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The Florida Keys with Kids

 

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Traveling to the Florida Keys with kids is really fun vacation. The weather is always nice. There are a ton of things to do to keep the kids busy. And it is much different than a beach vacation, if you are wanting a warm trip, but something a little different than the beach.

My family went during Spring Break. We traveled from north Georgia. We may be totally crazy, but we drove! It was a very long trip, so I couldn’t help myself but look on Pinterest to find some activities for the kids, while on the road, and really, it was a life saver.  Here is a link to a compilation of activities for a Reusable Road Trip Activity Book.

Once we arrived it was, well raining. The roads were very congested. One road in and out, so plan accordingly for a bottle neck. Many visitors are coming from Miami, so planning to get up early or even explore and drive later may help with traffic. We stayed at Hawk’s Cay Resort on Duck Key. It is a great family resort with a lot of planned activities for everyone. It is about midway through the Keys. We ate a late lunch on our way at Loralei Restaurant and Cabana Bar. I give it about 2 stars. Yeah, but really we didn’t see anywhere else that looked any better. We settled in that evening and set out to adventure the Florida Keys the next day.

Key West

We booked Hawks Cay Resort a few weeks in advance before Spring Break. We have a family of 5, so accommodating us all comfortably, without getting adjoining rooms, is sometimes difficult. Luckily more resorts are planning for bigger families these days. The room was pretty spacious and served its purpose for our stay. It included a king size bed and a full size bed with a twin bunk. And it wasn’t too expensive. We settled into the resort for the remainder of the day. More on Hawks Cay at the end of the post.

Key West

The next day we decided to make the drive to Key West (proper). There are a few state parks that can be accessed by the main road. We made little stops along the way to break up the drive and to get a good feel for where we may want to head back to on another day (for kayaking and exploring).

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Key West, in my opinion, is not really the “destination” that I had hoped for. I had never traveled to the Florida Keys prior to the trip with my family, and I’m really glad that we didn’t book a hotel in Key West proper.  We planned to maybe spend a day or two in Key West, but ended up just staying a day, which was good. We arrived at lunchtime and had lunch by a pier near Mallory Square. It was fun watching the fisherman bring in their catch from the morning. The kids even saw a shark swimming around in the water, and one of the fisherman let the kids feed some leftover bait fish to the fish swimming around the pier.

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In Key West, we did the whole “I’m a tourist” tour. We took a trolley tour 🙂 It is really the easiest way to get a good feel for the island and find things that you may want to do. You can ride non-stop and listen to the history lesson or hop on and off at different areas of the city. I think the pass is good for the whole day. Downtown is basically one big fat tourist trap. There are street vendors and many souvenier stores. I think I heard that the majority of the population of Key West are the people that work for the tourist industry. So, not much going on other than selling tourists things. And chickens.

Key West Chickens

Famous Duvall Street seemed pretty tame by day. We didn’t stick around to see it at night 🙂  We walked, we shopped (limited and touristy, blech), we ate key lime pie.  We stopped to take pics with a man and a parrot. Apparently, there are two men with parrots, and of course our guy said he was the best. AND he said he played in a rock band back in the day. We never figured out which one….He freaked me out by taking my camera out of my hands. My dslr. Whoa. I think I had an anxiety attack until he finally handed it back over. This is “Parrot Cam”. Lol. He is probably the most entertaining guy on Duval St. Even if you just watch him from a distance. The kids loved it. The parrot even gives kisses.

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In “historic” downtown, we toured the Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum. The tour guides dress in period clothing and tour a building filled with shipwreck relic. And the top of the building offers a beautiful view. It is located near Mallory Square, where we ended up for the sunset in the evening.

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We took the trolley around and visited Fort East Martello Museum. The Fort itself was built in the Civil War era…but it was never completed and never saw any war action. Inside lives “Robert the Doll”. He’s kinda creepy. You need to ask his permission before taking a picture. We did. And so far nothing crazy has happened. Apparently, if you don’t ask permission, you’ll be haunted. The kids were a little freaked out by him.

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Land Marks

We had our car with us, so we also did a bit of driving around to visit some of the land marks known for Key West.

Southernmost Point Buoy is located at the corner of South Street and Whitehead Street.

Mile Marker 0 located at the very beginning of US-1.

Smothers Beach is a happening place!

Then we went on the hunt for the sign that pops in my head when I think of Key West. You know the one that has all of the mileage to each city from Key West. My family was so patient!!! And for the record, no one in Key West seemed to have an idea where it was located! I finally found out by googling for a while and finding someone else who had also been on the search and had found it….so, hopefully, by posting directions I will help another poor soul like mine. The “sign” can be located at Fort Zachary State Park. Whew! I think my heart would have dropped if we hadn’t found it! Sort of anticlimactic, but here it is. The beach is really a great one. Lots of sand and beautiful trees and picnic area.

 

Fort Zachary

Key West

 

Sunset Pier at Duval Street at the end of the day is more like a festival. There are a lot of street performers and of course the act that steals it all is the gorgeous sunset. Vendors are set up everywhere and the kids were fully entertained by the action at the pier. And by sunset, it is a good time to take off out of Key West for the kids. We didn’t hang around long enough to see any Spring Breakers having too good of a time on the streets. That would have been a blast a lifetime ago. One before three babies.

The rest of the trip we stayed pretty close to our resort.

Bahai Honda State Park

Bahai Honda State Park is located at mile marker 36 on Big Pine Key. Bahai Honda has the biggest “beach”, but ‘big’ doesn’t describe it at all! It is still super small, but there is enough space on each side where you can at least have a seat and enjoy the sand, along with a few of your closest beachgoer friends. There are picnic tables and a snack bar and bathrooms. Kayaks are available for rental, which we did and loved. The water is beautiful and you feel like you are all alone out there in the ocean.

Bahai State Park

Bahai State Park, Florida Keys

 

The Turtle Hospital

By far, the Turtle Hospital was our favorite stop. Turtles are such amazing creatures. Reservations are a must, or were at the time of year that we went. The hospital rescues injured turtles, rehabilitates them, then sets them free if they are able to survive in the wild. If not, they have a forever home with them. The kids loved visiting the turtles and came away wanting to be marine biologists. And one also wanted to be a sea turtle for Halloween. That phase has thus passed….because how do you hold a bag of candy with flippers? Proceeds from the gift shop go toward those beautiful sea creatures!

The Turtle Hospital, Marathon, FL

Hawks Cay Resort

We relaxed one day at the resort and found that there are tons of thing to do. There are kid camps that parents can send their kids to (and enjoy some kid free time). There are 2 pools to enjoy. One is catered toward younger kids with a splash pad and located near the playground. Also in the kid zone is volleyball, basketball, and putt-putt. While the putt-putt course sounded like a great idea, the balls would roll right off of the course making it really frustrating for the kids….and after a while for me too. Ugh. Great concept, but bad execution! The larger pool had fun games for the kids in the evenings as well as smores. Our oldest two kids actually sang karaoke! This is a big deal for our shy kiddos! By day, the lagoon is a fun place to play on kayaks and play in the sand. And of course it is always great to have food and drinks delivered to our chairs. There is a marina, where you can charter fishing excursions for the day or just drop by and see the catch of the day. Hawks Cay was a great place to spend our Spring Break 🙂

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Hawks Cay, Duck Key, FL

Sunset Cruise

Our last evening, we went on a sunset cruise. We enjoyed boating by all of the homes on Duck Key. Gorgeous homes on the water there! Our oldest loves architecture and he loved having a look at homes from another region. I’m sure most people had their heads turned toward the wide open sea. The low lying clouds tripped up the sunset pictures I had imagined, but the ambiance was good.

Hawks Cay Sunset Cruise

 

What NOT to Miss? 

Absolutely do not miss The Turtle Hospital. It was the highlight of the trip.

I really wish we had gotten to Key West earlier in the morning and taken a day trip to Dry Tortugas National Park. Then spent the afternoon enjoying everything else that Key West proper has to offer.  Mostly because it would have made for some pretty pictures. I also read somewhere that there was some really great bird watching. Not that I’m into bird watching, but I’m sure it would have been interesting.

Other useful resources:

Here is a great online resource for “marker by mile marker” stops.