Misty handed out snorkeling gear and gave us a few pointers, and before long we were chasing colorful fish across the reef. A school of yellow tail snapper congregated by the ladder as we came in, gobbling up leftover scrambled eggs.
Our next stop on the cruise was an uninhabited mangrove island for kayaking. We slipped into our tandem kayaks and paddled toward the shoreline, gathering for a slow and relaxing paddle along the trees and reeds, looking to spot the odd shark and ray.
Pulling our boats up onto the sand of a deserted beach, we waded in the shallows, fascinated by the movement of young conchs, the schools of tiny fish, and the huge wingspan of the frigate birds that soared overhead.
On the sail back to Key West, we watched a parade of sport fishing boats return from a day at sea. There was a huge fishing tournament going on - the World Sailfish Championship - and the world's best anglers were in town to compete for the prize. Judging by the boats, sailfishing is a wealthy man's sport. I'd love to give it a try.
Once back on land, we dropped by the gift shop of Pat Croce's Pirate Soul Museum to buy a souvenir for Zachary. We settled on a pirate ship bath toy (top) which he loves. Pirates were very much in the news while we were down there. The big drama of the Maersk Alabama pirate hijacking was unfolding, and Swedish BitTorrent site the Pirate Bay was on trial for copyright infringement. (Their logo has a cool silhouette of a pirate ship.) So I asked the young woman working at the register if all the piracy in the news has been bad for business. "It's been great for business," she replied. I guess people will always be fascinated with pirates, or at least the romanticized version of them that we make movies out of.
While we were on the Island 'Ting, we met a woman who was working as a waitress at a restaurant called Blue Heaven. We had been curious to try it anyway, but after she raved about the food, we were convinced, so we got cleaned up and headed over for dinner.
Tables are scattered across an enclosed courtyard, with colored lights and palm trees framing the romantic views. An acoustic guitarist and singer (above) performed calypso renditions of classic songs, such as Nat Cole's Nature Boy, which I was familiar with because of a cool TV on the Radio mashup.
We started out with a drink at the bar (above) and chatted with the bartender about what it's like working on Key West. He said that good help is hard to find, because people get "keys disease" and don't show up for work. Thus, if you are even somewhat reliable, you'll have no trouble finding work. One waiter he worked with once wasn't fired even after racking up six no-call no-shows, because when he did show up, he was quite good. So if you're looking for work, head south.
We got a lovely table amid the trees and dined under the stars as chickens and cats wandered about. Jenn had yellow tail snapper. I had surf and turf with scallops and a ribeye. Everything was good except the ribeye. The service was polite and attentive, and the key lime pie had more meringue on top than I had ever seen before. Blue Heaven is definitely worth a visit.
The restaurant is located in the Bahama Village area of Key West, which isn't far from the downtown area, although people act like it is.
Sadly, it was our last meal in Key West. We ambled back to the hotel, snapping one last photo that represented the point we'd finally reached.
The verdict? Key West is great. Good restaurants and bars, plenty of water sports for active types, interesting history, and most of all, easy to reach from most parts of the east coast. And while we experienced quite a lot in our three and a half days, there's more than enough we didn't see to make me want to return some day.
[All Photos: Victor Ozols]