world, we decided to choose Key West. It always felt like “the destination that got away,” and we wanted to do it right.
Armed with 800,000 points we perused the IHG Rewards Club catalogue in search of a hotel and exciting excursions in Key West. IHG has the largest rewards program in the world with hotels like InterContinental, Holiday Inn, and Crowne Plaza in the family. Key West just so happens to have a Crowne Plaza hotel right in the heart of all the action.
The historic is located in an enviable location on the vibrant Duval Street. It is here that famous restaurants and bars like the original Margaritaville, and Rick’s Café line the street leading to the habour where you can watch street performers show off their talents at sunset.
We were walking distance to all the main attractions and loved being able to retreat to our little oasis in the downtown core. The Crowne Plaza hotel has an incredible rooftop spa with the best views of sunset on the island.
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If you book a massage for early afternoon, you can spend the rest of the day relaxing on the lounge chairs while enjoying a glass of champagne as you watch some of the best sunsets in America.
Key West is the ultimate hippy hangout. It feels as if time stopped in the 1970s here as locals clad in flip-flops and tank tops walk the street with their dogs dressed in sunglasses and flower leis. People come to Key West to party, chill out, and enjoy the sunshine of continental USA’s most southerly point.
During our time in Key West, we enjoyed a beverage or two, especially at the Crowne Plaza hotel’s elegant Bar. It’s Key West’s premiere wine lounge and retail outlet. We ordered a tasting menu of wines with a cheese and charcuterie plate to die for. We loved it so much, we went back a second night.
But for us, the wee hour partying was left to the heartier crew, and we often turned in early to feel refreshed and alert for our excursions. We love a great adventure and through the IHG Rewards Club Concierge, our IHG Rewards Club points got us a couple of epic adventures starting with a day trip to the Dry Tortugas. The IHG Rewards Club Concierge is available to members in the US, Mexico, UK, Germany and Middle East but as part of our collaboration with IHG, we got the opportunity to try it out.
Dry Tortugas excursion from Key West
Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the most remote national parks in the country. You can fly or take a ferry to the tiny chain of keys 70 miles (113 km) off the tip of Key West. From here you are a mere 20 miles from Cuba!
If you are a fan of ticking things off the bucket list, the Dry Tortugas is for you. We listened to fellow passengers talk about how many National Parks they’ve visited and the Tortugas was definitely at the top of their list and was made for the ultimate bragging rights. The 100 square mile marine park is perfect for snorkeling and swimming off pristine white beaches but it is famous for the imposing Fort Jefferson.
Constructed between 1845 and 1876, Fort Jefferson is a giant military fort taking up almost the entire Garden Key. The 8 foot thick stone walls housed 2000 people at the height of its population housing a lighthouse and massive cannons sitting atop the four tiered and six sided brick fort. It was considered an outstanding example of 19th century masonry.
The ferry trip took us two hours where we were fed a hearty buffet breakfast. We wisely chose to sit inside away from the relentless sun and enjoyed air conditioning and good conversation with another couple we met from Upstate New York.
When we reached the Dry Tortugas, we saw small sand bars leading the way to our final destination, the port where our boat docked for the day as we explored the islands.
We walked around the moat marveling at architecture and then strolled on the beach marveling at the clear sapphire blue waters. It was the best beach we saw during our time in Key West!
With lunch served on board, we had reprieve from the heat and enjoyed unlimited sandwiches, sodas and snacks before setting back outside to enjoy the rest of our day in paradise. After a few more hours, we were back on the ferry heading for home just in time for sunset.
Snorkeling excursion from Key West
Our second excursion was a snorkel and sailing trip to John Pennekamp State Park. The coral reef: located just a few miles off of Key West is the only remaining reef in the continental US.
We set sail just after lunch on our catamaran enjoying the off shore views of Key West. The trip was good enough for us just as a sailing excursion. We sat at the front feeling the wind in our hair while catching a few rays of sun before we stopped at our snorkeling site.
Smack dab in the middle of the ocean is John Pennekamp State Park reef. Dave and I were the first to jump in and swam directly into a mass of jellyfish (don’t worry, not the deadly kind). We were warned it was jellyfish season, and for the first half dozen people in the water, it was a prickly experience. We couldn’t take our eyes off searching for the near-transparent ball of flesh for even one minute. Whenever we calmed down to look for other fish, another blob would float right into our legs or shoulders.
It wasn’t long before the stinging became a little too uncomfortable and we chose to cut our swim short in exchange for cold beer and wine on deck. The entire snorkeling area seemed to be smothered in the sting of jellyfish.
Instead, we put on our shades, grabbed a cold one and soaked up the sun on deck. We didn’t mind that the snorkeling was cut short because the sailing was just as fun and fabulous.
It was a sunny day, we met some great people, and enjoyed fantastic deck side conversations. When they finally pulled up anchor, we were sorry to leave our spot in the middle of the sea.
The hour ride back to port was filled with laughs where we said our goodbyes and walked back to our hotel for a cool dip in the pool before heading out for a seaside dinner.
We didn’t know what to expect in Key West but after spending some time here we would say it is well worth the drive. The laid back atmosphere combined with beautiful sunsets and great ocean adventures make it a perfect place to relax and enjoy all that Mother Nature has to offer.
To learn more about making the most of your vacation visit the . This post is in partnership with IHG Rewards, but as usual, all views of our experience are our own.