Alternatives to Driving the Keys
The Florida Keys are awash with beautiful sunsets and sunrises, tropical foliage, exotic fauna and some of the clearest azure water in North America. Unfortunately, to witness these spectacles of nature, you must often endure a grueling drive down the Overseas Highway, beginning in Florida City south of Miami. At minimum the drive is three and one-half hours. Traffic congestion, construction projects and sightseers can combine at times to make this trip much longer. Over the years, the highway has been widened at various points from a two-lane nightmare to four lanes with a median. Most of the scenic but decrepit old bridges that motorists island-hopped on to Key West have been replaced as well. But the southernmost city is now a major tourist destination, the highway improvements fall far short and U.S. 1 is now a clogged artery into the heart of the Keys. Luckily, there is more than one way to reach the island paradise.Credit: Photo: Wayne Wallace
Fly into Key West International Airport
Flying is an obvious alternative but also has the advantage of an aerial view of the lower Florida Keys as your pilot begins his final descent into Key West. The pristine waters and the island’s remoteness can only be truly appreciated from the air. Non-stop flights to Key West are available from these Florida cities: Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Fort Myers, and Orlando. Of course, connecting flights can be booked from anywhere in the world. Roundtrip tickets average around $350.
Rent a Limousine
If you want to enjoy the Florida Keys scenery without the stress of driving, then a leisurely limo ride down U.S. 1 is the way to go. You can re-create the famous Duval Street bar scene on your way down to the Keys and you and your friends will be in full party mode when you arrive at mile 0. There are several limo rental outfits in the Miami area including keyslimo.com and miamilimoservice.com. Prices average around $500 for a one-way trip.
Take a Cruise
What better way to see Key West than to bring your hotel with you. Cruise ships generally offer better rates than hotels in Key West and you don’t have to spend 30 minutes looking for a parking space and hiking into the historic area. The cruise ships dock at Mallory Square, site of the nightly sunset celebration and minutes from rollicking Duval Street. Port time varies from ship to ship but most lines guarantee at least one-half day to explore the island, either on your own or as part of a shore excursion. These excursions are outings guided by locals and contracted with the cruise lines. Infobarrel.com/Explore_Forts_in_Key_West is a good example of the sites a typical cruise line excursion would book for passengers. They are usually oriented towards introducing some of the local culture and adventure to visitors. Carnival, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Disney ships all visit Key West at various times during the year.
Take a Ferry
Key West Express offers a high-speed, high seas jaunt from Fort Myers or Naples across Florida Bay to Key West. The daily trips aboard the sleek catamarans take about four hours. The four cats in the fleet range from 130 feet to 170 feet. Each of the air-conditioned boats is outfitted with sun decks, a bar and galley, and flat-screen television. The ships leave southwest Florida early each morning and return each evening in time to enjoy a sunset on the bay during the crossing. You also have the option to spend a few days sunning, sailing, swimming or snorkeling in Key West and return at a later date. While the Key West Express is classified as a ferry, it does not transport any vehicles. Round trip tickets range around $150.