I've decided every Christmas must be a vacation! Andrew and I met our families in Key Largo on Christmas day this past year (2016) and it was wonderful! Our families are spread out across the United States which makes it hard to see everyone and spend equal quality time with them. It's crazy when you're trying to get from place to place and the added stresses the holidays bring so a destination Christmas was the solution and I might add totally worth it!
Our first night in Key Largo we ate at the Lazy Lobster. It was one of the only places on the island open on Christmas. The food was excellent and the back yard atmosphere was very nice. It felt great to sit outside in December with short sleeves on. The next day we ventured to John Pennekamp State Park. Everywhere I read and everyone I spoke with said that JP State Park was a must do in Key Largo. I'm sure the park is beautiful and there seems to be a ton to do there but the day we went it was over cast and wasn't warm. We explored the park a bit and decided to go into the visitor's center and see the aquarium which was nice but not worth the money we paid to enter the park. We ended up calling this idea a wash and explored other options for this day. Andrew, his dad, and his brother went fly fishing in some of the mid-keys. Those of us who didn't go fly fishing drove down a few keys to see the pretty water and did some exploring. This day didn't go as planned but it was nice to be with family and not in cold Nebraska!
My favorite activity we did while in Key Largo was rent a boat from Sunshine Watersports. We had eight people in our group so we rented a 19 foot boat. The boat was a great size for us and it was very nice. At first we thought we'd go snorkeling so we headed to the coral reef about five miles off shore. We got half way there when we had to turn back, the waves were bigger than our boat and we were all soaked! It was scary being in the open ocean with swells that large. I was beginning to think this day wasn't going to go as planned either but then we went to Nest Key. Nest Key is absolutely beautiful! It's an island nature reserve right off of the Florida Everglades. When we pulled up to the island, we saw several boats and knew immediately that we found the place! I wish I could describe Nest Key with another word but I think beautiful is perfect! You'll have to go see for yourself! We stayed there all afternoon and waded in the water, laid out on the beach, had a picnic on the boat, swam, played with beach toys, fished, and explored. It was the perfect afternoon! I wish boat rentals weren't so expensive because we would have gone back there every day. We also found a ton of starfish in the water which was really neat! We picked them up for a photo op an promptly put them back in their natural habitat. on our way to Nest Key we saw manatees swimming in the mangroves and while we were on Nest Key a man caught a three foot hammerhead shark. When he let it go, it swam right by my foot! Yikes! While fly fishing this location, Andrew and his dad caught barracudas. This tiny island made for the perfect day!
On our last full day in Key Largo, we enjoyed beach time at the private beach within the community we rented in. We ate dinner at Hobo Cafe which was great (seafood pasta, yum). After dinner we ventured to the Caribbean Club which is a famous hole in the wall bar that's been featured in the movie Key Largo and the Netflix original series Bloodline. We didn't end up spending time at the club, just took a picture and then drove to Jimmy Johnson's Big Chill Sports Bar. We enjoyed the drinks, live music, and great views from this place.
I wish our trip to the Keys with family could have been longer but it was nice to spend a few days together, relax, rest, and unwind! I can't wait to get back to the Florida Keys and explore more!
If you're visiting Key West, you've got to visit these four places (in no particular order): the Harry S. Truman Little White House, the southernmost point, Fort Zachary Taylor Historic Park, and the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum.
The Little White House: The house itself sits in a beautiful gated community with other lovely homes. Initially, it served as the naval station's command headquarters during the Spanish-American War. Harry S. Truman was the 33rd president of the United States and during his early years as president he got very sick from the over-whelming stress. His physician ordered him to take a vacation in the sun to rejuvenate and get some Vitamin D. Because the Naval Station's headquarters was in Key West and a safe place to visit, he decided to go there. Truman loved this place so much he joked that maybe we should move the capitol to Key West! The house was a place of relaxation for him but he always worked there as well, the President never gets to truly go on vacation. Although multiple presidents visited before Truman and several visited after him, he ended up visiting ten times after his initial visit so that is why the house is now known as the "Harry S. Truman Little White House." The house is now a museum and it's been restored to its original state. If you visit, I would recommend taking one of the guided tours.
The southernmost point: This is one of the most popular tourist destinations on Key West. The southernmost point is a concrete buoy at the corner of Whitehead and South Street. I think it's comical because people line up to get a photo in front of the marker but it's not actually the southernmost point in the United States, just look at a map of Key West and you'll see! Regardless, it is 90 miles to Cuba from this point and I feel like you have to at least see it if you're in Key West. I'm going to give you a tip, don't stand in the line! There is a retaining wall around the marker; Andrew and I jumped up on the wall and snapped a quick selfie (see proof below)! It's not the best quality photo and some people weren't too happy with us but we didn't want to wait in at least an hour line! We ran away quickly but still got to see the marker so we were happy!
Fort Zachary: The fort was one of a series built in the mid-1800s to defend the nation's coastline but now it's Key West's favorite beach located at the southern end of the park. Fort Tours are given daily; however, we went to Fort Zachary for the beach! The park provides opportunities for picnicking, swimming, snorkeling, and fishing. I did one out of four of these and Andrew participated in all four. The water was way too cold for me so I chose to just picnic on the beach. Andrew was much braver than me and he actually got in the water! You do have to pay to enter the park but it is totally worth it as Key West doesn't have very many beaches. I know that's surprising since it's an island but it's true! I'm going to let you in on a little secret, there are two beaches in the park. One of the beaches is the most popular beach and it's very crowded and the other is what the locals call "the secret beach." Of course, Andrew found the secret beach and we spent our entire afternoon there. There were only two other couples at our secret beach so it was absolutely amazing! One of the couples were locals and the other had an adventurous side to them like us! It's a bit of a walk to this beach but it's worth it. I'm not going to tell you where it is because then, it wouldn't be a secret anymore but, I bet you could look on a map and find it!
Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum: We visited this house on Christmas which was a really neat way to spend the day! The home is absolutely beautiful. There are so many architectural details that went into building this place. The gardens are stunning and there are cats that roam the property and the house freely. The home was originally built in 1851 and became Ernest Hemingway's home in 1931. All of the cats around the house are descendants of the cats he kept while he lived there, including many extra-toed cats. Hemingway purchased this property for $8,000 which seems absolutely crazy to me! The house now operates as a museum and it remains the single largest residential property on the island of Key West. The house is open to tour year round and costs $14 per adult. I'd recommend taking one of the free guided tours as you learn many personal Hemingway stories and so many interesting facts about the house. When we visited it was so crowded I wasn't able to get a good photo of the actual house so, here's a picture of a cat in Hemingway's master bedroom.
If you ever visit Key West I think these are four must visit places. Comment below or shoot me an email if you have any questions or want to know more information about one of the places listed!
May 30th, 2015 I was sitting on a plane bound for the United States of America with my husband and a lot of strangers. We were sitting in a 3 seat row so one of those strangers is bound to sit by us. I’m not usually a “plane talker” mainly because I sleep but also because if you get in an awkward conversation with someone there isn’t anywhere to go. However, this day was different…A lady named Elaine sat by me and she asked me how our trip was. We’d been in St. Martin for the last week for vacation and the trip overall was fantastic however, I told her we probably would not be back to the island. Not because we didn’t enjoy our time on the island but for other reasons. 1. We’d really like to visit all of the Caribbean islands before we circle back and 2. St. Martin has a very serious stray/homeless dog problem. For those of you that do not know, Andrew and I are involved with our local Shelter and we foster special needs dogs. We were also involved with a rescue group when we lived in Arkansas. Needless to say the woman agreed and she actually had information about the issue. Elaine had actually adopted 2 dogs from St. Martin, sadly one was in such bad condition it did not make it but the other is happy and thriving with her family.
I realized there was a problem on the island day 1. There were dogs everywhere you looked and most didn’t look to be in good health. One day, we were snorkeling at a place called Mullet Bay and we saw a stray, one of his ears was dangling (I later learned it’s been like that for years and doesn’t bother him) and his face was badly scratched. I felt so bad for him but knew my doggy manners and I didn’t want to spook him so I very slowly got out of our car, got 2 pieces of pizza from the ice chest and went and set it by where he looked to be living. I called to him in a soft voice, and he came over and ate the pizza and he seemed very grateful. Andrew then pointed out that he had a dog house behind the dumpster, upon further investigation it also looked like he had food and water which made me happy but still sad for the state of his face. Now, back to the plane ride…
I think God put Elaine next to me on that plane for a reason, she was able to lead me to SXM Paws and Corinne Mackie (yes she Ok’d the use of her name). You see, Corinne has lived on the island for 40 years and set up this rescue in 2005; she realized there was a problem and she wanted to do something to fix it! They’ve adopted out 600 dogs so far to the US and Canada and are up to 80 just this year alone. Wow- isn’t that amazing?! There are lots of ways you can help the dogs in St. Martin: donations, transportation, and spread the word! If you feel it in your heart to donate you can go to www.sxmpaws.org and click on the donate tab. If you’re traveling to St. Martin or know someone that is, please consider transporting a dog back with you to take them to their FURever families! The rescue pays for all of their plane expenses. Lastly, the best thing you can do for these dogs is SHARE SHARE SHARE! Help get the word out there and help the island animals!
Wondering what happened with the dog we saw in Mullet Bay? When I got a hold of Corinne (via Facebook- she said you could contact her there to) I described the dog to her and what I had seen and she said “oh yes, One Ear.” We got to talking about him and I learned that sadly he’d been hit by a car and that’s why his face was scratched BUT that she’d been giving him antibiotics for a few weeks. She feeds One Ear along with 20 other dogs and about 40 feral cats every day. Can you believe that? Every day this super hero of a woman goes out and tends to the island’s homeless pets. She said One Ear had a pack of 2 female dogs he ran with and he’s happy to be the pack leader. The 2 female dogs have been caught and spayed but they haven’t been able to catch One Ear quite yet… she’s still working on that. Corinne is doing the absolute best she can with these dogs and I was so thankful to hear that One Ear had someone looking out for him! She even sent me an older picture of him, isn’t he handsome?
My hope is this post spreads the word about the homeless animals of St. Martin and it helps them in some way. Please comment or contact me if you have any questions as to how you can help. God Bless you and all the animals. –Ragan
Hi followers! I apologize for my lack in writing but we've been on vacation and I have had limited access to the internet. This post is entitled "Here chicken, chicken" for good reason... When we arrived in the Caribbean I saw a sight that I wasn't expecting. drum roll.... CHICKENS! If you will remember, I was a little leery about all the iguanas we'd be seeing on the Caribbean islands. Well, that is certainly not the case. I never saw one iguana. I saw lizards but never an iguana but boy oh boy did I see some chickens! The hens and rosters run wild around the islands. I guess if people ever get stranded they won't go hungry, right?
Andrew and I arrived at our check in destination 6 hours early because we didn't want to miss the ferry over to the
BVIs. Anyways, we get to check in and they tell us we can't board our boat until 5PM but the manager said he could take us to a sports bar to hang out in the mean time. We were okay with that; it was better than hanging out at the dock. We get to the sports bar and grill called Mulligan's and it's the only place opened on the island because it was raining (that's right, if it rains nothing is open). We sit down to order our food and notice a Momma hen and her 2 chicks (pictured). Neither of us felt right about ordering and eating chicken in front of them so I got pizza and Andrew got a burger. His burger was one of the
biggest I've ever seen.
We stayed at Mulligan's for 5 hours because there was no place else to go. We ended up playing card games and dominoes. In fact, we played "chicken foot" in our dominoes game. Andrew beat me which is a first and I'm still pretty upset about it.
Check back this week for daily posts about our trip, you can find the updates in the British Virgin Islands tab.
Okay, you're probably thinking... really... Iguanas?! But let's think about this for one second. Where I live in the states (Arkansas) things like squirrels run around crazy style but in the Caribbean their "majority animal" is an iguana. For whatever reason, I'm actually pretty terrified of these things. They look like a dinosaur to me which quite frankly, aren't friendly creatures.
Let's take a closer look: Iguanas are a type of lizard; they are native to tropical areas of the Caribbean and Central/South America. Some of these suckers can grow to be over 4 feet long! What I've learned is the iguanas found in the U.S. Virgin Islands are Green Iguanas.
Since they live on an island, can they swim?! Apparently, Green iguanas can swim but they aren't that great at it. Mainly, they live in the trees. Can you imagine taking a nice walk and hearing something scurry around in a tree to look up and find this 4 foot long green dinosaur stalking you?! I... just... can't!
So, here's my main question and the most important... Are iguanas dangerous? We've got a nature reserve walking trail at our villa in St. Thomas (side note: I'm super excited about this trail). I exercise several days a week so I'm sure I will be putting the walking trail to good use but what about the dreaded run-in with the Green Iguana.... especially... if I have Louie! Luckily, I've found Green Iguanas aren't really dangerous in fact, they are more scared of you than you are of them. I'm thinking I can come up with a crazy dance so if I ever see said iguana on my nature walks I can scare it away!
One thing I won't be doing while there: wearing red toe nail polish! Iguanas feed off of leaves, fruits, and flowers and the red nail polish might make an iguana think my toes are small fruits or flowers! This has actually happened to people... um hello, scary?!
PS- If you ever go to a destination where iguanas are common don't feed them. If they get used to this they will become a nuisance and possibly dangerous.
I hope you've found this post informative. I think I'll rest easy knowing the iguana shouldn't attack me anytime soon.
A southern girl living in the Mid-West. My husband and I love to travel and go on new adventures--We love Jesus and the blessings He provides!