Don is a Writer and a Storyteller. He has published over 9 books on varied subjects along with many articles and commentary on his blogs.
Tiki Huts and Sunshine are waiting so come on down!
The Trip getting to the Keys in an RV
We have landed in a campground in the Florida Keys.
It’s a nice campground, overall, and I did get a good deal to stay here. So we saved a few bucks up, pulled out from home yesterday and set up our RV in a campground yesterday.
Actually we live just south of Tampa Florida, so the trip was less than 6-hours for us, including rest stops and traffic.
Traffic to the Keys
If you are going to the Keys, be prepared, you will have to put up with some really terrible traffic conditions once you hit the Miami area. It’s unavoidable really.
You see, to get down into the Keys you have to deal with two of the major levels of RV Hell; first you have to go through traffic, Miami traffic. And secondly, you have to drive down on the old I-1 highway with its congestion.
Neither of these traffic situations are avoidable, if you are driving an RV, or actually, even if you are just driving your car, down to the Keys.
As a traveler, you may as well accept the reality that the Miami traffic goes all the way to the tip of the mainland. You will know that you are there when you start seeing all of the 6+ lanes of traffic and the multiple layers of flying overpasses everywhere.
And, you will know that you are actually in the Keys when I-1 turns into two lanes of road surrounded by water (usually the Gulf) and the “swamp glades” that come right up to within a few feet of the road.
It’s obvious, even on the maps, that this old highway is the main link to all of the populated Keys (read islands), and if you want to go to one of them you are going to use this main artery to travel there.
What that means is you are going to hit some really bad traffic at times; not interstate traffic, but your standard small town traffic.
I can only give you one piece of advice. First, understand that the permanent residents on these islands might like your money that is keeping their retail establishments open, but at the same time they real do hate what we tourists do to their daily traffic.
So just accept it and don’t look for anyone to give you a break; you're on your own working the traffic..
Accept that if you leave a couple of car-lengths in front of you someone, maybe a car or a delivery van, of often a truck pulling a boat, is going to attempt to fit into that opening. They will often just slow down, almost to a stop before they turn into a side street, and signal lights are optional to them.
And, as in all hot and humid tropical environments, the lifestyle in the Keys is slower than where you came from, and this is often reflected in the speed of the traffic.
My best advice, once you hit I-1, is to; get your Zen on, slow down your heartbeat, accept the traffic delays and drive very, very defensively.
By the time you are in I-1, you are so close to your destination, so you don’t need a “fender bender” just a few miles from your destination.
Tiki Bar on Fiesta Key
Campgrounds in the Keys
I won’t go into the details of all of the campgrounds you can find and stay in when you go to the Keys, in this article.
Suffice it to say that there are many campgrounds along th length of the Keys, you just have to find one and make reservations. They do stay filled year round.
This time down, we found a campground that fits our lifestyle. It is run by Encore, and it’s called Fiesta Key. It’s a good campground in a good location.
We are only ten miles south of Islamorada and being at mile marker 70, we are close enough to all of the southern Keys, including, of course, Key West that we can hit them at our leisure.
I will do a little personal review of our campground later, but here are the basics for now.
Fiesta Key RV Resort has such amenities as;
- 300+ campsites. Some are on the water but most are just stacked together down several long parallel streets. All have; a concrete pad with full hookups and all have 50-Amp service. 50-Amp Service is a must in the tropics, by the way.
- Tiki Bar and Restaurant. They have a great Tiki Bar and restaurant combination right on the edge of the water. It is roomy and it’s run by an independent contractor who owns a couple of other restaurants on Islamorada. The food is relatively simple but it is fresh and tasty. Plus they have entertainment on weekends.
- Beach. There are several sandy areas for lying in the Sun, but it and the whole island is contained within its own seawall. You can swim in the beautiful waters using the steps located in several places.
- Cabins. Of course they look like they were built in the fifties or sixties and have not weathered well in the tropical sun, but very few building do.
- Park Model Cabins. These are pretty new and modern looking and they are placed right on the water.
- Marina. The CG does have its own marina with slips for several dozen boats. This, of course means many of the campers are fishermen (fisherwomen?).
- Tent Sites. There are just a few, but these seem to be used by couples who come down from Miami, and put up a large screened tent (so the insects don’t eat them alive at night) for a day or so.And their entertainment seems to be constantly cooking on the grill and drinking beer.
- Bathrooms and Bathhouses. The CG is in the process of remodeling these and the ones that have been redone are nice enough and clean. In my opinion, they need at least one more of each for the number of people they have camping here.
Things to understand about the Keys, Entertainment
OK, the Keys are not Disneyland.
You’re not going to find billion dollar tourist centers with exotic or famous entertainment lined up for you to use. You will not (most of the time) find glamorous resort centers or self-contained high-rise hotels, full of luxurious accommodations and sights to see.
The keys really are just a group of small islands sticking down from the tip of Florida into the Caribbean. Land is at a premium here, so you'll find that the properties here are small.
And when you do come down you will most often, end up staying in a motel or renting someone's Condo, if you want to stay in a nice place. That is, if you don’t have an RV.
And, the restaurants are not going to be the big chains you see everywhere in tourist traps. What you are going to find is a hodgepodge of small business’ that will typically be; a converted old home, a small store selling “Keys Junk” or sometimes just a shack with some outside tables around it.
The owners all know you didn’t come there for a crappy cheeseburger, or a frozen steak. They know that you want fresh seafood and if you do order a steak or cheeseburger, it had better be unique and taste really good.
They know that you want to be able to brag about eating the biggest, or freshest, or at least the tastiest foods and they had better deliver it.
What about me? With this kind of “local ambiance” everywhere, I try to avoid the few (read newer) and larger modern-looking places.
Too often they and their wares are much more expensive than you can find elsewhere, and when you go in one of these, you often feel like you should have worn something nicer, rather than the standard shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops of the tropics.
I mean it is the Keys, Right? A place where everyone seems to be serving fresh seafood, cold drinks, and often playing Reggae and Buffet music.
A place where almost every place you see has a water view. OK, this is true usually because the islands are so small (read narrow) and a water view is just, well ….. common.
But, I have low standards, that’s what I come here for; Tiki Bars and cheap looking restaurants, on the water, with a good view, a nice cooling breeze and good music (often live).
Language. Don't be surprised if you hear a lot of people speaking Spanish. Remember, the Keys are just below Miami and there is a very large population of 3rd and 4th generation Cuban Americans.
Most are successful people in their own right and able to own many of the nicer homes in the Keys as "getaways".
Screened Canopy to keep the Insects away
The Keys overall are a Scruffy Looking Group of Islands
Yeah, I actually had to stop writing for a minute, right here because I was looking for a good word to describe the overall atmosphere and look of the Keys.
The best word I could come up with was Scruffy.
You see, here you can find your best meals, often prepared and served in some converted shack or gas stations that the Chef could purchase or rent cheaply. Sure there are a few traps that serve Crap, but they don’t last long.
Another thing about the Keys, is the weather. It’s HOT in the Keys. The weather ranges from Hot to very Hot and from dry to stormy. Of course, this is one of the great thing about south Florid and the Keys, the tropical weather.
Usually the rain occurs of an hour or so and because the land is really just a sandbar sitting on ancient coral reefs, the rain soaks in and disappears within minutes. And, the relentless Sun comes back out.
One thing this kind if weather does is that it ages things quickly. Painted wood chips and fades quickly, and windows get broken by flying things in the worst of the storms. Roofs are collectors of flying palm tree branches, leaves and bird poop. None of these allow for a “pretty look” to most of the buildings.
The owners understand that they can concentrate on being pretty or being in business and making a buck, so pretty often their overall image suffers until the places “really need” to be fixed up or cleaned up.
That’s why I use the word Scruffy. It’s a state of appearance that is somewhere below “nice looking” and just above being called a dump.
In the Keys, Scruffy is a state of mind and a personal and business look everyone goes for.
My photos of the Keys
As we explore and enjoy the Keys, we will be taking a few pics to share with you. They will be interesting, I hope, and each will have a short description for your entertainment.
But remember, we are here for just two weeks, and we will not be hitting all of the “touristy” places. Rather we will literally just drive around and stop at places that interest us.
This will not be a travelogue, but more like a personal pictorial journal. As I add to this article, I will release it again, every day or so, so check it out if you are interested.
by Don Bobbitt, 2015, July, August
Capt. Tony's Bar Ceiling
Making a Day Run down to Key West
OK, we drove down to Key West today. We had planned to hit Key West next week sometime, but for some reason we got bored early and hopped into our tow car and drove down.
I wanted to go by Capt. Tony's and pick up a T-shirt. You see, the existing Sloppy Joes carries the title of being the site where Hemingway went to do his serious drinking, when in reality the existing Capt. Tony's is the original sight of the bar he frequented.
I once had a t-shirt from there, but it has long ago disappeared, so we went down and I picked up a new one.
There is nothing great about the place or the T-shirt, but I like Hemingway, his writings and his ridiculous (suicidal?) approach to life. So, I had to pick up a new t-shirt for myself.
Of course, being there, we walked around hitting a couple of bars for a quick drink and some music. Finally, though, we left and headed back home.
After all, Key West has turned itself into just a bunch of bars and restaurants designed to suck the last buck from the tourists. Not like years ago, when it actually exhibited some semblance of character.
Hidden Sight on Duval St. in Key West
Storm over the Gulf
You Have to Live with the Tropical Weather
Well, I guess it's time to talk about the weather in this tropical paradise.
Without a lot of details, you should expect to have rain in the Keys. I'm not talking about those all-day storms that keep you inside for the whole day.
Oh they do occur, but typically, depending on the time of day, you will have belts of thunderstorms, carrying rain of course, passing over you.
The past couple of days, we have ben experiencing the standard tropical rains. The weather hasn't kept us "locked" in our RV, but it has been something we have watched and worked around as we moved around the Keys.
The temperature differentials between the Atlantic and the Gulf, tend to generate this kind of weather. But these storms will, most of the time, be of short duration and pass over within an hour or so.
And if you are prepared, you tend to accept this kind of weather and enjoy the sun and sights between these passing rain storms.
The most important thing to remember is to get inside when you hear the thunder nearby.
The Beach at Curry Hammock State Park
Day-8 Update - State Park with Camping
OK, we have been here of over a week now and we're still enjoying ourselves.
We have found some interesting places that we will remember in our trip planning the next time we come.
There are two state parks nearby. One is less than two miles away, down Interstate-1. The other one is larger and is nine or so miles further down the road, on Marathon Key.
The one on Marathon, called CURRY HAMMOCK State Park, has a number of excellent campsites available for rental at some great pricing.
Each site has 30/50-Amp service and water. The campground itself also has a dumping station, so overall, they are set up nicely for longer stays.
It has a nice beach for walking and sitting in the Sun, along with clean bathrooms and lots of shady picnic tables sprinkled around.
I saw a flyer on the bulletin board at the campground for an APP for my phone called PocketRanger. This APP has information on all of the Parks and State facilities in Florida. Once in, you can go to information in other states.
Anyway, we have walked a lot on Bike/Walk roads, as I mentioned, but now we contain our walking to the campground itself.
Today? Well, we will be exploring up towards Key Largo. Or at least we will be heading in that direction.
Morning View at Fiesta Key
An Island of Seaweed
Last Day in the Keys, Thoughts
Well, all vacations must end, and this is our last day here.
As we plan our last sunset dinner in the Keys, we were going over our stay and here are a few of our thoughts about the Keys that I would like to pass along to everyone.
People come here to Fish and to eat seafood and have a couple of drinks in interesting Tiki Bars. That's it! There are no amusement parks for kids and they are going to get pretty bored very quickly if they have to spend a week or more in the Keys. Make sure they have access to a swimming pool and a beach area for your own sanity if you do bring kids.
We have been here several times over the decades, once with friends and a couple of times just the two of us. Being with others gives you a little more entertainment, but eventually, you can even tire of them.
This time, it was just the two of us and as experienced RVers, we knew one of the secrets of vacations. And that is, you need to bring your own entertainment with you. OK, if you fish, bring a boat. If you are a photographer, do you research and know where you can get good pics. If you just like to take it slow, bring some good books with you.
My point is, "the Keys" is not a metropolitan center with all of the variety of entertainment you find in one. The keys are a narrow strip of islands that someone was smart enough to tie together with a two-lane highway.
And, where there is enough land, people, long ago, bought the land and built on it. In reality, there is no more land left in the Keys, most of the owners have already built their marinas, restaurants, and the occasional store. The homes are mostly owned by people who live in South Florida and can afford to have a "weekend runaway".
So, if you want to enjoy the Keys, just accept these facts, and come on down. The weather is very nice or just plain HOT, depending on the season. It is an enjoyable place to visit, and I suggest that you move into the slow pace of such tropical areas, and get out if you start to get bored.
Us? Oh, we'll probably come back again, in a few years, but only for a week maximum , next time. Two weeks pushed our limits of slow-paced tropical fun.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Don Bobbitt (author) from Ruskin Florida on August 12, 2015:
teaches12345- I did have to stop for a moment to find the right descriptor for all of those (sometimes) great, but at the same time, strange places in the bottom half of Florida.
As to the Keys? Well, they are not for the faint-hearted tourist. There is very little to do if you are not a fisherman, snorkeler, or photographer, in my opinion.
Oh, they are loaded with places to; eat fresh seafood, watch sunsets, swim in pools and meet other "wanderers" but, Kids can get bored very quickly without the entertainment they are used to when they go to regular tourist areas.
Still, as an RV traveler, I like to go down there every 4 or 5 years, just to Chill Out, and maybe read a good book or two.
Thanks for the read,
Dianna Mendez on August 12, 2015:
Don, I have always wanted to take an RV trip somewhere. The Keys may be the place to go. I chuckled at your use of "scruffy". That does describe most of Florida's best eating places and attractions by the beach.
Don Bobbitt (author) from Ruskin Florida on August 01, 2015:
BWD316- One piece of advice, bring your fishing gear.
That's what you down here, Fish.
Thanks for the read and the comment,
Don Bobbitt (author) from Ruskin Florida on August 01, 2015:
PegCole17- I think that's the first adjustment a traveler needs to make when they get to the Keys.
If you don't want to sit in TIKI Bars, eat fresh seafood, take long walks and go fishing, then you can get bored.
But, I find the slower pace and great views enough for me.
Tganks for the read and comment,
Don Bobbitt (author) from Ruskin Florida on July 31, 2015:
Blackjack- Great to hear from you, pal.
We came over because from our home, it is only a 5-/2 hour drive. Not so bad as it is from Virginia. LOL!
Thanks forthe read and comment.
Brian Dooling from Connecticut on July 30, 2015:
Awesome pics and advice! Traveling to the keys is at the top of my list of places I want to visit!
Peg Cole from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on July 30, 2015:
Welcome to the Keys. We spent several years in Key West and fished the Florida Keys back when the first generation of Cubans were arriving in rowboats. We moved to South Miami after Dad retired from the Navy. You're right about being a destination without the theme parks and attractions. It's a great place to take quiet walks, go fishing and relax. Not much has changed which I think adds to its appeal. Yes, Miami traffic is horrendous, that's for sure. It always has been.
Blackjack on July 30, 2015:
Great article my friend enjoyed reading it. Thanks. Been to Vero Beach, that is as far in South Fla. as I have gone.
Don Bobbitt (author) from Ruskin Florida on July 27, 2015:
Genna East- Good Luck on your trip.
In my opinion, this whole area is an adult tourist area. This is no Disneyland, and the attractions other than pools and the beach are essentially non-existent.
People usually go there for one day of sight-seeing in Key West itself, and the rest of the time its swimming, fishing and snorkeling; and of course bar hopping.
I hope you have a great time.
Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on July 25, 2015:
We're going to the Keys in February, so I read this article with great interest. Thank you for this fascinating and fun preview. :-)
Don Bobbitt (author) from Ruskin Florida on July 25, 2015:
BlossomSB- The whole string of islands are a wonderful mistake of nature. There are so many of them all lined up in a string.
It's as if God wanted to make sure we could see and enjoy them, but only a few of us could live there. And, they are so small and the land is so precious that there is no real industry at all. If there is an industry it is a service industry, there to entertain and feed visitors.
Thanks for the comment,
Bronwen Scott-Branagan from Victoria, Australia on July 24, 2015:
Have been down in Southern Florida, but not quite that far. Understand about the traffic, but it's still lovely to visit. Looking forward to seeing your photos.
Don Bobbitt (author) from Ruskin Florida on July 23, 2015:
Old Poolman - Come on my man, that's what writers live for, such a great compliment on their stories.
And my wife and I are just trying to get in as much variety for our lives, while we are still able to.
Thanks again for the compliment,
BarbaraCasey on July 23, 2015:
Love your comments about the Miami traffic. Tampa Bay's bad... but Miami is unbelievable. I suspect the only way I'll get to the Keys is via a cruise ship. Kudos for taking an RV down that very skinny highway.
Old Poolman on July 23, 2015:
Well Don, you are living my dream. The Keys is one place I have always wanted to visit but probably never will. At least I get to enjoy them through your excellent writing.
Thanks for sharing.