Key West is a vibrant port filled with a wide variety of shore excursions. From water sports to cultural attractions and festive Duval Street, you’ll easily fill your afternoon in Key West with fun things to do. The closest you’ll get to the Caribbean without leaving the continental United States, Key West is an easy port to navigate on foot or by bicycle, and many of these activities can be accomplished without booking a tour or shore excursion through your cruise ship.
Key West is home to the world’s third-largest barrier reef, located just seven miles offshore, so snorkeling there is a must. Fury Water Adventures, located on the cruise ship dock at the Westin Marina, offers three-hour excursions out to the reef aboard their state-of-the-art, 65-foot custom catamarans. At the reef canyons, you’ll swim amongst enchanting rainbow parrotfish, yellowtail snapper and maybe even a loggerhead sea turtle. Beverages (including beer and wine) and snorkel gear are included in the $40.
Make a beeline to the end of Whitehead Street for the most coveted photo opp on the island: the Southernmost Point Buoy. Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, this is where the “90 miles to Cuba” is famously scrawled. In fact, you’re closer to Cuba than you are to mainland Florida in Key West, which is 150 miles away.
Key West has a reputation for its raucous nightlife, and you can get a taste of it in broad daylight by bar hopping along Duval Street. Live music blares from famous bars such as Sloppy Joe’s, Irish Kevin’s, Captain Tony’s Saloon and Fogarty’s. Whether you opt for DIY and stop at random bars along Duval Street or for an organized tour (from $35), a Duval Crawl is always a fun time for party people on vacation.
Get off the beaten path by strolling down Petronia Street into the heart of Bahama Village. This historic neighborhood is where Bahamians initially settled in Key West. Today, adorable boutiques, local eateries and art galleries have popped up within this residential neighborhood that’s ripe for exploration. Pop into Blue Heaven (729 Thomas St.) for a lunch of fresh fish or jerk shrimp, and don’t miss souvenir shopping at the chic Bésame Mucho (315 Petronia St.).
At the far end of Duval Street, you’ll discover an enchanting world where butterflies flutter freely amidst flowering plants, waterfalls, exotic birds and tropical trees. The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory (1316 Duval St.) is a wonderful (and fairly inexpensive at $12 per person) activity for families with children curious about nature and science. You’ll have the opportunity to visit the gallery, learning center and conservatory.
A great way to see the island as the locals do is by renting bicycles. All of the points of interest in Old Town are 5 to 10 minutes away by bike. Pedal down quiet lanes lined with conch cottages, palm trees and blossoming bougainvillea to experience the laid-back charm of the island. Choose from any of the many bike rental vendors throughout the island, including Eaton Bikes.
Get the lay of the land aboard the Conch Tour Train (Front Street, from $30) departing on 90-minute tours from Mallory Square. With three stops along the way, you’ll snake through Old Town with the option to hop on and hop off to explore sights like the Historic Seaport, Hemingway Home or Southernmost Point in more depth. You’ll learn fun facts about the history of Key West and its unique architecture from your entertaining and informative conductor.
Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway spent most of the 1930s in Key West, which happened to be his most prolific writing period. Get a glimpse into the fascinating author’s life by touring the home that he lived in on Whitehead Street with his second wife, Pauline. At the Hemingway Home (907 Whitehead St.), you’ll come face-to-face with his writing studio, lush gardens and descendants of his famed six-toed cat, Snowball. An on-site bookstore might be the best place to pick up your next beach book.
Key West’s most picturesque beach is also a state park, accessed at the end of Southard Street. Enjoy an afternoon along the rocky coastline, hike through nature trails shaded by Australian pine trees and tour the Civil War fort. Fort Zachary Taylor Beach & State Park ($2.50 per pedestrians/bicyclists, $4.50 for one person; $7 for two, and $.50 for each additional) offers a snack bar, snorkel gear, beach chair rentals and guided tours.
Parasailing is a wonderful way to get a thrilling bird’s-eye view of Key West. You’ll cruise out to sea on a 12-passenger vessel and float into the air harnessed to a parasail for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This hour-long excursion with Fury Water Adventures out of Westin Marina allows for plenty of time to explore the island once you’re back on solid land.