Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sheraton Key West

In keeping with my travel agent tendancies (yup, I was a teacher, not a travel agent, but humor me!=)), I am going to share our pics from our hotel and give you an idea how we came to stay there. Key West is not a huge island, but there are quite a few options if you are planning to stay on that island. There are also many off island options, but as I soon learned in researching KW, there are few options for parking.

I first checked out the bed and breakfast options, but they are not typically our favorites. If you like that sort of thing, there are many to choose from - quaint, small, usually in the midst of all the action but parking is an issue - typically. Read reviews if you are going to go this route. Actually, read reviews if you are going at all!!

Of the larger hotel/resorts we chose from, only three offered the discount we were looking for, a couple offered a AAA discount and others offered no discount at all!! The three that were left for us were the Westin, the Doubletree and the Sheraton. All three had great reviews, all three are on three different points of the island. The Radisson offered a sweet AAA discount, but is located in New Key West amidst all the residential shopping districts (Home Depot, Publix, etc.). It is close to a marina, but that also looked very private, so any beach or sightseeing would need to be driven to or taxi - very expensive to park or taxi.

We opted for the Sheraton for several reasons. One, it had great reviews: large rooms, good service, directly across the street from the largest KW beach, Smather's Beach, free parking, free shuttle service to downtown and a restaurant on location. The pool and jacuzzi were also a factor. We utilized all the things we chose it for and were very happy there. If you are used to staying at Sheraton resorts, my only word of caution is that.... it's an island hotel! There's no valet parking or variety of restaurants, the pool is small, the "massage" spa is poolside, and there are breezeways between various buildings. We found the route back to our third floor room from the pool tricky - we either had to climb three flights of outdoor steps to access the door to our hallway or walk out into the parking lot (which surrounds the compound) to a ground level elevator, take that up to the third floor, walk down a hallway, outside to a breezeway connecting buildings, then into our hallway. Seriously, though, once we figured it out it was fine. The pool made up for any inconvenience!!

The rooms at this place are huge - there's a main room with a pullout sofa (very comfy!) and TV, small kitchnette type area with a microwave, refrigerator, sink and coffee maker and a small dining table/desk. Through pocket doors you enter the bedroom with a king, a flatscreen TV and the most comfortable bed you could ask for!! The bathroom was an L shaped room, marble floors, oversized marble shower, separate WC and a granite countertop/sink with plenty of storage for long stays. Behind the sink were three drawers and a closet, shelving.... we could have moved in!! In all, a pretty luxurious bathroom with Bliss bath products - yum! Due to our amazing weather and brief stay while in KW, we spent almost no time in this wonderful room - really too bad!

Why we didn't choose the other hotels?? The Doubletree is located just as you drive onto Key West. I never did see it as it has a long entrance back into the hotel area. It's quite far from everything, has no beach to speak of and is right near the airport. I will admit, we were also quite close to the airport and rarely heard a plane, so I'm doubting that's as big a deal as I thought it might be. It's close to the Sheraton, but we wanted to be within walking distance of the beach. The Westin is really in the middle of all the action. All the reviews stated it was noisy, plumbing issues and lots of docked cruise ships blocked sunset views. This hotel is literally right on Mallory Square! If you like to party, stay up late and want to really just see downtown KW, this is the place to stay! There is no beach to speak of, but apparently, for something like $30/day/person, you can be shuttled to their own private beach. (I'll mention beaches in a bit!) It really did come down to a choice between the Westin and the Sheraton, and since we're not really party animals, we went with the Sheraton - and we're glad we did!

Beaches on Key West: Smathers is a great public beach, as are most along the southern shore. The parking appears to be free, they are each equipped with concessions, umbrella and chair rentals, snorkeling gear, parasailing, etc. The strange thing about the beaches there are that they are very calm - no waves to speak off (they are on the Florida Straights), kind of cold water - not what they look to be, and infested with jellyfish! Many people who snorkel there will rent wetsuits, although if you stay close to shore it's not really necessary. If we go back, I think our preference will be to go to Ft. Zachary Taylor beach again. There is a charge to enter (it's on the Nixon annex), but it's an adorable little cove, seemed to have less sea grass, everyone raved about the snorkeling there and there's a cute, somewhat new little concession stand. When we arrived at 5 they were closing.... and were a bit rude. Even with that, I'd go back. They charge per vehicle and person, so it was $3 for our car, $1.5o/person to get in. They close promptly at sunset. If you like to swim at the beach, don't even bother going to Key West... get it?

Parking: In Key West, there is metered street parking that is difficult to come by, free street parking that is even more difficult to come by and daily lots that are fairly reasonable, small and usually full! The municipal lots are farther out, so great if you like to walk or can find a moped/scooter/bike rental place closeby. T and I both have agreed that on our next visit we will rent a moped for sure - just don't park it on a sidewalk, or that will cost you $35 in the form of a parking ticket!! It's fairly easy to get around once you get your bearings, almost impossible to get lost on a island that is 2 miles by 4 miles!! It's really not that intimidating, even if you are directionally challenged!

Eating: You can find every kind of food imaginable in KW. Sushi, mexican, cuban (yum!), seafood galore, pizza, sloppy joes, conch fritters, vending, restaurants, counter service, fast food (unfortunately!), bagel shops and there's even a Hard Rock Cafe there!! (Oh, and an Outback Steakhouse). Most of the food there is slightly more expensive than you'd find elsewhere, likely due to the pains it takes for them to transport everything all the way to KW and the fact that tourism sustains their economy. When tipping, you might find it in your heart to be a bit generous, as most apartments in KW are $1800 a month - for a one bedroom apartment. I'm sure sustainablility is an issue down there, but I'm sure it's a tradeoff for those who really just want to live on an amazingly beautiful island!

Sightseeing: We hit everything that did not involve a boat, plus received a KW education from our Old Town Trolley bus drivers. The salt ponds - salt harvesting used to be a big industry in the keys until a hurricane washed away all the canals that were used to feed and drain the ponds. The Sheraton sits among the ponds, so that was an interesting fact we would never have learned elsewhere! The Casa Marina Hotel is the oldest hotel/resort on KW, built by Henry Flagler, who built the train down to that island. He build the hotel to attract tourists to an island dedicated to shipwrecking and other various industries. I guess it worked!

Incidentally, the Fairfield Inn and Best Western hotels have trolley stops - we hadn't looked into them because they didn't offer our discount, but both seemed nice. Fairfield Inn was in the residential shopping area, the Best Western was right down the street from the Sheraton, although quite a walk from Smather's beach, right at the entrance to the airport.

If we take our girls back to KW, I think we'd likely choose the Sheraton again. The rooms were huge, the location was nice and quiet and they would really enjoy the beach, sans the jellyfish!! There were many children staying at our hotel and it seemed quite kid friendly. The restaurant had a kids menu, complete with crayons. The pool was very kid friendly with noodles and rafts you could borrow. having a pullout sofa and separate TVs in the room is a bonus! Of course, you'd have to live without a bathtub, but it's the price we pay for island living I guess! ;-)

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