During my recent tour to southwest Florida, I decided to take advantage of an opportunity to sneak away to one of my favorite islands for a day.
It’s a good long drive – 6-8 hours – each way from the Ft. Myers area to Key West. The Key West Express ferry service gets you there in about three and a half hours. If you’re prone to motion sickness, Dramamine isn’t a bad idea, especially if it’s a very windy day. But on our trip, the motion wasn’t bad – comparable to the average plane flight.
The Key West Express
It costs about $150 for a round-trip, less if you buy tickets ahead of time. I got the best rate buying more than eight days in advance. You can either go back the same day, or stay in Key West for a while and go back when you’re ready.
There are several types of seating. On the main and second decks, there’s a mix of tables along the windows and “airplane”-type seats in the middle of the cabin. It looks like you can fit a lot of people on this boat!
Inside the main cabin
There’s also a top deck, open to the wind. Once the boat gets up to speed, this can actually feel chilly, even in 80+ degree temperatures.
From the top deck – departing Key West
Once the boat gets under way, after the obligatory safety talk – where to find life vests and rafts in the “unlikely event of an emergency” – there’s a cute tourist video describing some of the wonderful attractions of Key West, most of which have probably paid for product placement. That didn’t bother me; I was on my way to Key West. But it’s worth noting that at least one hotel in town and the Conch Train have special deals for Express passengers.
For the rest of the trip, they’ve got movies playing. This trip, the focus seemed to be on science fiction and comedy; I’m guessing that other trips might have other movies. Or you can read, play games on your phone, or just watch the water slide rapidly by.
Speaking of your phone, there’s no Internet access and spotty phone coverage on the trip. Once you’re mostly out of sight of land, it’s two bars of signal at best and no 3G or 4G coverage. That’s on Verizon; other carriers might have better coverage. Truth to tell, I managed just fine for several hours without Internet or phone service.
You can also buy food – breakfast-type stuff on the way down, hot dogs, burgers, chicken strips and such on the way back. You can get various beverages, and they have a bar. Which I did spend a bit of time at, for research purposes of course.
We were coming into Key West at about the same time as a cruise ship, and I discovered something I’d never really noticed before – cruise ships are taller than the entire island!
Key West on the horizon! Note the slightly higher bulge of the cruise ship at the right.
Once you arrive on the island, there’s a service willing to store your bags until it’s time to check into your hotel, motel, or B&B, cabs willing to take you wherever you want to go, and other people willing to help you get where you’re going and find what you want, for a fee. And it’s not a huge island; you can easily get wherever you need to go without a car.
Something you should keep in mind: It’s important to show up early, to make sure you get on board before departure. The earliest passengers also tend to get the table seats by the windows. The KWE Website has all of the necessary info on boarding times both ways – read it. In general, you’ll want to show up about an hour before the posted departure times.
I love driving down the Keys. Most trips, that’s how I get to Key West. And I’ll keep doing that when I can. But it’s nice to know there’s another worthwhile option for getting into town.
Loren’s rating: Five rum drinks (on a scale of zero to five).