Florida Keys Trip

Last November, my parents, Aunt Gina, Uncle John and I decided to do a “tour” of the Florida Keys. We had been to Fort Lauderdale before, but had never been further than that. I gotta say, for a last-minute trip, I loved it! I cannot recall what we did each day—on vacation all the days kind of tend to run together—but I will do my best.

We landed in Fort Lauderdale on November 24. (I only remember the dates because I am looking at my phone). We were hungry, so after getting a rental car, we ate in Hollywood, Florida. I got a beer and conch fritters. Conch is a type of mollusk, or shellfish so I wasn’t sure how it’d taste or look. But after the first bite, I was HOOKED! Oh my God, you guys! Conch fritters are amazing! Do not overlook them if you are ever in the Florida Keys!

From lunch, we drove to Islamorada. We stopped at a place called Robbie’s. Robbie’s is almost a flea market-esque vibe with one exception. It is located on the water and you can feed Tarpon! Tarpon are these massive fish! They are harmless but damn are they gigantic! It was freaky doing this, since they are so big and you can’t really get an idea of where they are coming from. That plus the fact that they shared the water with Lemon Sharks. So yeah…sticking your hand into water with a fish in your hand and Lemon Sharks? A little unnerving.

So after Robbie’s we drove over the famous Seven Mile Bridge to our hotel for the night. We ended up in Key West, about a 2 hour drive from Islamorada. One thing that caught me off guard about Key West was all the feral roosters running around. Like, legit wild roosters. Some with blades on their feet…fighting roosters. Don’t mess with these things!


While in Key West, we decided we wanted to go snorkeling. We went to Fort Zachary Taylor to snorkel. I had a little bit of a scare here. See, I am not the best snorkeler in the world and do best in shallow water. The water at Fort Zachary Taylor started off shallow but almost immediately dropped off and got very deep. My dad had to drag me back to shore with my snorkel so I could breathe. It was close.

That night, we went downtown to Mallory Square to watch the sunset. Mallory Square is essentially the downtown area of Key West. It was a beautiful sunset! There were street performers to entertain. They were ok. They knew how to draw a crowd, though.

The next day, we drove to a landmark location. We drove to the Southernmost Point in the Continental US. It’s a buoy that marks the end of US territory and is only a 90 mile boat ride to Cuba. From there, we drove to a beach called Bahia Honda Key in Marathon, Florida. I tried snorkeling again. And this, my friends, is my kind of snorkeling! Very shallow water and fish everywhere! I went out to the rope dividing the snorkel area from the ocean and it never went above my neck. It was amazing!

At Bahia Honda, there is a bridge you can walk up and across. It gives a panoramic view of the area, and is just gorgeous!

The day after that, for me, was the highlight of the trip! First off, I want to mention the “hotel” we stayed at. We drove back up North back to Islamorada. We stayed at this place called the Islander Resort. OH MY GOD! If you are ever anywhere remotely near Islamorada, do yourself a favor and stay here! The Islander was the highlight place we stayed at! It had bars, full-service restaurants, pools…you name it, they had it!

So why was this day in particular my favorite day of the trip? Well Islander Resort aside, there is this outdoor aquarium/wildlife sanctuary called Theater of the Sea. Now I love the Aquarium we have here in Baltimore, but I’m sorry. Theater of the Sea blows the Baltimore Aquarium out of the water! No pun intended. It is a little on the pricey side (about $50 admission) but it is SO worth it!

But for me, there was an added bonus! I got the chance to swim with a sea lion named Bella. That was a surreal experience. I gave Bella belly rubs, treats, hugs, kisses, and even played fetch with her! Bella was super sweet and affectionate!

What I liked about Theater of the Sea was the fact it was kind of like a guided tour around the place. Having said that, you could hop on and off the group tours if you so chose. But this was the best day of the trip for me! I love wildlife and animals in general. So I was in marine Heaven in this place! Oh, and did I mention Theater of the Sea has their own private “beach” you can snorkel at?

One thing I failed to mention is that the animals at TOTS are all non-releasable. Bella, for example, had neurological issues. All the dolphins and turtles were either injured or born in captivity and are too used to humans to ever be released in the wild. So I commend them for that.

Another highlight of the Keys “tour” was that same day. We went out for dinner at a place called Upper Matecumbe Key. The food was good, but what made this a memorable meal for me was what was in the water. In the water, there were pelicans, tarpon, sharks, and probably my favorite sea animal, MANATEES! I fed legit sharks and saw wild manatees and I thought I was gonna cry. It was amazing!

Early the next morning, I woke up early. I am usually up early, but earlier than usual in this case. I was up at about 6am. So what did I do to kill time until my family woke up? I walked along the beach and watched the sunrise over the water.

I have watched the sunrise in Hawaii on top of a volcano and that was the most beautiful sunrise I’ve ever seen! But this is a very close second.

We left the Islander Resort and headed for the Everglades. I have been to the Everglades before and saw a few gators in the wild. This time, not so much. Don’t get me wrong. There were gators, but they were part of a show at Everglades Adventure Park. Really the only reason we went to the Park was to do an airboat ride. The airboat was a lot of fun, but, alas, no gators. We did see a wild iguana on top of an alligator statue. That was amusing.

The next day, November 29, was our last day in the Keys. We decided to take a cruise around Fort Lauderdale. I admit, it wasn’t my favorite thing on the trip. Yes it was scenic and informative with all the famous locals but to me, it was a little boring. So after that, we headed to the airport to head home.

So that was my experience touring the Florida Keys. Would I recommend it? Well for someone like me who loves road trips and traveling in general, 100% yes! But if you aren’t a fan of driving around a lot, it’s hard to say. But I loved it! Do you like to travel? Where have you traveled? Any road trips? Let me know in the comments and thanks for reading!

-Tom

Author: AuTom Spectrum Blog

I have Autism and am a self-advocate and public speaker. On the side I do stand-up comedy. I live in Baltimore County and have an AMAZING girlfriend

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