Welcome to Key West, the southernmost tip of the United States! This funky island has captured the hearts of renowned writers like Tennessee Williams and Ernest Hemingway. President Truman chose it as his winter White House. With its vibrant Caribbean charm, Key West is a must-visit port of call. Here are my top recommendations for visiting Florida’s Key West cruise port.
Cruise Ship Excursions
To fully experience the wonders of Key West during your visit, you’ll need to decide between sightseeing and outdoor activities. If you prefer sightseeing, we have a plethora of artistic attractions and picturesque spots to recommend. To embark on outdoor adventures, you can book excursions directly with the cruise line or at local kiosks.
Popular activities include scuba diving, fishing, snorkeling, parasailing, and catamaran sailing. Additionally, kayaking in Key West offers beautiful views of mangrove creeks, seagrass beds, and the Atlantic Ocean. Keep an eye out for bottlenose dolphins, as well.
Old Town Trolley Tours
Explore Key West with Old Town Trolley Tours. Enjoy unlimited hop-on and hop-off privileges at 13 convenient stops, while a fully narrated tour (in real-time) provides entertaining insights into the city’s history and amusing anecdotes.
The loop takes just 90 minutes and visits the neighborhoods of Bahama Village, Old Town, Truval Village, and the Historic Seaport.
A one-day trolley ticket currently runs $64.79 for adults and $19.90 for kids ages 4 to 12. Each comes with free admission to the Sails to Rails Museum.
Alternatively, experience the renowned Conch Tour Train, starting at Front Street Depot in Mallory Square.
Key West Attractions
Don’t miss Old Town, Key West’s historic neighborhood, located on the island’s western side. Two must-visit attractions await you: the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, where the celebrated writer resided from 1931 to 1939, and the famous six-toed cats that often draw visitors.
The Little White House
President Truman occupied the Harry S. Truman Little White House for 175 days over 11 visits. Other US Presidents, such as Taft, Kennedy, Clinton, Carter, and Eisenhower, visited this historic site, part of the National Parks System and Florida’s sole presidential site.
Hours of operation are daily from 9 AM to 4:30 PM. Tickets for the museum tour are $22.95 each. Veterans get in free during Veteran’s Day weekend.
Mallory Square is in the Historic District’s northwest tip, where locals and visitors gather for the famous Key West sunsets. Other notable attractions in this district include Duval Street, known as the town’s main artery, with its array of bars, restaurants, and shops, as well as Fort Zachary Taylor.
Key West Museums
Something you may be surprised to learn is that Key West has a treasure trove of excellent museums. So, while the rest of your cruise may be all palm trees, sunshine, and water experiences, Key West offers a different side of the tropical life to indulge in.
Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
Check out the Butterfly and Nature Conservatory while in Key West! With 60 butterfly varieties, 20 exotic birds, and stunning flowering plants, it’s a must-visit for nature enthusiasts. I could have stayed at this attraction for hours! They truly have one of the best butterfly gardens in the country.
Buy your tickets online to save a few bucks — adult prices are $15.50, kids are $12.50 (4 to 12), and enjoy the live webcam from the website. The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory has earned recognition as “Best Place to Take the Kids” and “Best Attraction in Key West” in the past.
Key West Museum of Art and History
The Key West Museum of Art and History showcases impressive collections and swoon-worthy galleries that art lovers will adore. My favorite parts were the Guy Harvey sketches of “Old Man and the Sea” and the folk art designs by artist Mario Sanchez.
Other exhibits feature Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad, Civil War, Tennessee Williams, and, of course, Hemingway.
And don’t miss the Audubon House and Tropical Gardens—a truly unique destination with incredible rare plants. I only learned about it by seeing it mentioned as a stop on the Old Town Trolley tour; lucky me. Wander the picturesque gardens, with rare plants and abundant palm varieties, before or after exploring the house museum.
Captain John Huling Geiger built the Audubon House in the 1840s. Today, it represents an affluent Key West home, plus it houses fine, modern, and limited editions of John James Audubon’s iconic works.
Key West Lighthouse Visit
Get your picture taken at Mile Marker Zero, a unique spot found nowhere else in the country. Then, don’t miss the chance to visit the Key West Lighthouse, a museum housed in an 1848 building. Notably, it had the country’s first female lightkeeper.
After ascending 88 steps to the top, you’ll find fantastic photo opportunities.
Dry Tortugas National Park
One of the highlights of Key West is a trip to Dry Tortugas National Park on the Yankee Freedom III. This remote park is a must-visit and offers an unforgettable experience. Enjoy snorkeling (they provide the necessary gear), explore Fort Jefferson, and indulge in included breakfast and lunch.
You can learn more about Dry Tortugas in this post.
More Key West Fun Offerings
Visit the 19-acre Key West Cemetery for an offbeat attraction. Quirky and hilarious inscriptions adorn the headstones, including “I told you I was sick” and “I’m just resting my eyes.” Watch for the giant kapok tree, native to Africa, which yields silky down stuffing and seeds that produce oil for food and soap manufacturing.
Additionally, expect to encounter chickens meandering freely throughout the streets of Key West.
This vibrant destination hosts Fantasy Fest in October, a captivating event where adults creatively paint their bodies. Despite its risqué nature, there’s truly nothing quite like it.
Getting Around Key West
Explore Key West’s cruise port with a rented golf cart. It’s a fun and affordable option for the whole family. The cart can accommodate up to three extra passengers, and you can easily cover the small island. The day rental is under $100.
Key West Cuisine
If you arrive at the Key West cruise port before breakfast, head straight to Blue Heaven or Harpoon Harry’s. Blue Heaven offers delicious Eggs Benedict, while Harpoon Harry’s serves a mean pancake platter.
For lunch or a cold beer, visit Sloppy Joe’s, the infamous Hemingway hangout. Other lunch options include Chico’s Cantina and Santiago’s Bodega, which offer delicious food and refreshing adult libations.
Take advantage of the authentic Cuban dishes in Key West, especially at El Meson de Pepe, known for its Cuban sandwiches and empanadas. Grab a cordadito from Cuban Coffee Queen to complete the experience.
While shopping on Duval Street or exploring art galleries, savor Kermit’s iconic key lime pie. It’s a Key West tradition! Try his frozen key lime pie cheesecake on a stick, dipped in chocolate, or choose the strawberry key lime flavor.
Key West: A Special Place
The cruise port of Key West is a must-visit, even if you have just a few hours during your cruise. With stunning National Parks, picturesque photo-ops, and beautiful beaches, Key West, Florida, has it all. Don’t forget sunscreen and stay hydrated in the scorching Florida heat. Enjoy!
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