Fantastic Ways to Enjoy Tropical Life in the Florida Keys
A Social Distancing Getaway Guide
We tested out a pandemic getaway after months of staying home. I’d be lying if I said there was no anxiety, but we managed, and it was a relief to be out and about again (sort of). We were careful about choosing where to go, what to do, and how to carry out these plans as safe as possible. While still being fully aware that this could be a bad idea.
The first thing to consider is that yes, we should still stay home as much as possible. That’s what the CDC recommends. More tips for travel during this pandemic.
But, if you’re starting to climb the walls and you’ve already ordered everything; cleaned, organized, crafted, painted, and consumed all that you could think of, then you’re probably going to head out.
Here’s some things you should consider doing if you haven’t already:
When traveling, this may mean being prepared to cancel time at the pool or an activity, having to clean and sanitize surfaces in your hotel room, and missing out on something by avoiding the crowds however you can.
Why the Florida Keys?
The Florida Keys were calling me, I had already planned to visit this summer anyway. Lodging was open again, but was it safe? Feeling a little uncertain these days about what could really be considered safe anymore, I was willing to go see after reviewing several things.
Monroe County COVID-19 information let me know that masks were mandatory in all public spaces.
The message was loud and clear throughout the county, no matter what site I visited from hotels to tourist attractions and restaurants. Open to Travelers – wear masks and social distance. Coming from a county in Florida with no requirements made the Keys look more and more attractive.
But First – Miami.
To break up our drive, we opted for a one-night stay in Miami on the way down and on the way back. Everyone freaks out when they hear that, but I’d really feel safer in places where people are required to protect themselves and Miami has done that. To keep social distancing at a max, we opted for a room with access to a fridge and stove in order to prepare our own food and limit outside options.
Great location with access to some of my favorite foods.
If you’re not familiar with Doral, it is where you will find a plethora of Arepas! There’s a large Venezuelan and Columbian influence in the area with incredible food options. So much for making my own food.
While it has great reviews, I thought the stay didn’t quite meet my expectations for cleanliness. I found several spots in our room where they failed to be attentive to what seemed apparent – spots on the sofa, spots on the chair, a cup ring on a side table, stuck on food on the center table which all wiped up much too easily for me to believe it was clean in the first place. I freaked out a little, but I knew that might happen, so I was prepared, sanitized the whole place, doorknobs and light switches included. I don’t mess around.
Let’s talk about masks for a second – my kids were so good at wearing their masks, they made me feel like a baby sometimes because they never touched it but I am guilty of tugging at mine more than I like to admit.
Speaking of masks, we had a funny thing happen, not funny at the time though. If you order food delivery, they leave it in the lobby, it doesn’t come to your room. I wouldn’t leave my little people in the room by themselves, so, I told them to put their masks on and let’s go. As soon as the door shut (with no key in my hand), I realized they were standing in the hall with masks on and no shoes.
This doesn’t bother most people but it drives me insane. We had to swiftly march down the hall to get our food and get a new key only to return with keys that didn’t work! (My OCD brain was ready to explode) Back down the hall again, finally back in our room with a working key. But like I said, there are 2 types of people in this world, those who go barefoot and those who cringe at the thought of bare feet. Now, you know which one I am.
Add these to your must try list because I promise, they are worth it! I usually get Arepas from Amaize when I’m in the area but this time I had to try some new places. Create your own Bowl is my favorite way to go, great vegetarian options. Don’t just trust me, see the reviews.
Macondo Coffee Roasters gave me the best coffee ever. I’m not sure I’m even drinking coffee anymore since it’s not from there. I tried 3 different coffees (all iced, of course!) and the passionfruit tea. The pastries, arepas, and empanadas were all good too.
Diced is great if you’re looking for fresh! Lots of veggies, vegan chick’n options, even forbidden rice as an option?! Don’t worry, there’s plenty of meat choices too.
Make sure to check each website or call for updated information on visiting procedures and expectations.
Vizcaya Museum & Gardens – a 1916 waterfront estate home turned into a museum and gardens, (National Historical Landmark)
The Kampong – a National Tropical Garden on Biscayne Bay.
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens – an 83 acre tropical garden.
We opted for Fairchild during this visit, the most incredible part of it was going through the Rainforest area. Absolutely beautiful. Go early to avoid the heat and busier times, masks are required throughout the gardens, some exhibits were closed, and there were one-way paths throughout. Always be prepared to encounter those that are not following the rules. We passed 6 other people during our walk through the gardens and all 6 were breaking at least one rule, from no mask to going the wrong way.
On to Key Largo!
Baker’s Cay is a Curio Collection Hilton property. The Curio Collection properties are typically 4- or 5-star hotels that offer unique settings and authentic experiences. I picked this property for 3 reasons:
When you turn in at the entrance, the outside world fades away a bit and your tropical escape has begun. While you may not be greeted at the gate with a welcome bag (depending on if the gatekeeper ran out), you can pick up one in the lobby. If you check-in on the app, prior to your arrival, you can use your digital key or get card keys and start enjoying your island destination.
While there were some hiccups, overall, it was an enjoyable stay and I would definitely return.
Oh, what hiccups? Delivery of birthday balloons and cupcakes to my room while we were on the beach. Although we were going to be celebrating a birthday in 2 weeks, I figured this wasn’t meant for us and called the front desk about it. She said it was an accident and came very quickly to get it which I thought was a little odd.
In my past experiences like this, there has always been an offer to keep it if we want. But, since I was a little weirded out that they came and put it in the room in the first place, I didn’t really care. Although, balloons and cupcakes are not what you want your kids seeing and then having them taken away, usually. They were pretty understanding though, these cool kids of mine.
I previously had read the reviews about issues with knowing what the activities were. This was true for us even though I tried to scan the QR code in the lobby, I had some connectivity issues, so it never loaded. It would’ve been nice to do several things on the app or through the TV instead of having to call the front desk and wait for people to call back, this includes menus for the dining options and scheduled activities. It worked out but I’d love to see better use of the available technology.
If I can get in my room with a phone, I’d also like to order room service with it.
Don’t get me wrong though, breakfast delivered to my room was delightful. My room service was always pretty quick, and the food was yummy.
If you’re just passing by on your way through the Florida keys – try a day pass at Baker’s Cay Resort.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park – for scuba diving, boat rentals, fishing, swimming, nature trails, and more.
Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park – walk along 8-foot high quarry walls and view fossilized coral in the Key Largo limestone.
Dolphin Research Center – visit and interact with dolphins and sea lions.
Bahai Honda State Park – palm lined beaches, clear waters, and striking sunsets. *Keep in mind that pollution can put a damper on your visit. I checked before we arrived and knew the warning that swimming was not recommended because both beaches had poor water quality at the time. Some people like to live dangerously though so, you may still see swimmers. * Check the swim guide or call when in doubt but they will remind you at the gate, as well.
Blue Hole Observation Platform – Ever seen a key deer in the Key Deer Refuge area? Neither did I, but I tried. Stop by the observation platform for some quiet time and maybe you’ll at least spot an alligator.