Key West, Florida
Ah, Florida and the Florida Keys; miles of smiles, images of palm trees, sandy beaches, bright city lights and aqua waters turning to cobalt blue as the depths increase. Memories of the Calusa and Tequesta Indians, of Ponce de Leon searching for the Fountain of Youth and of early white settlers eking out a living. So much to do and see even without a trip to Disney World!
Our journey will be along the Eastern seaboard, beginning at St. Augustine and heading south all the way down to the Dry Tortugas. The trip can be taken one of two ways, using open water or going down the Intracoastal Waterway, with its 80 bridges between Fernandina and Coconut Grove.
St. Augustine is often called the Nation’s Oldest European City, and was founded in 1565 by Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles. Just to put it into the proper perspective, this was the year after Michelangelo died, and a year before Shakespeare was even born. It would be another 50 years until the pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock.
The heart of this beautiful and ancient (by American standards) city is its downtown Plaza de la Constitucion, with most of the historical buildings located within a block or two to the north and south. The Castillo de San Marcos on the north end of the bayfront is fascinating and well worth a visit.
The Spanish constructed the Castillo de San Marcos between 1672 and 1695. Sir Francis Drake, whose 2000 men sacked and burned the town, attacked St. Augustine in 1586. Rebuilt, an English pirate named Robert Searles assaulted and plundered the settlement in 1668. These attacks, along with increasing threats from English colonization to the north, prompted Queen Mariana of Spain to authorize a stone fortification to e built. The Castillo was created entirely of coquina, a soft local shellrock. Cut from a quarry on nearby Anastasia Island, the coquina was ideal for the walls of a fort, since when the cannonballs hit, the walls didn’t crumble, they merely dented. The Castillo was never once taken by force and the changes in its occupation came about due to military agreements or treaties.
The Castillo de San Marcos only starts the history lesson of St. Augustine. After exploring it, there is the Fort Matanzas, Fort Mose, the Lightner Museum, the oldest drugstore in America, the fountain of Youth, the…well, you get the picture. Perhaps the quickest way to get an overview of St. Augustine and all that it has to offer is to hop on the Old Town Trolley for a tour. Or, on the other hand, you can skip it all and head right for the chocolate at Whetstone Chocolates. Yumm. Few things can top a jaunt through a chocolate factory, especially when Florida has only one.
Further down the coastline is the area termed the Gold Coast, extending from Palm Beach to Coconut Grove. Palm Beach is known the world over for its over 47 miles of white sand beaches, multiple cultural events, high society charity balls, polo matches and more than 150 golf courses. Golfers, pack your clubs! Maybe they should have dubbed this area the Golf Coast rather than the Gold Coast.
Even though Palm Beach doesn’t have the long history that St. Augustine boasts, the two settlements were both changed forever by one man by the name of Henry Flagler. A founding partner in the Standard Oil business with John D. Rockefeller and Samuel Andrews, Flagler first visited St. Augustine in 1881 on his honeymoon. He liked it so well that he proceeded to build the Hotel Ponce de Leon. He quickly realized that the key to developing Florida was a solid transportation system and subsequently purchased the Jacksonville, St. Augustine & Halifax Railroads. When he bought them the train only ran between Jacksonville and St. Augustine. The warmer winters of Palm Beach enticed him south from St. Augustine so he proceeded to build his personal residence, the Royal Palm Hotel, the Breakers and Whitehall. To service his newly built hotels he had to extend his railroad to Palm Beach, which was to be the terminus of his railroad, now called the Florida East Coast Railroad or FEC.
The six-sided building, constructed using over 16 million handmade red bricks, was begun in 1846 and designed as a military facility. By 1850 the officer’s quarters were completed and the fort was officially named Fort Jefferson. Though construction dragged on for another 30 years (reminding one of road construction in today’s world), Fort Jefferson never really was finished. By 1874 the army completely abandoned the fort after a series of hurricanes and a yellow fever epidemic. The navy took up residency in 1898, using it as a base for the Spanish American War, before it too departed.
The Dry Tortugas were declared a Bird Reserve in 1908 at which point the area was transferred from military control to the Department of Agriculture. Designated Fort Jefferson National Monument on January 4, 1935, it was the first marine area to be protected. President George Bush upgraded it to National Park status on October 26, 1992, insuring the protection of its pristine waters and extraordinary aviary habitat for the future. The Dry Tortugas are protected by law and by the fact that they are difficult to visit. This respite from the fast paced world, enjoying the quiet and beauty of nature, is sure to be the perfect ending to a perfect trip on one of our Key West yacht charters.
Day 1: Arrive in sunny Florida for your first day of charter. We will start with a short cruise around the bay and along the Intracoastal Waterway to view the luxurious houses on Fisher, Palm, Hibiscus, and Star island. Embrace the experience that is South Beach, with its cacophony of languages, array of ethnic restaurants, throbbing beat of the Latin music and the dance the night away at one of the all-night clubs!
Day 2: A bit groggy from your taste of Miami, we slowly begin our cruise South. On the way we pass Key Biscayne, where former President Nixon had his vacation house, and the legendary houses of Stiltsville. As the skyline of Miami disappears you will notice the low lying islands of the Florida Keys. We will stop at Elliott Key or one of the reefs nearby, so you can dive overboard into the pristine water. To end this perfect day, we dock at the exclusive Ocean Reef Club for the evening.
Day 3: Wake up early and enjoy the morning on the golf course, shopping, or just relaxing by the pool. We then continue South/West bound towards the Middle Keys where we can stop to snorkel or take the tender to go see Indian Key, the last of the untouched keys. For dinner we will stop at Hawks Cay Marina in Duck Key. Here you will have the opportunity for a close encounter with the dolphins that live in their dolphin pool.
Day 4: Off to Key West where you can shop all day and bar hop all night. Just make sure you get to Mallory Square before sunset! We suggest Sloppy Joes to start your night of fun.
Day 5: After your encounter with Key West, head down to Sand Key or the Marqueses Keys for some fun water activities. Here we will an anchor out so you can experience one of the world’s most beautiful sunsets (yes, even better than Key West).
Day 6: As we start heading North again, we can stop at Little Torch Key where you can dine at Little Palm Island, the Keys only resort & spa.
Day 7: On our last day we cruise back to Miami and kiss the Florida Keys goodbye. You leave with many great memories and pictures to show and tell to your friends back home.