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!paradise-yacht-charters-miami-charter

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.

Castillo-de-San-Marcos-National-Monument-St.-Augustine-Florida-pictures

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.

Palm Beach is known far and wide as an enclave of the wealthy. The high society functions take place at a dizzying pace during the winter “season”. Clematis Street with its many shops and al fresco dining choices positively jumps with activity, as does the new “City Place” which is modeled after Coconut Grove’s popular CocoWalk. Excellent people watching in both places!If you have decided to spend a day or so in the Palm Beach area while on charter there is more than enough to keep everyone busy. A fun, offbeat excursion is a trip to Lion Country Safari. You will need to rent a car to go there and you need to make sure it is not a convertible.

Hard-topped vehicles only are allowed in as you will be driving through the 500 acre park where the animals roam free and you stay penned up safely in your car. Up close and personal with a rhino as it lumbers past the car with six inches to spare will make you wonder why you have the telephoto lens on your camera!

Ft. Lauderdale is often referred to as the “Venice of North America”, only unlike the real Venice it is not in danger of sinking into the sea, thank heavens. Her many large marinas and very active marine community make it a favorite stopping place for yachts of all sizes. The history fanatic is going to have a rather tough time of it in Ft. Lauderdale, as it was pretty inhospitable until recent times, and home only to a few Indians and later on to some rather hardy settlers. This all changed when Henry Flagler brought his railroad through in 1896.

Prior to that, the Bay Stage Line, started in 1893, was the only means of mass transportation, and it only went from Palm Beach to Lemon City, now part of Miami. The Bay Stage Line made an overnight stop in Ft. Lauderdale on its way between the two towns. A gentleman by the name of Frank Stranahan, known as the first permanent white settler of Ft. Lauderdale, was hired to run both the overnight camp for the stage and the New River Ferry. His residence, the Stranahan House, is still standing and is a delightful museum.

Riveralk Downtown Sunset Fort Lauderdale CityWhat Ft. Lauderdale lacks in history, it makes up for in the sheer number of things to do, whether it is shopping, cultural events or the many restaurants that line trendy Las Olas Boulevard. If the whole family is on board with you and they need a day “out”, the Museum of Discovery and Science and the 3D IMAX Theater are a sure bet for fun. In the same area, you can stroll along the river and end up at River Walk, an open-air mall complete with movie theaters, shops and restaurants.

Hundreds of years before white settlers arrived the Tequesta Indians lived in an area near the mouth of the Miami River. In more recent history, 1999 to be exact, the same area was being excavated for an exclusive condominium complex when an Ancient Tequesta settlement was discovered. Now called the Miami Circle, it is a circle cut into native bedrock with a series of holes sunk into it. Samples of charcoal and bone recovered from the site indicate the location was occupied as long ago as 125AD!

In 1566, Pedro Menendez de Aviles, his men and Brother Francisco Villareal, visited the Tequesta Indians of the Miami area. One year earlier they had established St. Augustine. Their intention was to establish a Jesuit mission, but it was abandoned after a few years. The first permanent white settlers arrived around 1800 and settled in Coconut Grove and Lemon City, now known as little Haiti. By 1877 a young Staten Islander, Ralph Monroe, came to South Florida for a sailing vacation, returning in 1881 to settle permanently with his wife. Their home, the Barnacle, built in 1891, still stands, and until 1973, when it was purchased by the State, continued to be home to successive generations of Monroes.

The 1890’s emerged as a time of powerful people with strong visions moving to create Miami into the city it is today. The Brickell’s, who owned much of the south side of the Miami River, and Julia Tuttle, who owned much of the north side of the river finally enticed Henry Flagler to extend his railroad south to Miami. Nature helped out by producing two terrible freezes in the winter of 1894/95, killing citrus trees and ruining winter vegetables throughout Florida. In a marketing move that would be considered a stroke of genius even today, the Brickells and Ms. Tuttle packed orange blossoms in damp moss and sent them to Flagler, up in Palm Beach. The ploy worked and the FEC railroad reached Miami by April of 1896.

There are plenty of historic places to visit in the area, George Merrick’s home and the Venetian Pool in Coral Gables, the Barnacle and Villa Vizcaya in Coconut Grove; the list goes on and on. Cultural venues abound with numerous theaters of every size and plenty of attractions to visit such as: Metro Zoo, Fairchild Tropical Gardens, the Miami Seaquarium and Parrot Jungle, just to name just a few.

The fabulous Florida Keys shimmer for 126 miles like a string of sparkling opals dropped by a careless giant’s hand. Visiting the islands themselves is best done on a small vessel that can navigate in the shallow waters that surround the Keys. However, the great lure of the Keys is what lies below her waters, some of the best fishing and diving in the world. The entire coastal area has been declared a national marine sanctuary, guaranteeing that the clear waters and bright tropical fish remain pristine for you and generations to come. If fishing is what you desire, take your pick. Do you prefer fly fishing on the flats or deep sea fishing? The choice is yours!

Like the song says “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes”, which is the perfect way to describe the craziness that has been, is, and will always be; Key West. Famous people have made their homes there, including Ernest Hemingway, John J. Audubon, Robert Frost, Tennessee William and songwriter Jimmy Buffet. From the early days of salvaging shipwrecks, the citizens have survived hurricanes, waves of immigrants and spring breakers with equal aplomb and have a well-deserved reputation of tolerating even the most bizarre characters. Key West. You just have to absorb it to appreciate it. Wander down Duval Street, have a frosty beer in Sloppy Joes, take in the sunset rituals at Mallory Square or visit one of the many museums. Do it all, but do it with a laid-back attitude, and you will be in Key West style.

It is now time to pry yourself away from Key West and head south about seventy miles to the seven beautiful islands that comprise the Dry Tortugas. Ponce de Leon discovered the islands in 1513 and named them for the abundance of sea turtles found in the area. Hunted until close to extinction, the turtles are now protected and several species can be seen in the area.

The most notable feature of the islands is Fort Jefferson, America’s largest coastal fort, located on Garden Key. Following the War of 1812, a group of forts from Maine to Texas was envisioned to provide defense against foreign invasions. Originally constructed to protect the Gulf of Mexico shipping lines and the commerce to and from the Mississippi River, Fort Jefferson was used as a military prison during the Civil War. Its most infamous prisoner was Dr. Samuel Mudd, convicted of complicity in the assassination of President Lincoln.

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.

ITINERARY

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.

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Email: rjr@anythingonthewater.com

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