2018 The Holidays in Key West
A Sunny Take on Christmas Traditions

Road Scholar 21671

The Oceania "Amazon Odyssey" cruise looked and still looks great, but the cost kept going up. Then when the "Un-Friendly Airlines" spiked the air prices for a total of about $1500 more than expected, the total price of the Amazon trip just went too high. So I've cancelled out of that. VERY SAD. I’ve looked at this Rode Skalur trip before and put it into “standbys” but with cancelling the Amazon cruise, this comes back as a very good Holidays/Christmas replacement in a similar time period.

Discover unique Christmas traditions in the Florida Keys, where you’ll visit historic sites, enjoy traditional cuisine and revel in the famous lights of the Sunset Celebration.

Day 1, Fri, Dec 21 – Miami – Key Largo
(D) Arrive Miami, transfer (Complimentary for all participants arriving to Miami Airport not later than 2:00 PM. Transportation on 12 or 15 pax vans) to Key Largo. Check in, Dis-orientation, Dinner. Hotel: Ocean Pointe Suites, Key Largo

DAY 2, Sat, Dec 22 - John Pennekamp State Park, 7 Mile Bridge, Mallory Square / Key West
Activity note: Getting in/out of passenger van(s). Getting on/off a boat. Walking about 2 miles throughout the day in short installments; boardwalks, paved sidewalks, some uneven terrain. The drive is 92 miles, approximately 2.5 hours. Boat ride is about a 1/2 hour.

(BLD) At a warm, friendly restaurant featuring traditional home-cooked meals, we’ll have a plated meal with juice, water, included. We’ll ride with our Group Leader to the Environmental Education and Visitor Centre at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. The Visitor Center features a 30,000 gallon saltwater aquarium and other natural history exhibits providing examples of the park’s unique marine environment. After our short visit to the visitor center, we’ll embark on an expert-led field trip through the park, including a mile long walk through mangrove habitats over pathways and boardwalk. We’ll learn about the importance of mangroves to the reefs and why the mangrove system is the second most productive bio-zone on the planet as we walk inside this virtual jungle above the water.

We’ll drive to the Pigeon Key Visitor Center and take a boat to the island, a U.S. Historic District, and see the 7 Mile Bridge. This tiny spit of land covering only 5 acres was a key site during construction of the Florida Over-Sea Railroad from 1908-1912. Up to 400 laborers at a time were based here, working long days building bridges that would link the Florida Keys, then returning to bunkhouses we can still see. Today, the non-profit Pigeon Key Foundation manages the island, hosting marine science field trips and other educational activities. One of the structures holds a small museum. We will have a presentation by a local expert and explore the historic buildings and the museum.

On Pigeon Key overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and Florida Bay, we’ll prepare our own sandwiches and salads from a spread with all the fixings; iced tea, juice, water included. Returning to the mainland as we came, we’ll continue our journey to Key West. We expect to arrive and check in to our hotel by approximately 4:30 p.m.

We will walk to a local restaurant for a plated meal with soda, coffee, tea, water included. Then we’ll have a leisurely walk with our Group Leader to Mallory Square for the daily Sunset Celebration, a uniquely Key West event when people raise a glass in tribute to the sun and the celebration itself. In addition to locals and visitors, the participants might include artists, clowns, jugglers, magicians, musicians, psychics, and more as well as a variety of food vendors. Stay as long as you like! The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions about where to go and what to do such as entertainers worth seeing. Hotel: Westwinds Inn, 4 nights

DAY 3, Sun, Dec 23 - Key West Trolley, Railway Historeum, Custom House, Free Time
Activity note: Walking a total of approximately 2 to 2.5 miles throughout the day; paved sidewalks.

(BL-)By the hotel pool, the breakfast buffet offers choices such as eggs, cereal, fruit, pastries, juice, coffee, tea, water. We’ll take a field trip via trolley with narration to learn about the city’s history and some of its attractions. At the Overseas Railroad Museum, we’ll imagine the thrill of riding down the Florida Keys in 1929 aboard the “railway that went to the sea.” We’ll learn about the Key West Extension, and the tragic demise of Flagler’s dream in the devastating Labor Day hurricane of 1935. The Custom House, built in 1891, served as a post office, court house and government center when wrecking made Key West the richest city.

At a local restaurant, we’ll have a plated meal with soda, coffee, tea, water included. Afternoon: Free time. Take this opportunity for personal independent exploration to see and do what interests you most. Please refer to the list of Free Time Opportunities. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions.

Dinner has been excluded from the program cost and is on your own to enjoy what you like. Evening at leisure. It’s an old cliché that Key West is enticing in a raffish sort of way. If you’d like to see for yourself, you might like to explore the lively night life, take in a cabaret show; walk through some quieter neighborhoods on a Ghost Walk; stroll down to the marina or Old Seaport to gawk at visiting luxury yachts; or relax and watch the always colorful people parade.

DAY 4, Mon, Dec 24 - Lighthouse, Hemingway Home & Museum, Holiday Trolley
Activity note: Walking a total of approximately 2 to 2.5 miles throughout the day; paved sidewalks.

(BLD) Poolside buffet. We’ll visit the historic Lighthouse Tower & Keeper’s Quarters for an expert-led exploration. Built in 1848, the lighthouse was de-commissioned in 1969 and has since been turned into a museum dedicated to Key West’s maritime history and heritage and the lives of those who kept the light shining out to sea. We’ll see belongings, photographs, and words of lighthouse keepers and their families. Elective: Those with both stamina and a sense of adventure can climb the 88 steps to the top of the light.

At a local restaurant, we’ll have a plated meal with coffee, tea, water included; other beverages available for purchase. Then we’ll visit The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum in the heart of Old Town Key West. Hemingway visited Key West for the first time in 1928. He and his wife Pauline grew to love the place and a rich uncle bought this house for them in 1931. After writing in the early morning, “Papa” would go fishing or hang out with local friends in his favorite bars. The Hemingways lived here with their two sons until divorcing in 1940 when he left for Cuba. Today, the house looks much as it did during their residence. We’ll learn about the Hemingway era in Key West, his life, and work during some of his most productive days. We may also catch a glimpse of one or more descendants of his original six-toed cat. Docents will be happy to provide information and answer questions.

At a local restaurant, we’ll have a plated meal with coffee, tea, water included; other beverages available for purchase. Evening: What semi-tropical Key West lacks in snow and other trappings of winter holidays, it makes up for with bright lights. We’ll take a trolley ride to see some of the most colorful displays. Plus, we’ll have special holographic glasses that enhance and transform what we see. And, we’ll sing carols along the way! There are Christmas Eve services at a number of local churches.

DAY 5, Tue, Dec 25 - Christmas Day Free Time, Marina Walk
(BxD) Breakfast is a poolside buffet. Then this morning is Free Time. Sleep late, take a walk, open a gift under a palm tree, attend a service, celebrate the day as you like. The average high temperature at this time of year is 76F. The average low is 67F!

Lunch is on your own to enjoy what you like. With our Group Leader, we’ll set out on a relaxed walk to the Marina to see decorated boats and more of Old Town decked out. At the hotel, we’ll have a buffet dinner with foods prepared by a local family; soda, coffee, tea, water included. Evening at leisure to prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning.

DAY 6, Wed, Dec 26 - Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, Travel to Tavernier / Key Largo
Activity note: Walking a total of 1 mile; paved sidewalks, uneven terrain.

(BLD) Poolside buffet breakfast. We’ll check out of the hotel and hop into the van for our return to Key Largo. En route, we’ll stop to visit Fort Zachary Taylor, Florida’s southernmost state park and a designated National Historic Landmark. Construction began in 1845 shortly after Florida became the 27th state in the U.S. It took more than 20 years to complete due to adversities of weather, disease, and shortages of material and human resources. Nevertheless, Fort Zach played important roles in the Civil War, Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. During our expert-led exploration, we’ll learn about its history.

Reboarding the van, we’ll move on to Marathon. At beautiful Sombrero Beach in Marathon, we’ll have a delicious and healthy lunch with fresh salad and sandwiches.

Continuing our ride, we’ll arrive back in Tavernier on Key Largo and check in to the hotel with some time to freshen up and relax before dinner. At a local restaurant, we’ll have a plated meal with soda, coffee, tea, water included; other beverages available for purchase. Share favorite experiences with new Road Scholar friends during our farewell dinner.

We’ll have a wrap-up session to review highlights of the program and talk about tomorrow. Prepare for check-out and departure following our final field trip in the morning. Hotel: Ocean Pointe Suites at Key Largo

DAY 7, Thu, Dec 27 - Biscayne National Park, Miami Airport, Program Concludes
Activity note: Hotel check-out by 11:00 a.m. followed by transfer to Miami airport.

(B) At a local restaurant, we’ll have a plated meal with juice, coffee, tea, water included. After checking out of the hotel, we’ll board the van and begin our transfer to Miami International Airport. En route, we’ll make a short visit to Biscayne National Park. From the National Park Service: “Within sight of downtown Miami, yet worlds away, Biscayne protects a rare combination of aquamarine waters, emerald islands, and fish-bejeweled coral reefs. Here too is evidence of 10,000 years of human history, from pirates and shipwrecks to pineapple farmers and presidents.” In the welcome center, we’ll hear a presentation by a local expert on the history of the park. We’ll also have time for independent exploration.

Immediately following our field trip, we’ll depart for Miami International Airport. Complimentary for all participants departing Miami Airport only and for flights departing no earlier than 2:00 pm. You need to fill out travel form for reservation. (Forms will be sent with the Prep-Materials)

Ocean Pointe Suites at Key Largo 2 nights
Ocean Pointe is an all-suite resort located directly on the Atlantic Ocean. Their 60 acres are part of a protected mangrove forest and is entered through a private gatehouse and road. Your vacation begins the moment you drive through our gatehouse entrance into their beautifully landscaped tropical grounds and enter your spacious room.

Westwinds Inn 4 nights
Enchanting 26 roomed complex of renovated, early 19th century Key West cottages located in Old Town. Traditional white trim and gingerbread charm. Courtyard paved with bricks and granite curbstones from ships' ballast. Short walking distance to Old Seaport (where ferry to Dry Tortugas docks) and 4 blocks from Duval Street.