Monday, June 8, 2015

Travelogue: Florida Keys - Part 1. Key Largo

This year I have this fascination with traveling to beautiful places in America. We started the year in Puerto Rico, and ever since I'd been dreaming of Key West. I plan a lot of trips that never come to fruition, but I was bound and determined to make this one happen, just ask my husband! The original plan had been to fly in and out of Key West. It wasn't until I was watching Married At First Sight on A&E one week, and one of the couples honeymooned in Key Largo, that I started to seriously consider flying to Miami and making the drive on the Overseas Highway and then flying back from Key West. Funny enough, this ended up being cheaper for us than a round-trip Key West OR Miami flight. We also got an amazing deal on a one-way Mustang rental from Miami to Key West, which was perfect because we dropped the car off as soon as we got to Key West and didn't need it anymore.

So, early one Saturday in May we flew into Miami, making one stop in Atlanta which was just long enough to get breakfast and a much-needed second cup of coffee. We picked up our rental car at the Miami Airport and we were off! Turned out we were lucky that we were only going as far as Key Largo that night, the traffic was terrible. We started baking in the sun sitting on the Overseas Highway with the top down. When we arrived in Key Largo, we stopped off for lunch at the Key Largo Fisheries Backyard, which is a counter service restaurant serving fresh fish right off the boats that dock behind the restaurant. I'd wanted stone crab, but didn't see it on the menu...later I figured out that you order it in the actual fish market, not the restaurant. We split our first order of conch fritters (when in the Keys...) and I had a chipotle shrimp wrap. There was live music and it was fun to watch the boats go by - including a huge 30+ foot tall houseboat that went by.

After our late lunch we headed to the Hilton Key Largo Resort to check in. The property is right off the Overseas Highway, but the noise is blocked by the thick canopy of trees. We checked in, brought our luggage up to our room, and then headed straight to the beach. The water was very calm, but the beach was kind of rocky (this ended up being true in Key West, too.) The Hilton Key Largo Resort has on-site water sports, ping pong and cornhole, a permanent food truck/shed, bar, and live music and s'mores around the campfire on Saturday evenings, all on the beach. The pool is separate from the beach area, at the front end of the resort. We checked it out briefly, but stayed at the beach. There was a wedding going on on one secluded part of the beach, but we lucked out because we could hear the steel drums for the hour leading up, which set the tropical/beach mood.
View of the canopy and water from our room.
After showering we wandered around the grounds for a little bit, including out on the dock because I wanted to see a manatee. We didn't see a manatee, but we did meet a friendly pelican who chased us down the dock, and some tropical looking fish near the mangroves.

We watched the sun start to set and made a s'more then headed to our dinner reservation.

We had a late dinner reservation at Sundowners in Key Largo. We'd read good reviews and were pleased with our meal. There was added entertainment because two people in LED suits and jetpacks were out on the water. I got the Key West Seafood which was rice with a key lime butter with shrimp, crab, lobster. We finished the meal with Key Lime Pie (obviously) and rolled ourselves back to the hotel.

The next morning we got up early and headed to the brunch buffet at the resort. It was Mother's Day, so for a small upcharge you could take part in the full buffet including mimosa, hot breakfast buffet, carving station, omelet station, fruit bar, cheese/meat plates, and chocolate covered strawberries. After breakfast we packed up and got on the road.

The Hilton Key Largo Resort is a beautiful property, our room and many of the main areas have been recently updated, and it doesn't feel stuffy or pretentious. We enjoyed our stay. We aren't sure how much there really is to do in Key Largo, if we'd had more time we had planned to snorkel at John Pennenkamp State Park, which is home to the largest living reef in the United States, but if you're not a snorkeler/diver, you may want to use Key Largo as a pass through on the way to Key West, like we did.

Next time I'll recap our drive from Key Largo to Key West and our first day in the Southernmost city in the U.S.

I loved this whimsical little guy, and the lizard isn't half bad, either. I think they used to be lights or tiki torches, but we never saw them on while we were there.

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