Key West, Florida's "Last Key" is a popular port of call on Western Caribbean cruise itineraries. Located closer to Cuba than to Miami, the island is a laid-back tropical oasis that has attracted the likes of Harry Truman, Ernest Hemingway, and Tennessee Williams, among other writers, artists and luminaries.
Key West is a very passenger-friendly cruise port --the pier is within walking distance of many attractions including Mallory Square, where a nightly sunset celebration with street performers and the sun setting in the Gulf of Mexico is a must if your ship stays in port into the evening. And guided tourist trolleys --with stops within walking distance of the pier--offer island tours departing every half hour.
Attractions on Key West abound and include the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum on 907 Whitehead Street. Here, on his second-floor writing studio, the Nobel- and Pulitzer-prize winning author wrote some of his most notable works including "To Have And Have Not" which is set in Key West.
The Audubon House & Tropical Gardens, 205 Whitehead Street, is a restored house where John James Audubon stayed during an 1832 visit during which he sketched 18 new species for his "Birds of America" folio. On exhibit are original Audubon engravings. Bahama Village on Petronia Street, showcases the Last Key's Bahamian/Caribbean heritage with a Bahamian marketplace, restaurants, shops and galleries.
The Harry S Truman Little White House, 111 Front Street, is the late U.S. President's former tropical retreat, with living quarters, a poker porch, living room and dining room open to the public.
The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, 200 Greene Street, features a rich collection of 17th century maritime and shipwreck antiquities including the treasure of Nuestra Señora of Atocha, found by treasure hunter Mel Fisher.
The Key West Lighthouse, 938 Whitehead Street, is a 19th century lighthouse that guided sailors until it was decommissioned in 1969 --it can be seen, by the way, from Hemingway's bedroom. The lighthouse and the keeper's quarters have been restored and visitors can climb the 88 steps for a panoramic view of the island and sea.
The Southernmost House, 1400 Duval Street, dates from 1896, overlooks the ocean and typifies the island's heyday. It contains memorabilia, including handwritten letters by Hemingway. The Southernmost Point, on Whitehead and South Streets, is a larger-than-life buoy --arguably the most-photographed spot in Key West--that marks the southernmost spot on the continental United States.
The San Carlos Institute, 516 Duval Street, was founded in the 19th century to promote Cuban culture on the island --in 1892 Cuban patriot Jose Marti gave a speech from its balcony to unite the Cuban exile community and launch the effort for Cuban independence from Spain. The institute is an affiliate of the Smithsonian and has an gallery, a library, and a theater.
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, accessed through the Truman Annex on Southard Street, was constructed between 1845 and 1866 and remained in Union hands throughout the Civil War and was later used during the Spanish-American War. The fort's collection of Civil War cannons is reportedly the largest in America. The state park has a beach, picnic table and snorkeling and kayak concessions.
The Key West Cemetery, 701 Passover Lane, has creative headstones like "I Told You I Was Sick," and "Devoted Fan Of Singer Julio Iglesias;" has a monument to the victims of the battleship U.S.S. Maine; and holds the resting places of Hemingway friend and fishing captain, "Sloppy Joe" Russell and sparring partner Kermit "Shine" Forbes.
Two attractions are ideal for families: The Key West Aquarium, 1 Whitehead Street, showcasing the Last Key's diverse marine life and featuring a touch tank, daily fish feedings and guided tours; and The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservancy, 1316 Duval Street, with a 5,000-square-feet glass-domed tropical habitat with more than 1,000 butterflies of 50-60 species.
Not-to-be-missed local flavors include a slice of Key lime pie at any of the restaurants and cafes and a Frozen Bacardi Rum Runner (Bacardi rum, blackberry brandy and banana liqueur with fruit slices) at Sloppy Joe's, Hemingway's favorite watering hole at 201 Duval Street where you can also try Papa's own preferred drink "Papa Dobles" (Bacardi Light rum, grapefruit juice, grenadine, splash of sweet & sour, club soda and fresh-squeezed lime juice).
Cruise lines that visit Key West include Carnival, Celebrity, Costa, MSC, Holland America, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, and Silversea.
IF YOU GO -- For more information on the Last Key, visit www.keywestchamber.com and www.fla-keys.com.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun