Key West is a popular cruise port of call on numerous Caribbean itineraries, and although many travelers flock to busy Duval Street, the area offers cruise passengers outdoor activities and unusual things to do beyond the typical tourist stops. Cruisers will have no problem finding the Ernest Hemingway House and Sloppy Joe’s Bar, but here are some lesser-known attractions worth checking out.
Kayak Kings Key West
This small outfitter has a laid-back, knowledgeable staff that takes guests through the mangroves and hidden nooks and crannies of the islands. They also have “off-the-path” tours and kayak fishing adventures, as well as customized itineraries to get a feel for the natural side of Key West.
Fort Zachary Taylor
The Florida Keys aren’t known for iconic beaches due to the coral reef system that acts as a barrier and prevents sand build-up. Fort Zachary Taylor is one exception, and the park has a trifecta for visitors: a historic fort to explore, shaded woods with picnic tables, and a stretch of sand with beautiful views. It is accessible by foot from the cruise port (although it is a bit of a walk), and has a small entry fee.
Rent Bicycles and Visit Key West Cemetery
A free and weird attraction is the Key West cemetery, where maps are available that point out some of the unusual epitaphs like “I told you I was sick.” One of the best ways to reach the cemetery is by renting bikes and touring the island on your own. The “Pelican Path Self-Guided Tour of Key West” is an excellent tool, and can be printed online.
Mel Fisher Museum
Learn about Mel Fisher, a real-life treasure hunter, and see coins, jewelry, shackles, pottery and other artifacts from the Henrietta Marie, often considered the world’s largest source of objects from the early years of the slave trade. The museum documents its discovery and historical significance, and captures the intrigue of sunken treasure ships.
Conch Republic Air Force (Key West Biplane Rides)
The waters surrounding Key West are absolutely stunning from the air, making it one of the best scenic flights in the country. Key West Biplanes offers tours in an open-cockpit 1942 UPF-7 Waco (basically a flying convertible). The planes are also part of the Conch Republic Air Force, so be sure to inquire about how Key West became known as the Conch Republic (it’s a funny story). Visitors might even be able to become an honorary member.
Hogfish Bar and Grill
For some of the freshest seafood, meander over to Stock Island to the Hogfish Bar and Grill — located right on the water. This hidden gem will take some effort to find (the local bus stops near there, plan ahead), but the restaurant feels worlds away from the cruise port.
Diving the Vandenberg Wreck
The coral reefs surrounding the Keys offer excellent opportunities for snorkeling. Scuba divers shouldn’t miss the Vandenberg wreck. The ship was deliberately sunk in 2009 and now rests in nearly 150 feet of water, covered in marine life. Parts of the vessel can be viewed with Open Water certification, but advanced training is required to see all of the ship.
Schooner Wharf Bar
Tucked away in the historic seaport, the Schooner Wharf is an easygoing dive bar that usually showcases some killer live music. The festive, open-air atmosphere draws a mix of locals and tourists, and three happy hours make it an affordable place to spend time before the cruise ship departs.
The Florida Keys offer some of the best fishing opportunities in the country, and several companies offer four-hour tours that fit into the cruise ship schedule. Depending on the type of fishing (wrecks, reefs, deep water), visitors can catch snapper, mutton, amberjack, grouper and many other species. Be sure to make arrangements in advance.