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There is no place like home… especially after the travel debacle of the decade. 

As many of you have seen by now, my husband and I spent the weekend in Key West for a surprise getaway. I am due to have ACL surgery next week, which will wreck any Valentine’s Day plans we could have had… and honestly, he and I just needed some “us” time. 

So I booked the trip, didn’t tell him anything other than to pack a bag, and he learned where we were going as we walked on the airplane in Asheville. 

We love flying out of Asheville. The convenience is unmatched. We parked, walked into the airport, through security, and onto the plane AFTER arriving at the airport after the plane was set to board. I just don’t think that would happen anywhere else. We usually expect some hiccups — it is never as smooth as larger airports and airlines — but for the most part, flying Allegiant out of Asheville is perfect. 

I have been eyeing the direct flight to Key West since it was first announced and after Kim, my editor for the Highlands Newspaper took a trip last month ending in rave reviews, I booked our flights. While I am sure this comes as little to no surprise to most of you, I am slightly impulsive. So I booked the flights with little to no research on the actual island. I visited one time, maybe when I was 16 or so on a cruise with a friend, but other than that, embarrassingly enough I knew very little else. 

So as you can imagine, after my very inexpensive flights were booked, I think $300 total round trip for the both of us, there was a little sticker shock when it came to lodging options. There are very few hotel chains in Key West and the ones that are there seem to operate more like timeshares. So needless to stay, I booked the cheapest accommodations I could find on some third-party travel website — and for our three-night stay lodging ended up being about four times more than our flights. Regardless, I was excited for the adventure. 

So after we walk onto our flight in Asheville Thursday morning — with plans to land in Key West by 9:45, we were looking forward to breakfast on the beach — however, those plans were quickly derailed. First, the pilot informed us that a spark plug was giving them trouble so we would be delayed taking off. Still not a problem. We would be in Key West by lunch with a tropical drink in our hands. And after taking off 30 minutes later than expected… we thought we were well on our… but again… nope. 

The pilot even instructed the flight attendants to prepare the cabin for arrival. We put away our electronic devices and buckled up preparing for our descent into Key West… which abruptly ended as the pilot noticeably abandoned the landing and pulled the airplane back up. Shortly thereafter he came over the speaker to inform us that the cloud ceiling was too low to land but they expected it to clear in about 20 minutes and that we had plenty of fuel to circle and wait… and wait.. and wait… until an hour later when he informed us that we were going to run out of fuel and would be making an emergency stop in Fort. Lauderdale. 

So… about 11:30 we touched down in Fort Lauderdale with hopeful flight attendants telling us they would update us as soon as they knew more and we would likely just be refueling and then back in the air heading toward our tropical paradise. Right about the time the airplane doors opened and a gate attendant came onto the plane we knew that was no longer going to be the case. After a 30 minute wait in a crowded, stuffy airplane full of passengers who, like us, probably skipped breakfast with plans to get something once they landed so now they were hungry and tired, we were informed that the airplane would not be going to Key West. We were given to options… return to Asheville or get off the plane in Fort Lauderdale. 

A quick call to our Key West accommodations discovered we were not able to cancel our reservation so if we returned to the home, we would be out all of that money. Another quick check for a rental car showed that for $60 we could rent a car and make the 3.5-hour drive to Key West ourselves. So… the adventure continued by car. 

If you know anything about Nick… you may know that first, he was already extremely anxious to be taking a surprise trip that he couldn’t control… and now to have plans overwhelmingly derailed… he was LESS than pleased. However, I give him all the credit in the world for holding his tongue and trying to make the most of a less-than-ideal situation. 

I will say, the drive to Key West was incredible. I do not regret that one bit and am actually extremely grateful we got to have that experience. It’s essentially 100 miles of coastal views and beautiful blue waters. Beaches on both sides, minimal traffic, picture-perfect weather — really incredible. The first few times Nick and I hung out… we would just go on drives. It is our favorite thing to do, so that opportunity quickly became a welcomed disruption. 

What we had hoped would be breakfast in paradise turned into being the last to check into our accommodations, the Simonton Court Historic Inn and Cottages. Nick and I are night and day in just about everything. Had he been in charge of booking a hotel, he would have agonized over it for days. Read every review on every travel site, google mapped the property and its location in relation to possible activities. I, however, clicked book and didn’t even remember the name of the place when we got there. I did absolutely no research. All I knew was it was the least expensive place with the exception of a hostel… which I knew Nick would DIE over. I also feel that at this point I need to be fully transparent that Nick;’s reluctance and obsessive nature when booking our vacations is probably greatly exasperated by the fact that the first time I was responsible for booking our hotel, we ended up with bed bugs that cost us $10,000 to get rid of followed by a couple of years later when I finally convinced him to trust me to book somewhere again… which ended up in him not even pulling into the hotel parking lot because just the area of town it was in was horrendous. So I do not have a good track record. But since he didn’t know about the trip…it was up to me.

To our absolute astonishment, I knocked it out of the PARK with Simonton Court. I think I have officially fully redeemed myself and my past hotel blunders with this one. The property was incredible. An old cigar factory, it was easiest the most luxurious place I have ever stayed. I say it was the least expensive place… but that doesn’t mean it was cheap. It was still several hundred dollars a night but worth every single penny. It honestly was its own paradise. Four heated pools, cottage kitties roaming the brick pathways that were sheltered by dripping palm trees, and a continental breakfast that would have had a line down the block had it been open to the public. It was an absolute dream. It was at that moment Nick and I realized that this was more than a vacation. This was the honeymoon we never had. 

With absolutely no research into Key West or where we were staying, imagine our surprise when we found out that we were staying on the backside of the middle of Duval Street… THE street in Key West. Just a few short steps outside of our garden oasis was every restaurant, bar, club, shop, you could imagine. We could not have been in a better location. Such a beautiful accident. 

Let me go ahead and get this out of the way… I am a sucker for the preservation of history. But not just the preservation of history… the art of preserving the foundation of something while repurposing it to serve a modern function. I am sure there is some fancy name for that… but whatever that is, I LOVE it. That is one of the many reasons why I love the Southern Porch in Canton so much. Anyway, Key West is all of that — they have masterfully kept the rich history of the island and found the perfect balance to incorporate modern progress while allowing the two to exist together simultaneously. Whatever it is called… it is art. 

We walked to dinner and found ourselves at Fogarty’s Restaurant & the Flying Monkeys Saloon. The outdoor patio and old southern architecture were divine — everything about the history and current-day combination that I live for. Fogarty’s Restaurant was named for Dr. Joseph Norman Fogarty, who served as the mayor of Key West in 1912. The very courtyard we ate dinner in was the same courtyard used at the turn of the century to host lavish parties, celebrating the completion of the railroad to Key West. The bricks we walked on were the same bricks that hosted to footsteps of William Taft and Grover Cleveland, who were frequent guests of the Fogarty Mansion in the 1900s. 

That stuff… those stories… that is found on every corner of Key West…which Nick and I learned all about through the hop-on and hop-off trolley tours. My ultimate travel hack is anytime there is a hop-on, hop-off trolley, or bus tour… do it. We first discovered this in New York City, and it never disappoints. They are almost always driven by locals or those who should be considered local, and not only provide you with an overview of the history of the area, they are less expensive than taxis, and you get a chance to see a little bit of everything while also getting the inside details about what to do and where to go. The trolley in Key West had 13 stops and we had the pleasure of having Kenny, a lifelong Key West resident who took up driving the trolley after he retired, Patrick, an 8-year transplant but history nut, and Louie, who missed his true calling as a stand-up comedian and had spent the last 22 years driving the trolley. Their view of Key West was far better than anything we could have searched for online. 

We knew we wanted to do some sort of boat excursion… after all, we were at the beach. Nick and I both detest sand, we actually generally hate everything about the beach… ironic I know. While we hate the beach, we do love the ocean. So I impulsively booked a dolphin and snorkel cruise through Fury Adventures around the reef. Once again, like the hotel, I did no research. I actually got an email about it after booking the trolley tour, and just clicked book. So imagine our surprise when we got on the boat ready to see dolphins and snorkel to learn that it was also an open bar… surprise! 

We quickly found dolphins and our boat guides gave us a ton of information about the reef, the area, and the dolphins. Then we anchored in a nice clear water spot somewhere off the coast. It was chilly. Although it was in the low 70s on land, the boat was significantly colder which meant the water was frigid. We rented wetsuits in an attempt to make it through. Still colder than I would have liked, we got to see some incredible coral and fish… many of which we have had distant cousins in our saltwater tank at home. Leave it to Nick to never NOT be a law enforcement officer… just a few minutes into our snorkel adventure while I was underwater searching for treasure… I hear a commotion and come up for air to find Nick rescuing a man who began to panic in the water. About a football field from the boat and to save the crew from having to brave the cold waters, Nick rescued the man and drug him to the boat… seriously, I just can’t take him anywhere. 

About the time we lost feeling in our toes we climbed back on the boat and indulged in the surprise open bar. Fury Adventures had their own locally brewed beer, which while cool for a souvenir… was a lager — which is in NO way a “Friday afternoon on a boat drinking” kind of beer. The blush wine they had, however… that was another story. 

We finished our boat ride and were once again surprised to learn that our hotel was just a few blocks from the dock… had I researched anything I am sure that would have been a selling point rather than a welcomed discovery. I admit my memory of the rest of the evening is a little… fuzzy… however, I do know that we changed for dinner and headed down Duval Street. 

We found ourselves at Caroline’s Cafe — which sits in the shadows of the historic Porter House. The Porter House was built in 1838 by Federal Judge James Webb — but sold to the Porter family in 1845. Dr. Joseph Porter, who was instrumental in eradicating yellow fever died in the home in the same room he was born in 80 years to the day. The Cafe was named for Caroline Street, for which it is located. While I am sure the restaurant was delightful, my memory of the meal is virtually nonexistent outside of the waitress dropping a chicken wing in Nick’s lap and him having to spend entirely too much time talking me out of “pretending” to swipe a package to teach a table of young girls a lesson in safety. 

Saturday was chilly — so chilly so I had to buy a souvenir sweater. But we spent the day on the trolley soaking up the island’s history. We got off at one of their most popular stops — the Hemingway House — or if you ask Nick, a cat lover’s paradise. This stop is actually what inspired me to write this article, or blog, or journal entry… whatever you want to call it. 

“In order to write about life first you must live it.” – Ernest Hemingway

The Hemingway Home is extraordinary. Per usual, I knew nothing about it before walking through the gates. I really think I prefer life this way. We spent an inordinate amount of time on the property. I also decided that since we never had a wedding, we would do a 10-year vow renewal on this property. That is likely a fantasy that will never come to fruition, but a dream I will hold dear regardless.

Like many, Hemingway’s love of Key West began with vacations and for a short, yet inspiring part of his life’s story, became his home. Hemingway and his wife Pauline were gifted the home from Pauline’s uncle in the 1930s and restored it to the glory it first held when built-in 1851. The home is exquisitely preserved and serves as a museum and event venue. The property, which is credited for providing the inspiration for many of Hemingway’s greatest works, does currently serve as a residence… with 58 polydactyl cats calling the grounds home. The ca, clearly a highlight of our trip, are descendants of Snow White, a polydactyl cat Hemingway received as a gift once moving to the island. 

After soaking up all the Hemingway House had to offer, we headed to brunch followed by stops on the tourist “must-see” list such as the southernmost point, the Truman Estate, and Sloppy Joes Bar before heading back to enjoy a dip in each of Simonton Court’s four pools. Why you ask? Because we are immature adults who didn’t want to leave anyone pool unattended, despite the chilling winds that pierced our skin as we left water prints on the brick around the Inn. 

Before dinner, we stopped at Books & Books @ The Studios of Key West, the bookstore co-owned by the one and only Judy Blume! While browsing her books, we learned that Judy herself would be in on Sunday and would personally sign a book for me! So I rushed to the hotel and wrote her a note about the impact she has had on me as a writer, attached a business card, and ran back to leave it for her. Seriously… how is that my life? What a dream. 

We wanted to keep our food experiences authentic and local.. however, we couldn’t pass up the Key West Hard Rock for the sole purpose of seeing the building it is housed in. The Key West Hard Rock Cafe is in the center of downtown located within an historic three-story Victorian-style house that according to legend is still haunted by the ghost of its original owner, Robert Curry. The house was built by William Curry, Florida’s first millionaire, as a wedding gift for his son, Robert. Robert was very sickly throughout his life, stricken with a variety of ailments and illnesses, yet found himself in control of the Curry family fortune. Since he wasn’t a very good businessman and likely due to his poor health, the money rapidly faded away. Distraught and depressed, Robert committed suicide in the second-floor bathroom. The building is said to still be haunted today. 

We headed back to the Inn for an early night so we would be well-rested for our flight home… what a joke that turned out to be. 

We arrived at the airport an hour early and anxiously awaited our flight home… with plans to be back in Franklin by lunch. We honestly should have known better. About 20 minutes prior to our flight boarding… we received vouchers from Allegiant.. soon after the vouchers, we received the flight’s cancellation notice. What we quickly realized was that it was not only Allegiant that was canceling flights… it was airlines across the southeast. We found ourselves literally stranded in paradise. And quite honestly, if it wasn’t for desperately missing our children and the jobs we needed to get back home to, it probably would have been a welcomed delay. The no flights quickly turned into no rental cars. No bus seats. Literally, no way to get home. There weren’t flights in nearby airports, but even if there were.. there weren’t cars to take us there. We called an Uber to take us to a nearby Uhaul location expecting to rent a 25-foot truck just to be able to get off the island in hopes of having better luck in a more populated area. By the Grace of God, our driver agreed to take us all the way to Fort Lauderdale to spare us a ride in the Uhaul. It cost us a pretty penny, but worth it. How quickly that beautiful ride to Key West we enjoyed on Thursday seemed to be salt on the wound of our travels at that point. 

While in the back of the uber we searched all possible options and came up with a plan to drive to Fort Lauderdale, then rent a car to Orlando and catch a 9 p.m. flight back to Asheville. We booked it all and were set.. or so we thought. After the 3.5 hour drive to the car rental place, listening to our uber driver tell us his conspiracies on COVID and government corruption… we learned that the car rental place, who gladly took our money for a car that would be for pick up at 4:30… had “hoped” a car would show up, however it never did. So without a car rental option to take us to our scheduled flight in Orlando… I made a last-minute search of Fort Lauderdale flights to see if there were any random options to Charlotte, Greenville, Knoxville, Atlanta.. really anywhere out of Florida. By some sort of miracle… an Allegiant flight that was originally scheduled to leave Fort Lauderdale at 4:30 had been delayed and open seats. After frantically calling the airline, we booked our tickets and headed to the airport. There we waited and watched as that same flight was pushed to 5:30… then 6:45…. Then 7:30… and honestly we started to lose hope and began searching for Monday flights and hotel rooms. Then… I think around 10 p.m. we walked onto the airplane. 

A quick hour and a half flight home and we touched down in Asheville and headed home to Franklin and back to all of you wonderful, beautiful people… because there is absolutely no place like HOME! 

4 Comments

  1. Jenny Golding Jenny Golding January 31, 2022

    I love this! My husband just threatened my life if I ever did this. His big 50th birthday I surprised him with 45 people in our house shouting Happy Birthday. One and only time I was to do this I’ve been told. Guess he’ll have to help me plan our trip. Lucky for us Bob’s elementary friend lives in keys so lodging free.
    Brittney I admire your courageousness! Nick I’m in awe of your cooperation.
    I loved reliving being there as you journeyed thru many if the same places I recall from my past visits.
    Thanks for sharing!!

  2. Brenda Brenda January 31, 2022

    I read every word of your blog post about your trip to Key West. I’m so sorry the airline travel was a nightmare. But glad you enjoyed the beautiful Keys. I had the pleasure of living there almost 50 years ago. My husband was in the service at the time. He didn’t have much rank so we had to find our own rental.
    Our landlord wanted a long term rental… so he took a little less rent. We had a tiny, one bedroom bungalow just yards from Whitehead and Duvall St. and the Southernmost Point. They were also known as Conch houses. We heard the little trolley coming by several times a day. Our budget was almost nonexistent… so we found things to do that were free or very inexpensive. Cookouts with friends, drives along the Beach… the sheer beauty of the island.
    Thank you for sharing your adventure ❤❤

  3. Kim Lippy Kim Lippy February 3, 2022

    I read every word of your story and loved it. Thank you for sharing. You are SUCH a good writer. Wanted to tell you, I’m a 5th generation native Floridian, and my paternal g-mother was a Duval. My maternal g-father had the 1st movie projection theatre in Miami. My maternal gg-g-father was friends with Flagler and helped engineer/design/build the Fountain Blue in Miami. So I’m a true sand-between-the-toes native Floridian. But I would live under a bridge before going back. Great place to visit, but no longer a great place to live. Quality of life is right here, largly due to folks like you and Nick, and MCSO providing the quality of life we enjoy here in Macon County.

  4. Pete Stewart Pete Stewart May 5, 2022

    Nice write up! And always remember, it isn’t an adventure until something goes wrong.

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