The Best (and Worst) of Our Florida Keys Adventure

The Best (and Worst) of Our Florida Keys Adventure

One of the biggest reasons I was excited about being pregnant? It was an excuse to take a trip with my husband.

Yes, a babymoon.

I don’t like the term either, but that’s just what it’s called until someone can think of a better name.

We’d talked a lot about Mexico. I’d already zeroed in on a stunning, casual hotel in Playa del Carmen. While the rest of you were getting gussied up for holiday parties, I was parked on the couch in my pajamskis, planning the pregnant lady trip of a lifetime.

And then, the damn Zika Virus.

We’d had our hearts set on a hot beach vacation, but almost every place that fit the bill was in the deadly mosquito zone. We’d already been planning on spending a long weekend at my mom’s place in Florida, so we opted to tack on a few days.

Florida Keys Babymoon was on.

Neither of us had been to the Keys, and while we’d heard mixed things (It’s beautiful! It’s trashy! It’s kitschy!), we figured at least it would be hot and by the ocean.

Ultimately, we decided to spend two nights in Islamorada (in the middle; more low-key; sport fishing capital of the world!) and two nights in Key West. Was it perfect? Ha! No, but it was fun. Even when we made many, many mistakes.

DAY ONE

Though the Miami (and certainly Key West!) airport is significantly closer to the Keys, we flew into Fort Myers– near my mom’s place, where we spent the last few days of our trip.

Unfortunately, that meant the first day of vacation was spent driving.

Luckily, we got to drive this:

Red Jeep Wrangler alert! Directions to the 1990s, please.
Red Jeep Wrangler alert! Directions to the 1990s, please.

Whenever we rent a car, Josh and I try to pick out the most ridiculous option. It was between this and a minivan.

No contest.

We drove through the Everglades, which is only slightly more scenic than the freeway. Around 8:30pm, we pulled into Cheeca Lodge— a place I selected because it looked to be on the nicer side, but not over-the-top expensive. The place has a 70-year history (I love history!) and presidents have stayed there. If it’s good enough for George Bush, it’s probably good enough for us.

As we pulled into the property, I was pumped. It felt way nicer in person than online! Lush greenery, lovely outdoor lighting (we arrived after dark), and a fancy room upgrade– I think because we were only there for Sunday and Monday nights.

Josh and I split a Key lime tart and had a night cap (aka soda water for me. Lame.) at the outdoor tiki bar before hitting the hay. It was delicious and tasted like vacation.

DAY TWO

In the daylight, Cheeca Lodge was even prettier.

Josh isn't that into having his picture taken. 
Josh isn’t that into having his picture taken.

Though I’m not really a resort kind of person, they had lots of nice amenities. There’s a humongous fishing pier, snorkeling lagoon, family-friendly and adults-only pools, spa, fitness center, pioneer cemetery (curveball!), plus chairs for lounging on the sorta-kinda beach. Did you know the Keys barely have beaches? Well, now you do.

All this stuff is technically included with your stay.

But…

…there is a sneaky $45 per day resort fee that makes it seem like it isn’t actually included in your stay at all. Resort fees run rampant throughout the Keys, so if paying an extra $20-50 a day is a problem, ask before you book. It’s added on top of the room rate. Super frustrating as it was too windy to even sit on the beach during our stay.

Oh well, live and learn.

Cheeca Lodge in Islamorada, Florida. 
Cheeca Lodge in Islamorada, Florida.

On our first full vacation day, we opted to go fishing.

We splurged and chartered a boat for a half-day of fishing– just Josh, me and our guide, Dave. While there are plenty of public fishing trips that cost a fraction of the price, the wind made for some pretty rough water. As a pregnant lady, I wanted to stay in the calm backwaters and near a bathroom. I sure wasn’t going to pee off the back of a boat (not that I’m too classy for such things!).

Believe it or not, that shark is not real! | Bud N' Mary's - Islamorada, FL
Believe it or not, that shark is not real! | Bud N’ Mary’s – Islamorada, FL

We were sold on Bud N’ Mary’s on the name alone, but based on everyone we talked to in the Keys (and back home) said, these guys set the bar for sport fishing. Plus, they have a small sandwich shop on-site, were you can order simple and delicious sandwiches, chips and soda to take on the boat. Ice and cooler provided by your guide.

Bud N' Mary's - Islamorada, FL
Bud N’ Mary’s – Islamorada, FL

Though I did bait my own hook one time, Dave mostly dealt with the bait and removed the fish. Josh did this on his own because “he is a man.”

We caught dozens of mangrove snapper (dinner!), white grunts and my personal favorite, crevalle jacks (pictured below). These guys fight like crazy, snort like a pig and I EVEN TOUCHED ONE!!! They’re not good eatin’, so it was a catch and release kind of thing.

Pure joy!
Pure joy!

Here’s Joshy with a mangrove snapper (and awesome sunglasses purchased at Seven-Eleven).

Josh, catching us dinner. 
Josh, catching us dinner.

By the end of the day, we’d caught our snapper limit. Dave cleaned the fish and bagged them up nicely– perfect for transporting to nearby Lazy Days (reservations highly recommended), where they’ll cook your catch for $15.99 a person. Paired with a soup or salad, side and banana bread (what?!), it was probably the best meal of our trip.

Mangrove snapper.  |  Bud N' Mary's - Islamorada, FL
Mangrove snapper.  |  Bud N’ Mary’s – Islamorada, FL

PS Almost as good as reeling in the fish: watching the pelicans hang out by the cleaning stations, hoping to feed on some fish guts.

Pelicans. | Bud N' Mary's - Islamorada, FL
Pelicans. | Bud N’ Mary’s – Islamorada, FL

Seriously, how cool are these birds? | Bud N' Mary's - Islamorada, FL
Seriously, how cool are these birds? | Bud N’ Mary’s – Islamorada, FL

DAY THREE

Since Cheeca Lodge’s mediocre breakfast buffet cost $30 a person (nope.), we headed to nearby Bob’s Bunz— a greasy spoon specializing in heart-stopping breakfast plates and baked goods.

There’s literally nothing I enjoy more than going out for breakfast, especially at a place where it seems the waitresses should have a lit ciggy dangling off their lip as they take your order.

A well-balanced breakfast at Bob's Bunz. |  Islamorada, FL
A well-balanced breakfast at Bob’s Bunz. |  Islamorada, FL

After breakfast, it was off to Key West.

Before hitting the road, we stopped at a juice bar. It’s in a weird spot, so here’s how you find it:

Step One: Look for this grocery store.

Just your average, basic small town grocery store. |  Islamorada, FL
Just your average, basic small town grocery store. |  Islamorada, FL

Step Two: Walk through the parking lot, past the guy smoking next to the dumpsters, and look for sign that says Village Square.

Step Three: Venture straight ahead to URBN GRDN, a juice bar that isn’t open at 10:15 am, even though the sign says they open at 10.

URBN GRDN operates on island time. | Islamorada, FL
URBN GRDN operates on island time. | Islamorada, FL

Step Four: Browse through Miss Monroe and uCumbe boutiques (next door) for 20 minutes. Buy something cute that you don’t need.

Step Five: Go back to URBN GRDN. Wait for juice guy to climb out of hammock. Order cold pressed juices. Hit the road.

We heard the drive the to Key West is an attraction on its own.

Yep.

An old train bridge in the Florida Keys.
An old train bridge in the Florida Keys.

Our Florida Keys friends-in-the-know recommended we stop at Bahia Honda State Park. For a few bucks, we got for-real beach access.

Beautiful, right?

Bahia Honda State Park - Florida Keys
Bahia Honda State Park – Florida Keys

They offer snorkel and kayak rentals, but it was too windy that day, so we opted to get sunburned on the beach instead.

Bahia Honda State Park - Florida Keys
Bahia Honda State Park – Florida Keys

We arrived in Key West just in time to check-in at our crummy hotel, and make it to Mallory Square for sunset. Nothing like watching the sun slip into the ocean with 3,000 of your best, most drunkest friends!

This lived up to the hype.

Sunset at Mallory Square | Key West, Florida
Sunset at Mallory Square | Key West, Florida

Key West is known for crazy nightlife.

Pregnancy, on the other hand, is not. A sober stroll down Duval Street had me feeling equal parts elated (great people-watching!), and bummed. Not that I like drinking overly-sugared drinks out of yard glasses, but I like the option.

Luckily, Josh is a Google master and found the Porch, a craft cocktail spot just off Duval. This photo sucks, but I was thrilled to order a classy, delicious, herby mocktail.

Drinking mocktails at the Porch. | Key West, Florida. 
Drinking mocktails at the Porch. | Key West, Florida.

We talked about taking a ghost tour, but they didn’t leave for another two hours. Well-past pregnant lady bedtime.

DAY FOUR

107 years of breakfast? Count me in! | Pepe's Cafe - Key West, Florida
107 years of breakfast? Count me in! | Pepe’s Cafe – Key West, Florida

When you’re pregnant, you swap late nights in bars for breakfast. At over a century-old, I knew Pepe’s was our kind of place even if the food sucked (it didn’t). They have a great doggies-allowed patio, but we were seated inside…

Pepe's Cafe | Key West, Florida
Pepe’s Cafe | Key West, Florida

…which was also very cool!

Pepe's Cafe | Key West, Florida
Pepe’s Cafe | Key West, Florida

All good diners have three things:

ONE: Thick, ceramic ivory diner mugs (check!).

TWO: Lots of cool old crap on the walls (check!).

THREE: Awesome, sweet item to share with my breakfast compadres. I almost always order a traditional two eggs over-easy, bacon, potatoes and toast. At Pepe’s, I upgraded my toast to coconut bread, which is like banana bread, but with coconut (check!!!).

Diner mug, coconut bread, crap on the walls... breakfast heaven. | Pepe's - Key West, Florida
Diner mug, coconut bread, crap on the walls… breakfast heaven. | Pepe’s – Key West, Florida

After breakfast, we took a leisurely stroll to the Hemingway House. Seeing the 50-some Hemingway cats was worth the $13 entry fee alone.

Hemingway House | Key West, Florida
Hemingway House | Key West, Florida
One of the six-toed Hemingway cats. | Hemingway House | Key West, Florida
One of the six-toed Hemingway cats. | Hemingway House | Key West, Florida

A ten minute walk from the Hemingway House, you’ll find this iconic landmark. We queued up with a bunch of other tourists to get the damn photo, where for a split second, I was the southernmost pregnant lady in the U.S.A.

Southernmost Pregnant Lady | Key West, Florida
Southernmost Pregnant Lady | Key West, Florida

A Key West babymoon was actually more fun than we’d expected.

I’d heard from so many people that Key West is incredibly touristy, loud and full of drunk people. Though all these things are true, they neglected to mention Old Town Key West is teeming with history, cool architecture, tons of B&Bs that are calm, quiet and away from sloppy drunks.

I wish I’d known that before we booked our hotel.

Imagining Florida’s version of Bourbon Street, we selected this hotel under the impression that it was a more laid-back option– an island oasis, if you will. Instead, it was next to the super-busy highway, nestled between a construction site and some rundown apartments. The hotel itself was okay and would be totally great if you were looking for clean, stylish, cheap and didn’t mind cabbing or biking anywhere cool.

But we cared.

Long story short… if you have the cash, stay in Old Key West. It’s walkable, low-key and would’ve made our stay in Key West feel like a bonafide vacation.

We ended up canceling our second night in Key West, and after spending the day there, headed back up to Islamorada. We’ll know better for next time.

Here’s me waving goodbye to our hotel.

Buh-bye, trendy lifestyle hotel in a crappy parking lot!
Buh-bye, trendy lifestyle hotel in a crappy parking lot!

We made it back to Islamorada just in time to catch sunset at Lor-e-lei Cabana Bar. Not bad at all.

Sunset at Lor-e-lei Cabana Bar | Islamorada, Florida
Sunset at Lor-e-lei Cabana Bar | Islamorada, Florida

That night, we went out for dinner and then I got sick and puked for an hour or two in our filthy hotel bathroom. At the time, I was pretty bummed out. But in retrospect, is it really a babymoon without the pregnant lady barfing at least once?

DAY FIVE

It was already time to head back to Fort Myers. But first, breakfast.

Mrs. Mac's Kitchen | Key Largo, Florida
Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen | Key Largo, Florida

Floridians definitely get how to do breakfast. Especially Mrs. Mac, an old-school, roadside diner in Key Largo.

Mrs. Mac's Kitchen | Key Largo, Florida
Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen | Key Largo, Florida

I ordered Mrs. Mac’s Famous Mornwich– a pita filled with two scrambled eggs, cheese, tomato, bacon and mayo, with a side of homemade hashbrown casserole. It doesn’t look pretty, but it tasted great, so who cares.

Didn't like the diner mug, but the sandwich made up for it. | Mrs. Mac's | Key Largo, Florida
Didn’t like the diner mug, but the sandwich made up for it. | Mrs. Mac’s | Key Largo, Florida

Was this the babymoon of our dreams?

Nope.

I’d really hoped for a romantic babymoon. A last hurrah before everything changes forever. Instead, we had bad luck with hotels, I got food poisoning, and we came more tired than when we left.

However, this trip did showcase all the reasons why I think Josh and I will be great parents. Even when we were really disappointed, we laughed it off. (Okay, he laughed. I cried, then eventually laughed). We did the best we could, and when things weren’t to our liking, we improvised. We still managed to have fun, together.

So maybe that’s actually what a babymoon is about.

Hanging out with my father of my children. NBD!
Hanging out with my father of my children. NBD!

(Though next time, let’s hang out on a beach in Mexico, K?).

* * *

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Comments (3)

  • Lindsey Feiner 2 years ago Reply

    If it makes you feel better I was supposed to babymoon in Puerto Rico and because of ZIKA (UGH), I’ll be visiting Duluth, MN and ‘Sunny Rochester, MN" instead……

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    Aw, man! I was so, so happy that we hadn’t actually booked anything in Mexico because that is such a bummer. I know that in the grand scheme of things, it’s "just a trip," but it’s kind of an important one if you choose to do it. I am sure you’ll have fun in Duluth and Rochester, but maybe start saving to go somewhere awesome next winter (with a baby…).

  • Nikole 2 years ago Reply

    I’m so glad you went to the Hemingway house! I’d love to go there someday and see the cats (um, that makes me sound like a super crazy cat lady). Seriously though, my cat is named Hemingway so I kind of have to visit someday.

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