Florida – South Beach, The Keys, Dry Tortugas – Summer vacation 2008 Guide and Summary

21 Sep

Islamorada Moorings beach

Islamorada Moorings beach

To see all the photos from me click here.

To see all the photos by Holly click here

Just got back from my week long vacation to Florida (Sept 13-20) and what an amazing time we had! I went with my lovely GF Holly, and as both of us work hectic DC schedules this was a much-needed vacation.

Here is a Summary of where we went and what we did:

2 Nights South Beach – Pelican Hotel
– Held a baby sea turtle that was swimming with us
– Rented jet skis and toured the mansions of the millionaires and celebrities from the water
– Spent a lot of time at the beach

2 Nights Islamorada (middle keys) – Moorings Resort
– Went on a dolphin swim in Key West
– Kayaked along the beach
– Swam at Bahia Honda state park
– Spent a lot of time at the beach

3 Nights Key West – Westin Hotel
– Took a chartered catamaran out to the Dry Tortugas National park to see Fort Jeferson and Garden Key
– Took a boat out to Sunset Key just off key west and spent the whole day at a private beach
– Explored Key West

South Beach and the Everglades

Pelican Hotel miami

Pelican Hotel at night

Pelican Hotel room

We arrived in South Beach after landing in Ft. Lauderdale and driving to South Beach. We stayed at the beautiful Pelican Hotel on Ocean Drive:

The Pelican is the brainchild of Diesel Jeans owner Renzo Rosso who purchased the dilapidated, circa-1948 hotel in the early 90s when the European fashionista invasion of South Beach was in full swing.

Each of the Pelican’s 30 rooms is designed on a different theme with its own personality (“Halfway to Hollywood,” “Me Tarzan, You Vain”). Designer Magnus Ehrland spent seven months scouring garage sales, flea markets and antique stores all over Florida to find the right assortment of one-of-a-kind furnishings. Ehrland’s kitschy furnishings produce a unique statement that some how fits perfectly into the swirl of South Beach.

The first two rooms we saw were too crazy for us, Psychedelic Girl especially was too colorful, but the 3rd room (room 311 -Birth of the Bubble) was perfect. It had a nice earth green color theme and had a real sophisticated 50’s feel to it. I turnd on the TV and goldfinger was on TV dubbed in Spanish. PERFECT. The hotel gives you free umbrellas, beach chairs, cushions and towels for the beach. Awesome value. They would deliver chocolate and the daily weather to your room every day. Fantastic.

I loved the hallways which had soft lounge music playing and perfumed, and the elevator and front desk was great. This is the perfect hotel to stay in in south beach, it fits into the insanity of this part of Miami perfectly, it’s in the middle of everything and just a few feet from the beach.

We loved having those umbrellas on the beach and we lounged around and swam in the beautiful blue water. I even found some beach breakdancers and went to dance with them a bit.

The showers in the Pelican were the most amazing I have ever been in, so a note to everyone looking for a new shower head be sure to get a shower head like this:


At the beach Holly found a baby turtle swimming with her and I held him, wished him luck and sent him on his way. His little flippers were paddling away even while I held him. Last time I saw him he was well on his way into the warm atlantic ocean.

We walked ALL over South beach and ate at many good restaurants, including a Colombian diner where we had lunch, DeVitos (danny devitos south beach Italian restaurant), Nikki Beach in particular was amazing for brunch. I had the best Mojito I have ever had (and most expensive) and Holly declared the bacon there the very best she had ever had.

Some photos of Nikki Beach:



Nikki Beach South Beach

After we finished our 2nd night in South Beach we left and headed to the Everglades. We took an airboat ride and saw tons of alligators in the water, it was pretty cool and serene to be out in the middle of nowhere.

Florida Keys – Islamorada, Key Largo and Bahia Honda

We stayed at the Moorings, in Islamorada. It’s a private beach with several cottages right on the beach. It’s a beautiful place that is popular for model shoots (sports illustrated shot a swimsuit issue here) and commercials.

Moorings islamorada

I would almost wish to not write a review so as to keep the place secret. But my god, what a beautiful place. Words can never do the place justice. It is the only place that has brought tears to my eyes by it’s beauty.

We stayed in the treehouse, which despite its name is HUGE, it had a very charming little loft with cushions, perfect for afternoon reading. It’s located a tiny bit farther from the beach but you can still see it from the window.

The grounds are kept spotless, a small army of grounds keepers wake up with the rising sun every morning and rake the seaweed off the beach, rake the paths, pick up any bits of trash and put fresh hammocks up on the trees.

We were told that the place was filled to capacity, but we did not see a single soul on the beach the entire time we stayed except our last day, because they were shooting a commercial for Bausch & Lomb.

Thomas and Alison (owners) were so courteous to us the entire stay, even letting us stay longer than checkout time which is appreciated beyond words.

The bed and bathroom were so spacious and nice, and the laundry facilities were convenient.

We woke up to watch the sun rise and saw dolphins just off the dock. You can see SO much life just by standing on it. We even saw a baby shark swim past the dock. We saw sting rays, flounder, puffer fish, lobster, crabs, hermit crabs, needle fish, barracuda, all within inches of the dock.

The free kayaks were greatly appreciated and we rowed in the calm waters and watched the fish.

One morning a big bird of prey (I think it is a falcon?) landed on one of the old boats with a fresh fish he had just caught that looked bigger then him.

Moorings beach islamorada

About the only negatives I would give the place is the bathroom in the treehouse had no fan, and every now and then you’d get a unpleasant seaweed smell coming in with the wind. Also at night there were millions of mosquito, but during the day it’s completely clear of insects.

We were totally unprepared for the sheer splendor of this place, the quiet is overwhelming. I am forever grateful for having been able to experience this place.

Our treeehouse also had a little guest book in which previous guests wrote about their experience at the Moorings, all very positive and even inspiring. We of course left our entry.

I will never forget the Moorings and hope to return for a longer stay one day. This is a place not to be missed if you stay anywhere in the Keys. (but this is a place that is like a monastery, the quiet is why people come, so if you want loud parties stay somewhere else).

Besides kayaking, laying on that amazing beach and watching the sun rise in the morning and the dolphins just off the dock, we also went to Key Largo to go swimming with dolphins. I had no idea dolphins were so hyper. They pretty much are dogs with fins. They behave exactly like hyper dogs. They pushed me and Holly across the water on by our feet, and I got to hold on to dolphin fins (one on each hand) and ride in the water. It was amazing.

We ate at some very nice places there, the bayside is excellent for watching the sun set, and everywhere we ate was right by the water or on the beach. It was serene.


On the way down after reluctantly leaving the Moorings we stopped at Bahia Honda State park. What an amazing place! The water was blue and clear and warm, not crowded at all, and full of shells. Holly found a great shell but it turned out the next day the shell was inhabited by a large hermit crab.


We loved the Bahia Honda beach and could see a gigantic storm forming further down toward key west from the beach. We left Bahia Honda and headed to Key west.

Florida Keys – Key West and Dry Tortugas

We had been in Key West only 3 minutes or so and saw our first eccentric person, a man standing by the road holding a large sign saying ‘God Hates the Wicked’. We checked into the Westin hotel right on Mallory square by the water.

We saw a great trained cat show at Mallory Square


We had Mojitos on the sunset deck and watched the sunset.

Key West Sunset

The next day we got a boarding pass to take a boat to Sunset Key, a privately owned cottage-filled island just off key west. It was a beautiful place to spend the day, we had service at the beach if we wished it, and we had been there only few minutes and saw dolphins a few feet from the beach. We let the hermit crab we had found in Bahia Honda go in this beach.

A large afternoon storm hit the beach, so we pakced our stuff and walked to the pool and had lunch at the bar, which was DELICIOUS. I wish I could have the burger I had there again. We had drinks and by the time lunch was done the rain storm had ended and we went back to the beach.



We took the 2nd to last boat off the island to return to our hotel in Key West and had dinner in Key West.

The next day we took a boat to the Dry Tortugas national park.

It was a breathtaking place, an old abandoned fortress in the middle of the ocean. We got to snorkle in real coral reefs and see tons of beautiful bright fish. The water was crystal clear and just amazing.


We were pretty much alone the entire day there, and had our coral reef to ourselves. I can’t name any of the fish I saw other than a barracuda, but it was great. The Dry Tortugas were amazing and I would love to return there one day.


All in all it was an amazing trip, Holly and I had a great time and I loved spending the week with her in all the natural beauty there. We had perfect weather all week long, the crazy conga-line of hurricanes took a break for our vacation week.

And once again,
To see all the photos click here.


6 Responses to “Florida – South Beach, The Keys, Dry Tortugas – Summer vacation 2008 Guide and Summary”

  1. emo_snal September 22, 2008 at 3:31 am #

    I tried to comment in the gallery itself, I’m not sure it worked, but that is one sweetass picture of the sunset!

    • bboyneko September 22, 2008 at 3:07 pm #

      The comment worked, thanks!

  2. the_lucky_nun September 22, 2008 at 11:46 am #

    I fell in love with the keys when I was hitchhiking, but I never experienced this side of them. Islamorada was my favorite, even though we had to sleep under the bridge (there’s an alcove under the bridges where they connect to the land, just wide enough to sleep on). That’s where some Cuban fishermen taught me how to fish with a hand reel. It seemed like more of a party cove back then, but that was 15 years ago, too.
    We caught a ride from a Dutch tourist who was planning to start at key West and run all the way back to Miami. On the way to Marathon key, the movie True Lies was being filmed, so they would give people pepsi and hot dogs for having to sit in their cars and wait for scenes to be filmed. On Key West itself, we slept in the woods on one side of the island. One weird thing I remember was the water seemed to be a different color on either side of the Keys bridge, it would be more green and less blue depending on where you looked. I don’t know if it was the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico mixing or if it had to do with the varying depths of the water.
    I’d like to go back there someday, with money this time!

  3. airplane_stars September 22, 2008 at 12:34 pm #

    Oh my god, those were some kickass pictures!!! I totally want to go!

  4. Anonymous September 22, 2008 at 7:34 pm #

    get ready
    I am going to use you to book my next trip to FL
    …I’m not joking

  5. meanjunglist September 24, 2008 at 12:52 am #

    Wow! Brian and I were looking for places to travel for next summer, and these are exactly what I was looking for. I didn’t get my beach vacation this summer, so this will definitely make up for it in 2009. Thank you for this post.

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