Road Trip to the Florida Keys | Travel Blogger | Travel Photographer | Photography by Tracie
I 'm a huge fan of road trips. I'm that weird one that will drive for hours and have it not bother me. I also love to document my travels and my life here along the Gulf Coast through my IG account gulfcoastgirl.tracie.
So when I was knocking around the idea of a new road trip I I decided to trip from Orlando, to Miami and then down to the Florida Keys. The drive from Orlando to the start of Highway 1 around Florida City got me on my way ( minus that pitstop in Miami for a football game) I tailgated with the best of em in Miami and crashed in my rental for a while until I was sobered up enough to drive. I remember not really knowing where I was geographically and basically drove until I found a hotel at 3 am The Super 8 by Wyndam did the job located at 1202 N Krome Ave Take FL Trnpk S to US 1 North, Florida City, FL 33034 was recently remodeled. the rooms were clean, the price point was was I was looking for (about $50.00 for the night) and just decided to stop there. I thought I'd wake up and find out where I was and figure out how to get to Highway 1 to drive to the Keys. I didn't sleep for long. All I wanted was to get to my little paradise and look at pretty blue water for a week. To my surprise when I woke up, I was literally at the start of Highway 1 and a stones throw from the Everglades. The hotel I found had complimentary breakfast which I richly needed and since I was up so early, I had the time to explore before I drove out. I knew I wanted to go to a Gator Farm and ride on a fan boat, so, my trusty iPhone and Google helped me find what I wanted and I plotted a course.
One the way to the Farm, I found a fruit stand called Robert Is Here Fruit Stand. I got some fresh goodies for the rest of my trip and the most incredible pineapple smoothie I had ever had!!! If you are going to rock this road trip, make a stop at Roberts!!
In a very short drive, I was at the Everglades Alligator Farm! The fan boat was super fun!! If you haven't been on one, you really should! The driver spun us around in circles and sprayed us with the mist from the boat. We saw loads of wildlife and it was a spectacular morning out on the water! After my fan boat experience, I walked around the property seeing the impressive mass of gators. One of the caretakers at the farm is an experienced trainer interacting with these animals and showed us some of the behaviors and handling techniques he learned from Native America Indian handlers. At the end of the experience, there was fairly newborn gators we were allowed to handle. Their mouths were tapped to keep the visitors safe, so of course..I has to kiss a gator. In addition to the alligator population, the farm also has several different species of animals on living on the property for educational purposes. I'm always a fan of macaws and big cats and a got to see them at the Farm. I spent the morning exploring everything the Everglades Alligator Farm has to offer and then hopped on the road to to my resort in the Florida Keys.
From the time Highway 1 drops you on Key Largo, it's about a 3 hour drive to Key West. I started my drive and was so anxious to see the water. I can't really explain this. It's something I've wanted to see my entire life. I wanted to see clean Caribbean blue water. One of the things that fascinates me as a professional photographer is seeing the sky, seeing the light and seeing the ocean in different parts of the country and the world. The water lapping against the shore of the Florida Keys; seeing that color blue in person for the first time, literally made me cry. The feeling of, yes, I made this trip happen by myself and I get to see this and experience THIS!!
When I booked this trip, I decided that I didn't want to stay in the heart of crazy town (i.e. Key West). I wanted to be out from the crowds a bit and my searches led me to Lime Tree Bay Resort on Long Key. Long Key is located right above Marathon and it was a perfect for me. Lime Tree Bay sold me on the waterfront views, hammocks under the palm trees, pool, jacuzzi, complimentary kayaks and bikes to ride and continental breakfasts in the morning. The nightly cost was VERY economical for what you get and I booked my trip through Expedia. Right now you can book a room on the main property for anywhere from $120.00 to $200.00 per night. The Resort runs offers at various times throughout the year and I find the least busy time to visit is November/December before the Christmas holiday. The Resort offers you several different rooms to choose from, from your standard resort room to condos you can stay at with your family. There is also an outdoor grill and picnic area complete with conch shells decorating the grill. My room was newly remodeled with a king size bed, clean modern room design, and oversized standup stone inlayed shower. I was in my own tropical oasis for 5 days.
Insider Tip: Long Key does not have many creature comfort on the island. If you need to go to a grocery store, or a CVS or Walgreens, you'll need to drive to Marathon or one of the Keys above Long Key. Before I drove down I stoped in Miami at a Wal-mart to stock up on drinks and easy food so I was prepared for this discovery.
After I checked in, I spent my afternoon and evening lounging in a hammock on the water with a margarita looking at blue skies and blue water and waiting for sunset. As the sun got lower and lower in the sky, the egrets, and herons came out to fish, I could see in the shallow water by the dock all the anemones and tropical fishes that made their home in the waters along the resort. I was in my new happy place.
Day two I took a drive to Marathon to scope out where I could go out on excursions, most importantly how could I charter and boat to go fishing and to go snorkeling. I found Starfish Marathon Snorkeling Tours and Sea Dog Marathon Fishing Charters. I stopped by the docks and made reservations for Snorkeling the following day for only $25.00!! The half day reef fishing charter was set for the day after snorkeling for only $60.00!! I couldn't believe it! Once I had those set, I drove past the Florida Keys/Marathon International Airfield and saw a helicopter I could charter to fly above the island. So.....I made another stop and Chartered a private helicopter. The airfield had a golden retriever I the office and my pilot had connections to Harford County!! His girlfriend's parents lived in Fallston, One town away from where I grew up and he was in town visiting her family the week before. Talk about a small world!! Gong up in the chopper was insane!! I felt like I was in an X-Wing Fighter. The sensation was otherworldly! We got to se the Keys from a whole new way and scoped out manatees! the plot let me stay up a little longer than I had booked - I think due to the Maryland connection. It was the best $100.00 I spent so far.
My charter with Starfish was fantastic! The charter took us out past 7 mile bridge to a Reef near Sombrero Lighthouse. Please be advised that when snorkeling you do need a buddy. I was rolling solo, so I ended up making friends with a mom and her daughter. Her daughter was a little freaked out about being in the water and I was a certified rescue SCUBA diver so I asked to buddy up with them. I was able to help the girl get comfortable in the water, showing her the different fish and marine life ( my marine education came in handy today) and kept an eye out for jelly fish for her. We all ended up having a swim to remember and she had so much fun.
The Fishing Charter the following day was just as great! There were about 8 of us on the boat and again we went out past Sombereo Lighthouse in the Caribbean. We spent a solid 4 hours out fishing and everything that we caught we got to keep. A few of the guys on the boat had sharks on their lines, me, not so lucky. Once we got back to the docks the crew cut and clean the fish and gave us the fillets that we could take to any restaurant where they would cook them for us.
Note: When you get back to the docks there will be Pelicans and Sea Gulls trying to pilfer your catch of the day. They get extremely close so just be aware.
Also on Marathon Key I discovered The Turtle Hospital. I used to work at the National Aquarium In Baltimore and volunteered my time with the Marine Animal Rescue Program where our main goal was to rescue stranded animals, rehab them and release them back to their natural habitat. A visit to The Turtle Hospital was mandatory. They taught you the various species of sea turtles, how the turtles came to be at the hospital, the various injuries these animals sustain in the wild from natural predators and a large majority of the injuries are from boats hitting them. We had the opportunity to visit the current patients in their holding pools. if you're a bit of an aquatics nerd, go visit The Turtle Hospital, even if your not, you can learn about what effects we and humans have on sea turtles by not being responsible and what we CAN do to minimize injury to these incredible creatures.
Note: When you walk towards the pools at the rear of the property you will see iguanas everywhere. they are an invasive species and came from people releasing their pets. If you see them, do not feed them.
From Long Key, it's about an hour and half drive down to Key West. You do have to pay for parking and parking is limited. Key West reminded me at first impression like a lot of beach towns. Loads of chain hotels, couples on vacation lots of people on the island from cruise boats. Duval Street is where all the Key West bars are like Hogs Breath Saloon, Sloppy Joe's, and Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville and I checked out each of them and loved the margarita at Hog's Breath. it was crazy strong and I was well on my way to having a change in Attitude along with my change in Latitude.
After hitting up the Duvall Street bars, I ventured out to explore and I stuck to the south western part of the island. I fell in love with the foliage and the architecture. I've had the luxury of traveling to different places and Key West gave me a Charleston/New Orleans vibe; I immediately felt at home. I explored The Key West Lighthouse, Hemmingway's House, the Southernmost Point marker , Mallory Square at Sunset and hit up a bunch of great shops. The highlight of my trip was going to Wyland Galleries and purchasing an original work of his. If you're unfamiliar with Wyland, he is an international's marine life artist with murals in practically every city in the US and brings a lot of attention to the marine ecosystem and conservation efforts. I've been a fan of his work for a solid 20 years and was in a place where I could make an art purchase of his for my Mom and a limited edition lithograph of one of his Sumi-E style Humpback whale images. ( Side note: I have a paintbrush signed by him given to be by a friend here in New Orleans that helped him with the painting of the mural at Riverwalk and a book and print signed by him,)
Pro Tip: If you're going to catch a sunset in Key West Head to Mallory Point and get there early. There's a market of sorts around the point with lots of arts and craft for sale, but, the view you get of the sunset is stunning and worth the wait.
My days were filled with excursions and day trips and my evenings were spent in the hammock by the sea watching the orange sun melt into the blue water with a drink in my hand.
On my last day I took advantage of the pool and outdoor jacuzzi. I had gotten a good bit of sun on this trip and all of my freckles came out. ( redhead problems) I took this trip In December a few years back and I still look back on those images with so many happy memories. We all go through monumental life changes, I went though some of the most massive ones you can possiblely go through the year of this trip. Instead of letting the events of that year drag me down, I chose to plan for my future and make my dreams come true with or without a significant other. Sometimes a girls just gotta get in car are drive to find the person she needs to evolve to be. The Florida Keys have so much to offer and there are so many things I didn't get to do. Visiting Dry Tortugas and SCUBA Diving in Key Largo are two that are standouts for me for my next trip to the Keys and of course, a stay at Lime Tree Bay!
**Tracie Smith-Hughes is a New Orleans, Louisiana and Baltimore, Maryland based National Wedding and Lifestyle Portrait Photographer who is available for content creation sessions for bloggers and partnering with resorts and various properties for publicity, reviews and digital content creation.