Steve and Ann’s guide to the ultimate Caribbean cruise

Steve and Ann’s guide to the ultimate Caribbean cruise

[well]While informative and true, we want you to know that this post was written as an entry for Celebrity Cruises Ultimate Caribbean Cruise Itinerary contest. Winners of the contest receive a cash prize, social media recognition, and a guest post on the Celebrity Cruises blog. Opinions expressed are our own and are based on our actual cruising experiences.[/well]

If you’ve followed our blog for any time at all, you know that we’re a middle-aged, married couple from rural Nebraska, smack-dab in the middle of the United States and about as far from water as you can get. So yes, we dream about cruising often, which makes us experts in imaginary cruise itineraries. With this in mind, we offer our guide to the ultimate Caribbean cruise itinerary.

At port while cruising on the Celebrity Constellation.

Let’s face it, everywhere we’ve been in the Caribbean has included a beautiful island, crystal-clear water, warm temperatures, golden sand, lush palm trees, and friendly locals. But we have to start somewhere, so Steve will start in Key West, the heart of the fabulous Florida Keys.

Key West, Florida

STEVE: Ahhh….sunny Key West. I’ve been going the Keys and Key West to visit family since I was a boy, so feel that I know it well. But that isn’t why it makes our list. I include it because it is one of the most laid-back, relaxing places I know. It’s a place where no one takes anything too seriously, and everyone, including the chickens that populate every corner, just wants to have a good time.

Our view of Key West from the Celebrity Constellation.

Key West offers something for everyone, including an actual passport from the not-so-actual Conch Republic and fresh seafood that makes even the most entrenched landlubber drool. The shopping is divine, offering everything from high-end, luxury boutique items to natural sponges collected from nearby waters.

We loved shopping for sponges in Key West.

In Key West you can be literary and tour Hemingway’s home, or historical and visit Truman’s Little White House and then learn about Flagler’s Overseas Railroad. But whatever you do, don’t be too serious — this is the town where they throw stale Cuban bread at a U.S. Navy ship once a year, after all.

The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory housed 50-60 species of live butterflies.

A day spent in Key West can be action-packed with activities like parasailing, snorkeling and wave running, or laid back with a cocktail on the beach or a visit to the Butterfly Nature Center and Conservatory. By the time the sun sets on Mallory Square, visitors to Key West feel a sense of deep relaxation, the tensions of everyday life forgotten. For these reasons, I think that any traveler to the Caribbean should set their sights on Key West. 

Travel Tip: Take the Conch Train tour. It’s a great overview of the island and its history, and it’s only 90 minutes long so it won’t take up your entire day.

Basseterre, St. Kitts & Nevis

ANN: My ideal Caribbean cruise would have to include a stop in beautiful Basseterre St. Kitts and Nevis. I fell in love with this perhaps lesser known island a couple of years ago and we wrote about it HERE. As soon as I set foot in Port Zante, I was immediately attracted to the island – the iridescent waters, the lush flora, and blue skies made me feel like I’d died and gone to Instagram heaven. #nofilterneeded

Arriving at the port in Basseterre St. Kitts.

In addition, everyone there was so nice and legitimately seemed happy. And why wouldn’t they be? Kittitians share a 65-square mile island surrounded by pristine beaches, beautiful gardens, and all the mangos they can eat. Oh, and there are cute little monkeys everywhere!

That’s the Atlantic Ocean on the left and the Caribbean Sea on the right.

We would recommend a visit to Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park where you’ll learn about the island’s history and take in one of the most gorgeous views you’ve ever seen.

The incredible view from the top of Brimstone Hill in St. Kitts.

An excursion to the Caribelle Batik Factory at Romney Manor is also a must. Artists there demonstrate this unique Indonesian method of resisting dye with wax to create beautiful designs on fabrics. 

Batik fabric in St. Kitts

And don’t head back to the ship until you’ve stopped at a local eatery and tried salt fish and provisions. This dried fish dish is a local favorite and is served with salad and “provisions,” including a coconut dumpling, sweet potato, white potato, dasheen and yam.

Travel tip: Find your way to Timothy Hill Lookout for a stunning, iconic photo of St. Kitts and Nevis surrounded by both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.

Phillipsburg, St. Maarten

STEVE: St. Maarten is one of those beautiful Caribbean islands whose palm trees, soft breezes, warm sand beaches, friendly inhabitants, and slow pace of life connect to your inner being in way that makes you happy to be alive. More importantly, for airplane fanatics like me, it is also home to Princess Juliana Airport and Maho Beach.

It was surreal to watch these planes land literally yard from where we standing on the beach.

Have you ever watched one of those YouTube videos where people are standing on a beach and they are so close to a huge jet landing that they look like they could almost jump up and touch it?

That’s Maho Beach.

The government in St. Maarten has actually put up warning signs telling people not to get too close to the end of the runway. And they mean it. Jet blast from arriving and departing planes is very dangerous. But if you stand off to the side of the runway, you have an amazing view of planes taking off and landing.

We had a great table at the Sunset Bar and Grill where we could enjoy a sandwich and guava berry colada while watching airplanes come in for landing.

And if you go a little further to the side you can find a nice little bar where you can relax with a cold beverage and take in this fantastic aviation experience. 

Travel Tip: Check the flight schedule for Princess Juliana Airport in St. Maarten to make sure you’re there when the BIG planes come in.

Costa Maya, Mexico

ANN: Although we haven’t been to Costa Maya … yet … It makes our ideal Caribbean cruise port list because there’s so much to see and do there. You can lounge on the beach, shop for tourist favorites like pure vanilla, serapes, and tequila, and even explore ancient Mayan ruins.

Neither one of us had ever seen one of the Seven Wonders of the World until we visited the pyramid at Chichen Itza in 2017.

Neither one of us had ever seen one of the Seven Wonders of the World until we visited the pyramid at Chichen Itza in 2017.

We also highly recommend strapping yourself up in a bright orange life jacket and jumping off a rock into a cenote.

Swimming in the crowded cenote.

Swimming in the cenote.

Steve and our daughter, Meghan, checked this off on their bucket lists a couple of years ago while in Mexico and loved the experience. (I took photos) They loved floating on their backs and enjoying the view of the vines and vegetation above and both said they would do it again.

Meghan and Steve ready to swim in the cenote.

Our daughter, Meghan and Steve ready to swim in the cenote.

Costa Maya is a planned port on a 7-night Western Caribbean sailing on Celebrity’s new Edge, and we are beyond excited to board that ship in early 2019.

Tip: Book your excursion through the ship, especially if you don’t know the language. Their tour operators will get you to and from your destination easily, and you’ll have a wonderful experience.

Don’t forget a few sea days

Of course, our ideal Caribbean Cruise would also include a few sea days. We’ve found plenty to do  when our ship’s at sea and wrote a blog post about it called “21  things to do on a sea day besides eat.” Here’s look at how each of us would spend the ideal sea day:

Let’s face it, the truly ultimate Caribbean cruise would have a stop at every port Celebrity Cruises visits. Most importantly, you would never have to dread the day when your disembarkation luggage tags arrive, because this ultimate Caribbean cruise would go on forever!

See what landed in my wine on our first-class flight from Miami last week

See what landed in my wine on our first-class flight from Miami last week

Here’s the story.

After one month; two countries; three flights; four days in a hospital; five time changes; six states; and 5,000+ miles, we were beyond ready to board our final flight and begin our journey home last week.

Miami, Florida, airport view

We spent the last night of our trip at a hotel in Miami with a great view of airplanes landing at the airport.

We were finishing up a wonderful month-long trip that included a national track and field meet in Kansas, apartment hunting in Tulsa for our daughter, breakfast at The Pioneer Woman Mercantile (yes, again) and a cruise to Mexico.

Vision of the Seas in Cozumel, Mexico

Steve and Ann pose for a photo on the pier in Cozumel in front of their ship, Vision of the Seas.

Leaving our car in Houston after the cruise, we boarded a plane to Key West with plans to spend a few days with Steve’s parents who live part of the year in the Florida Keys. Unfortunately, Steve’s dad was quite ill when we arrived and was hospitalized with pneumonia, so we canceled our return flight and stayed a couple more weeks until he was feeling better and we had a chance to really enjoy our time together. (He’s doing much better now, thanks for asking).

Marathon, Florida, sunset

We loved watching beautiful sunsets while in Marathon, Florida.

Needless to say, after being away for nearly a month, we were sooooo ready to come home. We booked a return flight from Miami to Houston (because that’s where we left our car) and were so excited when we checked in at the airport and learned that we’d been upgraded to first class! A complimentary upgrade had never happened to us before and we were starting to feel like the long trip home was going to be pretty relaxing after all.

Arial view of Miami on departure

The view of Miami as we departed.

We got into our extra wide, comfy first-class seats and within seconds, the cheerful flight attendant asked if we’d like something to drink before takeoff. It was noon almost noon, so we each ordered a glass of red wine. After all, it was our fourth blogiversary and we were headed home!

We toasted our 4th blogiversary and were ready to relax.

We toasted our 4th blogiversary and were ready to relax.

Still a bit shocked to find ourselves in first class, we settled into our seats and began perusing the TV menu and would you believe it, my favorite Food Network show, The Pioneer Woman, was on!

So excited that one of our favorite TV shows, The Pioneer Woman, was available to first-class passengers.

So excited that one of our favorite TV shows, The Pioneer Woman, was available to first-class passengers.

There  we were in complimentary first-class seats, sipping wine while watching Ree Drummond prepare Knock You Naked Brownies. Could this flight get any better?

Then, it happened.

I felt something brush up against the back on my arm and when I turned to look behind me, there was a sweaty foot resting in the space between Steve’s and my seats.

The lady behind us put her dirty sock covered foot right between our seats!

The lady behind us put her dirty sock covered foot right between our seats!

I was shocked (and just slightly horrified)! Who in their right mind thinks it’s OK to take off your shoe and place your stinky foot between the seats in front of you? We’d seen some crazy things on a “PassengerShaming.com” Facebook page before. A lady curling her hair. A family spreading its laundry out to dry. And even a woman eating corn on the cob.

PassengerShaming.com photos

Photos from PassengerShaming.com show people behaving badly on airplanes. L to R: a woman curls her hair, a family hangs its laundry out to dry, a person eats corn on the cob.

But we never expected something like this to happen to us. Neither one of us was quite sure what to do, so Steve got up and nicely asked the woman if she would mind removing her foot from the console in our row. She rolled her eyes at him, and eventually moved her foot. When the fasten seat belts sign went off, Steve and I both got up to stretch our legs and use the bathroom and when we returned, her foot was right back where it was before and she appeared to be sleeping! So yes, I took another picture.

Foot between seats in first class.

We were aghast that a foot rested on the console between our seats.

We asked the flight attendant if she could gently wake the woman and ask her to remove her foot (again).  The flight attendant told us that the woman was a frequent business traveler (in fact, something like a triple-diamond VIP — whatever that is) and appeared very stressed out when she boarded. She had apparently told the flight attendant that she didn’t want to be disturbed during the flight for any reason. The flight attendant told us that we’d just have to “deal with it” and be thankful that we got an upgrade and weren’t back in coach.

Seriously?? I thought Steve was about to explode. Trying to calm ourselves, we ordered another glass of wine, leaned to the outsides of our seats, and tried to focus on Ree mixing brownies.

Then, the sock snapped off!!

Foot without sock between first class seats

This might be one of the grossest things we’ve ever experienced.

That must have jostled the woman and she awoke, moved her foot back to her own row, but then had the nerve to tap Steve on the shoulder and ask him to hand her sock to her. Then, as if that weren’t bad enough, the unthinkable happened.

We began to hear the click, click, click sound of a toe nail clipper in the row behind us. Was this woman seriously trimming her toe nails on the plane??

Then, the even more unthinkable happened. Just as I was about to take a sip of my second glass of wine in an attempt to slow my ever-increasing heart rate, I lifted my glass just as a small nail clipping landed in my wine!

One of the grossest things I've ever experienced. A toe nail in my wine!

One of the grossest things I’ve ever experienced. A toe nail in my wine!

It is almost impossible to accurately describe what I was feeling at that moment. I’m not sure which was more difficult, preventing myself from lunging into the seat behind me and grabbing the woman by the foot, or stopping my gag reflex.

Blood boiling, I told Steve I was going to turn around and pour the rest of wine on the woman. Steve said, “Wait for me to stand up and you can get a better angle.”

Enough was enough. With the flight attendant no where in clear sight, I decided to take matters into my own hands and

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DO YOU SERIOUSLY BELIEVE THIS CRAZY STORY? IF SO, GOTCHA!

Note: Most of this article is made up. Stay tuned next week and we’ll show you the behind-the-scenes of how we did it. As always, thanks for SHARING and not adding any “spoiler” comments on social media.

APRIL FOOLS!


As always, thanks for SHARING and not adding any “spoiler” comments on social media.

See where our parents have been

See where our parents have been

We thought we’d kick off this summer travel season with a series of blog posts featuring some of the postcards that we’ve received. We love going down to the post office, opening our P.O. box, and finding postcards from far-away places. It is so neat to think of all the places in the world our readers have visited. Occasionally, it is somewhere we’ve been. More often, we add it to the growing list of places we’d like to go. In any event, it’s our hope that you’ll see something in this series that sparks your interest and makes you want to set off on an adventure of your own.

We love getting postcards from our Postcard Jar followers.

We decided that it would be best to start our “postcard parade” with postcards sent to us by our greatest fans (don’t laugh) — our parents. They’ve been sending us postcards since the beginning of our blog, and we couldn’t appreciate it more.

My mom and dad have taken a few trips over the past few years. A couple of summers ago, they headed to northern Minnesota. There they made stops in Duluth, Gooseberry Falls State Park, and at Split Rock Lighthouse on the northern shore of Lake Superior.

A different trip to Minnesota took them to Stillwater and they sent a postcard not of that quaint town, but a fun one about traveling in the state (complete with a “Minnesota rest area” photo on the back of the postcard.)

My folks have gone other places, as well, including a stop at the Lewis and Clark Visitors’ Center in Nebraska City, Neb.

lewis and clark barge

Finally, they took a trip across southern Florida this winter, and came across a gallery of work by environmental photographer Clyde Butcher. They absolutely loved it and said it was on the Tamiami Trail and was located in a cypress swamp.

Ann’s mom, Carol, has done quite a bit of travel, as well. She has made a couple of trips to see her brother, who lives in North Carolina. When she goes, they typically explore the region. With her brother, Carol has been to Washington D.C. where she saw the cherry blossoms, and to Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello.

They have also visited George W. Vanderbilt’s Biltmore estate, a not-so-modest 250-room “French Renaissance-style chateau,” which Carol said was beautiful. Finally, they have also visited some of the beaches that make the Eastern Seaboard such a wonderful place to visit.

Carol and her late husband, Mark, had a cottage on Hamlin Lake near Ludington, Mich. As a result, Carol has made many trips over the years across Iowa and Illinois on their way to Michigan. On a more recent trip with one of her daughters, Carol realized that just steps from where she and Mark had gotten gas for years in Leclaire, Iowa, was the store from the show, “American Pickers.” They stepped in, met one of the show’s stars, and had a wonderful time.

Carol pointed out that it was just one more, “reason to stop and smell the roses along life’s journey.” Of course no trip to Ludington, Mich. would be complete without a visit to the city’s iconic lighthouse to watch the S.S. Badger head out for its crossing of Lake Michigan.

Finally, Carol’s travels have taken her to see friends in far-off places. She’s visited Estes Park, Colo., where she stopped in at the Stanley Hotel. One night spent in the Stanley was all it took for Stephen King to come up with the story of The Shining.

Carol has also visited some friends who have a home in Arizona. There she visited the Biosphere 2, where eight people lived for two years eating only what they grew while inside.

Finally, Carol also visited my parents in the Florida Keys, where she made a stop in Key West. Among other things, she toured the “Little White House,” where President Truman would go for vacation.

Looking back at all these postcards, we’re really proud of our parents for their willingness to set off into the unknown and do a little exploring. In fact, it sort of answers the question as to where we got the travel bug. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing more postcards sent in by our readers. We hope that they inspire your imagination and give you some new ideas on where you can go next!

Have you been to any of these places? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you. And if you do take a trip, please don’t forget to send us a postcard at Postcard Jar, P.O. Box 334, Crete, NE 68333.

As always, thanks for sharing!

Our Journey of a Lifetime

Our Journey of a Lifetime

It has been said that a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. Five years ago today, Ann and I took our first step together as we walked down the aisle at Westminster Presbyterian Church as a husband and wife. Since that day, we’ve been on an amazing life journey. As we celebrate our fifth anniversary today, we thought we’d share some of our most memorable experiences. As we look back, we are thankful for the opportunities we’ve had, and are even more grateful that we could experience these things together.

Honeymooning in Costa Rica

Great weddings require a lot of planning. I was happy to be involved in planning our wedding. I told Ann from the start that I trusted her judgment—I just wanted to work on the honeymoon. I cooked up a wonderful week in Costa Rica with what Ann called the perfect mix of relaxation and activity.

Tabacon Hot Springs Resort and Spa is, by far, one of the most romantic, relaxing places on earth.

Tabacon Hot Springs Resort and Spa is, by far, one of the most romantic, relaxing places on earth.

We basked in a volcanically heated river on the side of Arenal Volcano, took a zip-line adventure 400 feet above the treetops, and enjoyed what is probably the most romantic dinner of our lives—in a private gazebo in the rainforest served by our own chef and waiter.

What an exciting way to start a marriage -- zip lining 400 feet above the tree tops in Costa Rica.

What an exciting way to start a marriage — zip lining 400 feet above the tree tops in Costa Rica.

We loved exploring the rain forest and seeing the incredible plant life in Costa Rica.

We loved exploring the rain forest and seeing the incredible plant life in Costa Rica.

We loved the Costa Rican coffee and gallo pinto in the morning. We enjoyed the smells of the flowers and the views from the mountains. We cherished our time on the beach and the opportunity to dip our feet in the ocean. And most importantly, we fell even more in love with each other there. Pura vida at it’s best.

Treatments at the Mayo Clinic

Anyone who has been married will tell you that everything doesn’t always go just as you planned, and there really will be a time to remember your vow to be there for each other through sickness and health. Over the past few years we have made more trips to Rochester, Minnesota, than anywhere else.

One of the world's best medical treatment facilities - Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

One of the world’s best medical treatment facilities – Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Two and a half years ago, Ann was diagnosed with a rare immune disease called cardiac sarcoidosis and has had surgeries and treatments at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic there. 

Recovering from thoracic surgery at Mayo Clinic's St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota.

Recovering from thoracic surgery at Mayo Clinic’s St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota.

While these trips are no vacations for either of us, they have brought us closer together and have helped us treasure every day we have together. The Mayo Clinic is a place full of answers, help and hope and we are always grateful for the opportunity to go there.  In the end, our time spent in Rochester has been a big part of our first five years and even though it doesn’t always bring back the happiest of memories, it is a part of our journey.

Taking pictures in Alaska

In 2013, we took our first cruise and went on a family vacation to Alaska. 

A beautiful reflection shot, taken from a moving train en route to Anchorage, Alaska.

A beautiful reflection shot, taken from a moving train en route to Anchorage, Alaska.

Here’s the thing about Alaska: it is stunningly beautiful. Everywhere we turned we were confronted with another jaw-dropping vista of mountains, ocean, glaciers, and wildlife.

We took a helicopter ride to the top of glacier where we were able to sip glacier water and explore the terrain.

We took a helicopter ride to the top of glacier where we were able to sip glacier water and explore the terrain.

Our whale watching tour was amazing. When we got back to shore, Steve asked Ann, "So who did it feel to be in photographer's heaven?"

Our whale watching tour was amazing. When we got back to shore, Steve asked Ann, “So how did it feel to be in photographer’s heaven?”

Where else on Earth can you find yourself on a small boat watching humpback whales dive literally 10 feet away while salmon jump over their tails, and gaze out across the water to admire a rainbow rising up over a mountain? It is truly a photographer’s heaven.

Meeting new people

We love to meet new people. Whether it is introducing ourselves to those sitting next to us at a bar or restaurant or shaking hands with people we’ve just met at a conference or event, we just love meeting new people. Over the past five years we’ve met some incredible people like innkeeper Jeanne in Chadron, Nebraska, and the staff at Luminae restaurant on the Celebrity Eclipse. We’ve developed new relationships with fellow bloggers, our readers, and travel enthusiasts. And, we’ve made some great new friends along the way.

But few meetings will be as memorable as the night we were invited backstage after a Garth Brooks show in Las Vegas to meet the country music legend and his wife and singer Trisha Yearwood. People often say, “Pics or it didn’t happen.” Well, here you go. For what it’s worth, Garth and Trisha are as gracious and kind as you’d expect.

Down to earth, personable, and boy can they sing! Our once in a lifetime experience meeting county music artists, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood.

Down to earth, personable, and boy can they sing! Our once in a lifetime experience meeting county music artists, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood.

Picking up our daughter from school

From Spain. Via Rome. As you know, all good parents make sure their children get home safely after school, and Ann and I are no exception. That’s why we we made the trek to Salamanca, Spain, last summer to pick Meghan up after she’d spent several weeks there studying Spanish. We were so proud of our daughter and all she had accomplished there and it was a real blessing to be able to see where she had studied, visit her favorite museums, and meet some of her teachers. 

Meghan studied Spanish Salamanca, Spain.

Meghan studied Spanish Salamanca, Spain.

And we loved Salamanca. It is a historical city dating back to Roman times and we savored every moment spent sitting in the open air cafes on the square, eating paella, drinking amazing wine and listening to bands playing traditional music.  As long as we were headed across the ocean, we stopped first in Rome, admired the incredible history there and enjoyed pasta at a sidewalk cafe before boarding a cruise to Spain. It was an amazing trip.

Our view of the Forum in Rome, Italy, seemed like it was right of a history book.

Our view of the Forum in Rome, Italy, seemed like it was right of a history book.

 

Exploring our home state, Nebraska

When Ann and I were married, I hadn’t done much travel in the state of Nebraska except on Interstate 80. Ann insisted that we take a trip around our state. She and Meghan had taken annual Nebraska trips for close to a decade and she said there were some pretty special things to be enjoyed if we just got off of I-80. Well, she was right.

Nebraska

A road in the Sandhills of northwest Nebraska near Crawford. Definitely not I-80.

One place she took me that blew me away was Toadstool Geologic Park. I’ve been twice, now, and both times I’ve been awed by the beauty and unique geography located in Nebraska. Last Spring we shared another experience that was a first for both of us: The Sandhill Crane migration.

We watched thousands of Sandhill Cranes gather at sunset on the Platte River near Grand Island, Nebraska.

We watched thousands of Sandhill Cranes gather at sunset on the Platte River near Grand Island, Nebraska.

Seeing the cranes land on the Platte River at sunset is an almost mystical experience, and it should be on your bucket list. Turns out Nebraska is a pretty special place if you just stop and look around a bit.

Watching the sun rise and set

Every day, God gives us two beautiful light shows that fill the whole sky: sunrise, and sunset. We have always tried to slow down and enjoy these moments when we can.

View of the sunset from our cruise ship in Nassau, Bahamas.

View of the sunset from our cruise ship in Nassau, Bahamas.

Whether it’s a fiery sky turning orange and red as the sun dips into the ocean, or a glistening sunrise in Estes Park or the Florida Keys — these are times to be savored.

Watching the sunrise over the mountains in Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes, Colorado.

Watching the sunrise over the mountains in Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes, Colorado.

A day of rejoicing with the sunrise on Easter morning from the Florida Keys.

A day of rejoicing with the sunrise on Easter morning from the Florida Keys.

When you stop and think about it, there is nothing made by human hands that can even compare.

We’ve been really fortunate to have been able to travel as much as we have the during these first five years of our marriage and we don’t take one trip for granted. Whether it is across the ocean or just down the road, we have always managed to learn something new on our adventures. We’ve experienced something different. And we’ve created memories together that will last a lifetime. None of us knows what our futures will hold. Only God knows whether we’ll have more days filled with or joy or sorrow, sickness or health, plenty or want. The important thing is to enjoy the journey and to remember that most of the time, the only trip you’ll ever regret taking is the one you don’t.

A new view of Key West

A new view of Key West

I’m one of the lucky ones. My grandparents spent winters in the Florida Keys so I’ve been to Key West many times. I have seen the drag queen lowered in her giant shoe at midnight on New Year’s Eve. I’ve sipped beers in Sloppy Joe’s, Captain Tony’s and even the Hog’s Breath Saloon. I know which museums are good (Hemingway’s Home, and the Little White House to name two), and which to avoid. On a recent cruise when our first port of call was Key West, I had a certain “been there, done that” feeling and didn’t really want to go ashore. I was happy to stay on the ship sipping cocktails while soaking up the sun, which is why I was so surprised by what I saw as we slid into port.

 

Standing on the balcony of our stateroom as we docked, I saw Key West in a completely new way. If you’ve ever been to Key West when a ship is in port, you know that the ship is the tallest structure in town by far. From my balcony on Deck 11, I could see across the island and enjoy a birds-eye view–a unique perspective that made me excited to step off the ship and into the familiar streets of Key West.

Ann and I were traveling with our daughter, Meghan, and Ann’s mom, Carol and it was my mother-in-law’s first visit to Key West. Because Carol had never been to Key West, I followed a longtime Teget family tradition, and took her for a ride on the Conch Train.

I admit that the Conch Train is very touristy–but it’s worth it because the ride gives a great overview of the island, it’s history, architecture, vegetation, people, industries. It also answers the question as to why there are chickens running free everywhere!!

I’ve ridden the Conch Train more times than I can count, but learn something new each time I ride. One time, I learned that England has one queen, but Key West has 56! On another ride, I learned about how the sponging industry changed the history of the town. If you go there, check out the sponge market where you get off the Conch Train; natural sponges can make great gifts!

Meghan checking out the basket sponge at the Key West Sponge Market.

Meghan checking out the basket sponge at the Key West Sponge Market.

Key West (and all the Florida Keys, for that matter) is a place where nothing is too important or taken too seriously. The pace of life is just a little slower, and people there are more relaxed. They don’t get caught up in the minutiae of every day life. Maybe it’s the sun, maybe the ocean breeze. Maybe it’s a cold beer available every ten feet as you walk down the street and a lack of open-container laws. Whatever it is, it counters that deep-down tiredness you feel after living the rat race for too long. It’s a feeling that is hard to describe; it has to be felt to be known.

By the time the ship’s horn sounded and we glided out of port, I was glad to have made another visit to Key West. I felt like I’d visited an old friend, one who is always there to rejuvenate me. One who helps me forget the trivial distractions of everyday life and  focus on the important things — like spending more quality time with the ones I love.

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