If You Go: Key West
Flying into key west is the quickest way to get to Little Palm. The launch site — at Little Torch Key — is about a half-hour drive from the heart of Key West.
If you choose to spend a night or two in this candy-colored town before heading over to the island, check into Ocean Key Resort & Spa (800-328-9815), owned and operated by Noble House (the same group that now runs Little Palm. Visit noblehousehotels.com for a complete property listing). Ocean Key Resort and Spa is composed of 100 suites, which all feature either a view of the Gulf or Duvall Street, Key West's version of Bourbon Street.
The property is home to Hot Tin Roof, an upscale eatery named in homage to Tennessee Williams, and boasts an excellent brunch and signature themed drinks. For more casual fare, walk just outside the hotel's doors and head about 30 yards to Sunset Pier, where the drinks are as colorful as the characters who make their way over for the nightly celebration at day's end. If you're feeling more adventurous, make your way down Duvall and check out the city's notorious nightlife. Avoid the "touristy " spots and hang with the locals at Blue Heaven, B.O.'s Tavern, or Finnegan's Wake. Be warned though; the only constant about Key West is that it's constantly changing. (In under an hour, the quiet hole-in-the-wall we found to escape the crowds turned into a full-on karaoke bar, complete with drag queen deejays and mistress of ceremonies. Embrace spontaneity while here.)
Interesting mom-and-pop shops as well as well-known retailers like Coach and Banana Republic line both sides of Duvall Street and Mallory Square, with lots of island-inspired art galleries thrown in for good measure. Stroll along the busy streets or rent a scooter and zoom around the tour buses that tend to clog traffic on the narrow stretch of tourist nirvana. While we resisted the urgent calls of the "name painted on a shell" vendors, we couldn't pass by the Flying Monkeys Saloon, where icy concoctions with names like Monkey Luv and Pineapple Passion were poured by a tie-died, sunburned Parrothead with great stories. Do stop by.
Other popular destinations include the Southernmost Point in the continental U.S., a mere 90 miles from Cuba, the Heritage House Museum and Robert Frost Cottage (heritagehousemuseum.org), and of course, the Hemingway Home & Museum, in the heart of Old Town Key West, where the author lived and wrote for more than a decade.
Key West is loaded with guided tours for almost any interest, whether tropical gardens, historic homes, or pirate lore, though the most intriguing has to be the Ghost Tour — a lantern-led evening tour through the shadowy streets of the Old Town (hauntedtours.com). Of course, there are the glass-bottom boats, the party boats, parasailing, and scuba and snorkeling outings, centered at Sunset Pier. If it's fun and can be done on the water, this place has it. For a complete listing, check out keywest.com/attract.
Key West is home to the best limes in the world, the craziest Halloween parade on earth, and Jimmy Buffet, but unfortunately, not to sandy beaches like those of its panhandle counterparts. Rocky beaches with narrow strips of dark sand are the norm here, but after that first Key lime margarita, you won't mind one bit.