Everyone wants to go to Key West. It’s tropical, has a crazy personality and it is America’s own little slice of the Caribbean. But what’s the best way to get to this sun soaked rock?
In my opinion, the best way to get to Key West is via the Key West Express!
The Key West Express is a ferry company based out of Fort Myers, Florida with terminals on Fort Myers Beach, Marco Island and Key West. The boats are big, fast, comfortable and have a bar and TV’s to keep you entertained as you cut through the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The trip takes on average about three and half hours, which isn’t too bad. It departs Fort Myers Beach/Marco Island around 8:30am, and by noon you’ll be in Key West walking down Duval Street looking for its famous watering holes.
You could drive to Key West too. Sure, the drive is spectacular. There’s nothing quite like cruising down US 1 with the windows down, tiki bar hopping your way all the way to through the Florida Keys, but unless you live in South Florida, the drive can be long and tiresome. We live in Fort Myers, Florida and the drive to Key West takes us about 6 hours. It’s a beautiful drive once you get to the Keys, but traffic can be bad on US 1 and it’s always bad getting through Miami. So taking the Key West Express is a lot less stressful and much quicker for anyone in the Southwest Florida area.
Flying to Key West can be quick, but Key West isn’t exactly a top aviation hub. Getting flights to and from Key West can be expensive and there’s always a layover some place. I recommend flying into Fort Myers (RSW), and grabbing a cap to Fort Myers Beach and the Key West Express. The ferry does leave early in the morning, so I suggest flying in the day before and grabbing a hotel on or near Fort Myers Beach. Here are a few that are close and that we recommend.
Fort Myers Beach Hotels
The Key West Express currently operates three ferry boats which operate at different times according to port of call (Fort Myers Beach or Marco Island), time of year and occupancy: the Big Cat Express Catamaran, the Atlantic Cat and their flagship vessel, the Key West Express Catamaran.
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A Trip on the Key West Express
We use the Key West Express 90% of the time when going to Key West. I’m sure you want to know what a trip is like, so here is a video we did to show you the experience. By the time you are done watching, you’re going to want to take a trip I promise!
Getting There is Half the Fun!
Our favorite reason for recommending the Key West Express is because it makes getting to your destination part of your vacation. Getting there is half the fun! Like I mentioned earlier, the Key West Express has a stock bar, offers a variety of food items and the crew does everything to make your voyage a great one. If you are Bloody Mary fan, you have to try one aboard, they are amazing!
Once you leave the dock, you’ll slowly make your way out to the Gulf of Mexico. You’ll pass under the Matanzas Pass Bridge and turn past Bowditch Point Park. This is where the ferry will pick up speed. As it does, move to the back of the boat and watch the wake, you might just see a dolphin or two jumping in the waves!
Departing Key West
Leaving Key West is always a little bit sad, but your return trip aboard the Key West Express will lessen the sorrow just a bit. The boat leaves Key West at 6pm, but make sure you are there at least an hour to 45min early. You don’t want to miss the boat, something I’ve done once! That’s a story for another time though.
You’ll arrive back in Fort Myers Beach/Marco Island around 9:30pm – 10pm. But during your trip back, depending on weather, there’s a good chance you’re going to be treated to one of the best sunsets you’ve ever seen. You’ll be out at sea, no land in sight, and nothing to block the view of the sun sliding into the Gulf horizon. I was on the boat a few weeks back and witnessed one hell of a sunset. It makes leaving Key West just a little easier knowing that mother nature might dazzle you on the open water.
Where To Stay in Key West
The Key West Express gets to Key West at noon, and departs at 6pm (back to terminal by 5pm). So that gives you about 5ish hours to explore and have a great time on island. For Crystal and I, we need more time, so we always recommend getting a hotel and staying for a night or two.
We’ve stayed all over the island, from resorts, to B&B’s, and even a hostel, we are happy to give you a few ideas so you can spend more time in Key West.
- Parrot Key Hotel & Villas
- La Concha Hotel – Great location on Duval Street
- Avalon Bed & Breakfast – Southern Duval Street
- Old Town Manor – Bed & Breakfast just off Duval Street
- Casa Marina Resort – Oceanfront South Island, More Luxury
- The Artist House – “Haunted” B&B just off Duval Street
- Southern Most House – Stunning Old Key West Mansion on the ocean
Here are a few more photos of the Key West Express to give you a feel for what I will be like.
If you’ve been on the Key West Express or thinking about going, hit us up on Instagram @CaribbeanCastaways and tell us about your trip! We would also be happy to answer any questions you have about the trip.
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