Port of Key West
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Key West, where natives are lovingly called "Conchs," and the high school football team goes by the "Fighting Conchs," earned its "Conch Republic" nickname in April 1982, when a band of locals declared secession from the U.S. in protest of the U.S. Border Patrol placing a roadblock just north of the top of the Keys.
While federal agents were trying to stymie drug smugglers, Keys residents decried the roadblock as a tourism disaster as well as disrespectful to its people. But Key West's mayor and his supporters failed to sway a federal court in Miami to lift the roadblock. Soon after, he read a proclamation at Mallory Square declaring the Keys no longer a part of the U.S. and demanding $1 million in foreign aid.
The move to secede was short-lived but remains a point of pride for Key Westers, who still fly the blue "Conch Republic" flag in the subtropical heat and ocean breezes. Key West was first settled in 1822 and by 1886 had become America's richest city per capita. Compact, cozy and adorable, the city's Old Town neighborhood is filled with cottages with gingerbread-topped porches, Victorian compounds, sidewalk cafes, cigar stands and T-shirt shops. Residential throughout, every sign, window and awning in Old Town must pass scrutiny of the city-appointed Historic Architectural Review Commission.
Key West cruise ship passengers, who number some 820,000 a year among the island's 3 million visitors, disembark at Mallory Square, a Navy pier near the Westin Resort. But the island city is a breeze to explore by walking, bike, scooter or even pedicab. Famous residents have included Pulitzer Prize-winner Ernest Hemingway, whose home on Simonton Street is now a museum where six-toed cats roam the grounds, pool and living quarters. Key West was also a home away from home for President Harry Truman, whose one-time respite from Washington, D.C., is the "Little White House," a museum by the waterfront.
Art galleries, Cuban coffee, fine dining and overstuffed sandwiches all abound in Key West. Locals will serve you fresh coconut water by drilling a straw hole into one of the green fruits that come from the island's palm trees.
The city famously appeals to all types of folks, and attracts artists, hipsters, foodies and beach bums along with cruise ships. Locals love to repeat the line about never knowing if the guy beside you at the bar in flip flops and a tank top is a millionaire or a former merchant marine -- or both. Rich retirees rub elbows here with those who work two and three jobs to be able to call Key West home.
Top Key West Itineraries
Carnival Sensation4 Day Western Caribbean ItinerMiami, Key West, Cozumel, MiamiNow
Rotterdam7-day Western CaribbeanTampa, Key West, Santo Tomas de Castilla, Roatan, Costa Maya, TampaNow
Celebrity Infinity5 Night Western Caribbean CruiseFort Lauderdale , Cozumel, Key West, Fort LauderdaleNow
Carnival Victory4 Day Western Caribbean ItinerMiami, Key West, Cozumel, MiamiNow
Majesty of the Seas5 Night Key West & Havana OvernightFort Lauderdale , Key West, Havana, Havana, Fort LauderdaleNow
Where You're Docked
Cruise ships usually dock at either Pier B, near the Truman Annex, or the Navy-owned Outer Mole pier, near Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. If docked at the latter, a tourist trolley shuttles you off the base into town. There is also a smaller dock at Mallory Square.
Good to Know
Sunburn, thirst and vacation-induced absent-mindedness. The sun is quite intense and very deceiving. Liberally apply sunblock to avoid a subtropical burn.
Water bottles aren't an accessory in the Keys, they're a necessity. Take a moment to hydrate before heading out under the island's blue skies and cotton candy-spun clouds. South Florida mantra: The best parking spot isn't the one closest to your destination; it's the one in the shade.
Also, the Key West Police Department reports are filled with lost-and-found property reports from visitors. Keep an eye on your belongings while you're downing a rum drink or frosty brew, or while singing along with the whole bar to a Jimmy Buffett or Kenney Chesney classic.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Currency is the U.S. dollar, and ATMs are readily available.
English is spoken in Key West.
A traditional Key Lime pie, with a luscious tang and flaky crust, or a single piece dipped in chocolate and frozen on a stick shipped to a friend's home or yours, from Kermit's Key West Key Lime Shoppe. (200 Elizabeth Street; 305-296-0806)
Sip a rum runner, the drink of the Keys, at Sloppy Joe's, Ernest Hemingway's favorite bar. For a mojito, which smoothly mixes rum and mint, head to the Cuban restaurant El Meson de Pepe.
Key West Awards
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- Disney Wonder Cruises to the Bahamas
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