The "Conch Republic" of Key West is an exciting port of call for cruise passengers. The southernmost city in the continental United States is filled with colorful gingerbread cottages and sidewalk cafes. This popular port of call with a funky vibe all its own is one spot you'll definitely want to visit on your next cruise.
Ships dock at Mallory Square, conveniently located in the center of Key West's action, or near the Truman Annex. Whether you're arriving by cruise ship for a one-day visit or staying overnight at one of Key West's many resorts, there's much to do here. Many cruise ship passengers fall in love with Key West, often returning to the island for a longer stay.
Beach lovers can certainly find their place in the sun in Key West. Smathers Beach offers beach equipment rentals, food concessions and a number of water sport activities. The easy entry and shallow water makes it a good choice for families, too.
For cruise passengers who prefer a little more action, here are ten popular things to do in Key West:
1. Ride the Conch Train. This cute open-air train is a good way to get an overview of the city on clear days. The 90-minute tour covers all of Key West's highlights, including the Southernmost Point. If the weather is bad or you'd like to make more stops, the enclosed Old Town Trolley may be the best bet.
2. Sail Away on a Catamaran. Catamaran cruises are a relaxing way to spend the day and get a close-up view of Key West's spectacular nearby reef and crystal blue waters. These ultra-stable, roomy boats take guests out to North America's only living coral reef. Here, you'll have the opportunity to enjoy snorkeling with tropical fish or lazing on the deck soaking up the sun. Glass-bottom boat tours are also available for those who don't want to get wet.
3. Get Close to Nature. Walk through the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory's tropical paradise and marvel at hundreds of free-flying butterflies and over 20 species of exotic birds from around the globe. About 50 to 60 different species of butterflies can be found in this climate-controlled, glass enclosed habitat. Then visit the Key West Aquarium, Key West's oldest attraction and home to hundreds of species of local sea life.
4. Paddle Through the Mangroves. Kayaking around the mangrove creeks and shallow flats surrounding Key West is a popular backcountry adventure. Participants can kayak at a relaxed, comfortable pace and learn more about the wildlife inhabiting the Florida Keys. Tour operators provide information on this unique environment as you kayak through the tranquil waters. Make sure to bring a waterproof camera for taking pictures.
5. Cruise Around. It's easy to tour Key West on a comfortable beach cruiser bike from several shops on the island. Visitors can also rent "Conch Cruisers," golf cart-like electric vehicles that will accommodate 2-4 passengers, from Key West Cruisers. For those with the need for speed, mopeds are also available.
6. Indulge in Retail Therapy. Shopping is a favorite pastime in Key West. Here you'll find a wide range of souvenirs, jewelry stores, artisan studios and boutiques. Factory outlet stores are located here as well. Check out over hundreds hot sauces from Peppers of Key West and skin products from Key West Aloe. Make sure to try on a pair of Kino Sandals - leather sandals handmade in Key West retailing for less than $20.
7. Soak Up Some Culture. Key West is a literary mecca. Robert Frost, Tennessee Williams, and other famous writers enjoyed Key West's tropical lifestyle. Probably the area's most famous resident is Ernest Hemingway, who lived and wrote novels here. Visit the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, where the author lived with about 50 cats and wrote some of his most famous novels.
8. Grab a Bite. There may be food waiting for you back on the ship, but you can't leave the Conch Republic without sampling some of its mouthwatering delicacies. El Meson de Pepe, a family owned and operated Cuban restaurant, is a divine place for lunch. Don't miss their Cuban shredded beef called Ropa Vieja, conch fritters Cuban style, and fantastic mojitos. The Conch Republic Seafood Company offers a wide variety of seafood and waterfront dining, while Blue Heaven is a "must visit" spot for a casual bite to eat. Key Lime Pie is Florida's official dessert; so make sure to try the Key West Key Lime Pie Company's decadent Key Lime Pie on a stick.
9. Go on a Pub Crawl. Take part in a Key West tradition and visit some of the most rockin' bars in the country. Cruisers don't have the opportunity to experience the Keys' equivalent of Bourbon Street after dark, but you can certainly get a taste during the day. Famous Sloppy Joe's bar, one of Hemingway's favorites, has moved locations frequently since his time - but you can pay it a visit anyway. The Hog's Breath Saloon is another good bet. Just remember to get back to your ship before she sails.
10. Explore Key West's History. Key West has one of the largest historic districts in the United States. Here, you'll find lovely old homes and mansions like the Audubon House with its gorgeous tropical gardens, the East Martello Museum filled with historic artifacts, and even a Little White House. Harry S. Truman, the 33rd President of the United States, was one of Key West's most famous residents and his home is open to the public for tours. Visitors who climb the 88 steps of the Key West Lighthouse Museum's tower will be rewarded with spectacular views.
For more information on Key West and the Florida Keys, visit www.fla-keys.com.