Key West is both a city and an island that is part of the Florida Keys and considered to be the southernmost city in the continental United States. With a laidback and slightly offbeat vibe, numerous famous writers, artists and musicians have called it home over the years. Cruise ships have been stopping at Key West since 1969 and today it welcomes nearly half a million cruise passengers every year.
Your ship will likely dock at either Mallory Square or the Truman Annex, both of which are just a few blocks from Duval Street in central Key West. If your ship docks further out at the Navy Mole, near Fort Zachary Taylor. In that case, trolleys are available to shuttle you into the Old Town.
Few things are as beautiful as a Florida sunset, so while you are in Key West, be sure to celebrate the sunset in true Key West style - at Mallory Square. Every night, starting two hours before the sunset, the square hosts its "Sunset Celebration." Arts and crafts exhibitors, street performers and food carts descend on the square providing you with fun entertainment to enjoy in the last daylight hours.
During the daytime, Mallory Square offers numerous attractions at its many restaurants and shops. While you are there, you should also check out the famous Key West Historic Memorial Sculpture Garden. Open since 1997, the garden contains 36 bronze busts of the men and women who have had the greatest impact on Key West. The most famous of these are renowned writer Ernest Hemingway and President Harry S. Truman.
Popular for both its military history and current recreational opportunities, Fort Zachary Taylor is also the location of one of Key West’s favorites beaches. Spanning 54 acres, Fort Zachary Taylor is worth a visit both for its colorful past and its attractive present. Construction on Fort Taylor was begun in 1845 and the Fort hosted active duty squadrons until 1947. During the period of the Civil War, Fort Zachary Taylor remained one of only three fortresses in Florida to remain under Federal control; it’s now recognized as a National Historic Landmark and contains the largest cache of Civil War-era seacoast cannons in the U.S. Fort Taylor was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1973. Tours are conducted daily and pamphlets for self-guided tours are available as well. Today, Fort Zachary Taylor is best known for its outdoor activities and is a popular destination for locals and visitors alike.
Featuring over 23 miles (37 kilometers) of pristine beach, visitors will have plenty of opportunities to swim and sunbathe. The Fort Lauderdale beachfront offers a wide number of experiences, like wind surfing, jet skiing, boating, snorkeling, deep sea fishing and scuba diving. If you’d rather stay on land, jogging, cycling, rollerblading and beach sports like volleyball and Frisbee are worthwhile beachfront options.
Spend some time in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, known for its scuba diving offerings and pier where you can watch fishermen reeling in fresh catch. Hugh Taylor Birch State Park is another top experience when exploring Fort Lauderdale’s beachfront, and can be accessed via the pedestrian tunnel under A1A. This park has a tropical-feel and offers chances to kayak, fish and cycle. And of course, visiting the beaches themselves is a must, like the family-friendly Deerfield Beach, trendy Fort Lauderdale Beach and adventure-focused Hallandale Beach.
Nicknamed the "Gateway to the Everglades," this 29 acre (.12 sq. km) park has been entertaining and educating visitors for more than 30 years. Most famous for its guided airboat rides, as well as being the home to the Animal Planet’s Gator Boys show, Everglades Holiday Park is a classic—if a bit kitschy—introduction to the Everglades and its wild inhabitants. With covered airboats, the ride into the Everglades is a bit more civilized and finding alligators is almost guaranteed, as the guides know their scaly neighbors by sight. The gator “wrestling” show by the Gator Boys is a crowd favorite; those who like to walk on the wild side can even get their picture taken holding a live gator.
A marshy expanse of humid swamps, the majority of the 1.5 million acres that make up the Florida Everglades are inaccessible wilderness. With a visit to Sawgrass Recreation Park, however, guests are able to ride on a high-speed airboat and navigate the same marshes where Seminole Indians once roamed and endangered animals still call home.
Located only 30 minutes outside the urban streets of downtown Ft. Lauderdale, the Sawgrass Recreation Park not only provides thrilling rides over the glassy waters of the Everglades, but also gives visitors the chance to spot alligators living in the wild and other marshland animals such as slithery pythons, black leopards, and the endangered Florida panther.
Morning hours are best during the summer months as afternoons in the Everglades are prone to wind and thunderstorms, although those looking for a unique thrill can take part in the night time alligator viewing sessions which depart into the marshes various nights per week.
The Key West Aquarium, located in a charming white building with blue trim and awnings, is a great place to get up close and personal with some of Key West's aquatic life. Expert guides lead tours that offer a wealth of information about the wildlife of the Florida Keys. Daily shark and turtle feedings are a fun way to see some of the animals go crazy with excitement.
One its most unique features is that it encourages a hands on experience that you wouldn't normally expect to find in an aquarium. Their touch tank allows you to interact with a wide array of aquatic life. There is even an opportunity to pet a shark! A perfect destination for people of all ages, this is definitely an attraction that any animal or nature lover won't want to miss!
A vibrant Hispanic culture permeates everything in Little Havana - colorful murals, monuments to heroes past and present, elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, and cigar rollers deeply at work amidst Little Havana’s ever-present aroma of Cuban coffee. These scenes of daily Little Havana life play out amidst a backdrop of Little Havana’s pulsating music, vibrant storefronts, unique art galleries and quaint restaurants.
The neighborhood’s colorful spirit unfolds on Calle Ocho, Little Havana’s bustling main street, packed with shops and restaurants. Farther down Calle Ocho, between SW 15th and 17th avenues, the Arts District contains a string of studios and galleries that showcase some of the best Latin American art in the country. Nearby, the Bay of Pigs Museum & Library enshrines the crew of the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion. The two blocks SW 13th street, south of Calle Ocho, contain a series of monuments of Cuban patriots and freedom fighters.
Coconut Grove is a bayside village in Miami, recognized as the oldest modern continuously inhabited neighborhood in the city. Originally settled in the 1800s, Coconut Grove is sometimes referred to as “Bohemia on the Bay.” Complete with a pedestrian-friendly village center where visitors can wander galleries, go shopping or enjoy lunch at a quaint sidewalk café. There are some recognizable chain restaurants and open-air malls but also college bars, as students from nearby Florida International University and the University of Miami flock to the area, especially as the sun goes down. Known locally as “the Grove,” its bay-front location also showcases a number of various parks.
Village West, a noted sub-area, is the modern-day historic home of Bahamian and African-American descendants of Coconut Grove’s earliest settlers. There is evidence that settlers from the Bahamas came via Key West in order to work at the Peacock Inn.
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Housed in a gorgeous former hotel built in 1887 in the Spanish Renaissance style, the exterior of the Lightner Museum is reason enough to visit. The real treats though are the various antiquities located on the inside of this three story museum.
The first floor houses a Victorian village, with shop fronts offering Victorian era wares. Take a look at the Victorian Science and Industry Room and its eclectic array of artifacts including model steam engines, stuffed birds, a small Egyptian mummy, and a shrunken head. The second floor contains samples of cut glass, Victorian art glass and stained glass work. The third floor, housed in the ball room's upper balcony, exhibits paintings, sculpture, and furniture from the time period. Overall, the museum's careful attention to details and rustic recreation of the time period make it a fun place to visit.
For thousands of years, people have journeyed the earth in search of a so called "Fountain of Youth," hoping that a single sip from the spring will restore them to full health and vitality.According to legend, the famous Spanish conquistador Ponce de Leon came to Florida in the 16th century in search of this miraculous fountain. He claimed the land for the Spanish crown, and soon afterward, another explorer arrived and founded St. Augustine- the oldest continuously occupied European settlement within the continental United States. It wasn't until 1901 that an enterprising woman bought an estate in St. Augustine and began to charge people to drink from the fountain located on the property. She claimed that it was Ponce de Leon's fountain of youth, and patrons immediately began flocking to the site. Whether or not you believe in the legend, it can't hurt to to see what happens if you take a sip from the fountain.
The Miami Sequarium is a 38 acre (15 hectare) marine park that excels in preserving, protecting and educating visitors about aquatic creatures. There are dozens of shows and exhibits including a tropical reef; the Shark Channel, with feeding presentations; and Discovery Bay, a natural mangrove habitat that serves as a refuge for rehabilitating rescued sea turtles.
Check out the Pacific white-sided dolphins or the West Indian manatees being nursed back to health. Frequent shows include dazzling performances from the Seaquarium’s finest residents, including a massive killer whale, dolphins, and sea lions. Dolphin Harbor is an especially fun venue for watching marine mammals play and show off; it also offers the popular Dolphin Encounter, which allows visitors to touch and swim with dolphins in the Flipper Lagoon.
This iconic Florida bridge is a testament to humankind’s architectural prowess and mother nature’s sheer beauty. Officially known as the Bob Graham Sunshine Skyway Bridge (named after the former Florida governor), it was built in 1954 and spans Tampa Bay with a 1,500-foot cable-stayed main span. The bridge’s height, expansive views of the surrounding bay and modern design landed it the No. 3 spot on the Travel Channel’s list of top bridges in the world. Those traveling to Tampa shouldn’t miss the chance to be impressed by this architectural wonder and the amazing views of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico it provides.
Voyage the waterways of Fort Lauderdale's New River on the Jungle Queen Riverboat and stop at a Native American village and experience a stunning tropical island environment complete with extraordinay plants and birds and tussling alligators. For more than 50 years, visitors have traveled on this dignified riverboat to be entertained by the crew and sights of Fort Lauderdale. The Jungle Queen Riverboat Company owns several boats and offers two distinct tours.
The Sightseeing Cruise lasts about 3 hours, and will take you up the New River, including a stopover at the "Jungle Queen Indian Village." The Bar-B-Que and Shrimp Dinner Cruise lasts roughly 4 hours, and also includes a trip up the New River. There is an island stopover for an all-you-can-eat shrimp and ribs dinner and a live variety show amid tropical foliage.
Touring the Intracoastal Waterway, you’ll understand why Fort Lauderdale is nicknamed the “Venice of America.” Made up of beautiful canals lined with palm trees, restaurants, hotels and attractions, the Intracoastal Waterway is both a means for transportation and an experience in itself.
Stretching 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometers) between the United States’ Atlantic and Gulf coasts, the main purpose of the Intracoastal Waterway is to provide a navigable route for ships that doesn’t present many hazards. Sightseeing from the Intracoastal Waterway is a special experience, as it allows you to take in Fort Lauderdale’s resort-like skyline, high-end real estate, yachts and attractions like Hollywood and the Las Olas Riverfront complex in a relaxing manner. For those who enjoy wildlife viewing, it’s not uncommon to also see manatees.
The Intracoastal Waterway in Fort Lauderdale can also be enjoyed on land, mainly from one of the city’s waterfront restaurants.
One of the most exciting and flashy strips in America, I-Drive is packed with restaurants, hotels, shopping, and dinner theaters. And if that’s not enough, six of the world’s greatest theme parks make their home on I-Drive: SeaWorld, Discovery Cove, Wet 'n' Wild, Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and Aquatica.
I-Drive winds past Big Sand Lake, and part of the road is lined with palm trees and a pleasant walking district. Also here is Ripley’s Believe It or Not and Skyventure. Head to Pointe Orlando or Prime Outlets International for mega-mall shopping, or browse the quirky independent shops on Antique Row.
I-Drive 360 is a new entertainment complex on one of Orlando's main drags, International Drive, commonly known as I-Drive. Opened in May 2015, I-Drive 360 includes a variety of restaurants, shops, and tourist attractions – including an aquarium, a Madame Tussaud's, and the 400-foot observation wheel called the Orlando Eye. You'll find popular eateries like Shake Shack and Outback as well as hopping nightlife at Cowgirls Rockbar, with the only mechanical bull in the city.
The centerpiece is the massive observation wheel. It has 30 passenger compartments, each one air-conditioned, and each one can carry up to 15 people. Your ticket to the Orlando Eye includes a 4D movie experience and a ride around the wheel.
The Key West Lighthouse is one of the island's oldest relics, as it was first built in 1825 to help ships navigating the dangerous reefs of the lower keys. The lighthouse had a rather rough history, as it was often destroyed and damaged throughout the years and had to be replaced and restored. The one that stands there today was completed in 1849, but has undergone several additions throughout the years. It now stands at about 100 feet (30.5 m) above sea level. As the 15th oldest surviving lighthouse in the U.S., its proud history makes it well worth seeing. Climb up the 88 steps of the circular iron stairway to access a lookout area with spectacular views of the ocean and Keys.
One of the most interesting aspects about lighthouses are the stories of the keepers who lived there. The Key West Lighthouse and Keeper's Quarters Museum is no exception. Visit the newly restored keeper's home and learn about the perilious job that cost some keepers their lives.
Sea Life Orlando is a brand new attraction in the city that only opened in May 2015. Roughly 40,000 gallons of water and 45,000 pounds of sand make up the home of over 5000 sea creatures, including green sea turtles, jellyfish, seahorses, black tip reef sharks and colorful clownfish. Some of the activities that visitors to the facilities can take part in include the Interactive Rockpool, where you can touch starfish, spot hermit crabs and learn about coastal rock pools as well as the Atlantic Ocean Exhibit with its 360-degree tunnel. There, guests can admire sharks and exotic fish from all angles and watch rays float gracefully overhead. Regular talks combined with feeding times let children and adults learn more about the animals as well. It’s a good idea to schedule a visit around those feeding times, as the wildlife will be the most active during those hours.
A veritable ode to a bygone era, the Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum helps visitors step back into time and immerge themselves in the nautical and maritime heritage of what once was the richest city in the United States of America. Unusually so—Key Westers became extraordinarily wealthy by savaging treasures and luxury goods in the numerous and frequent wreckages, a questionable habit that provided for the livelihoods of the early pioneers on the island. Wrecking masters would then control the salvage operation and later on auction off their finds in wrecking courts, with each good being awarded a profit depending on how long or dangerous the salvage operation had been. Actors, films and artifacts tell the story of the treacherous Florida Keys reef and the many wrecks it caused, including the infamous 1838 Isaac Allerton vessel. The ship was 137 feet long and weighed 594 tons and served as merchant ship in and around the Caribbean Sea.
This half mile (.8 km) stretch of pristine white sand is the largest public beach Key West has to offer. Located on the south side of the island, against the shimmering turquoise waters of the Atlantic, Smathers Beach is the perfect place to relax while in Key West.
Thrill seekers can rent out water sports gear, kayaks, and mini sail boats from vendors along the beach. There are also numerous opportunities to parasail and snorkel. If you're looking to just relax on the sand, the vendors also offer beach chairs to help make your lounging more comfortable. There are also three volleyball nets scattered along the beach. All of these attractions make Smathers Beach the ideal sport for either a day trip or to enjoy a beautiful sunset.
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