Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Key West travel guide

Key West vacation?  You've probably checked out some travel guides - do a quick search and you find loads of them.  This is a review of the commercial visitor guides to Key West – websites and online – that you might come across. 

But beware dear visitor to Key West!  There are a only a very small number of excellent guides, and a whole heap of boring or useless guides out there.



Frommer's has by far the best coverage of Key West – online anyway – than all the other ‘famous’ named guides. It’s the only guide to provide a good level of detail on KW.  Great stuff, Frommers.

A fair amount of content available online and what I like is they stick their necks out and are opinionated give marks (out of 3, using the standard Frommers system for marking everything from attractions to restaurants).  Having said that, their judgement especially on the restaurants I personally feel is out of kilter to reality!
Things I agree with: Antonia’s given 2 stars, Mangia Mangia given 1 star
Things I disagree with: La Trattoria only given 1/3 stars (should be 2); Blue Heaven only given 2 stars (should be 3); White Street Bistro listed (now closed), only rate 23 restaurants so lots of good ones not covered, 915 getting 3 stars (should be 2); Sarabeth’s only 2 stars (should be 3 – my favourite restaurant of 2011!)
Top things according to Frommers (3 stars): Key West cemetery (only 1 attraction got 3 stars); Café Marquesa, Hot Tin Roof, Mangoes, 915,

Best quotes:
‘If you're looking for a party, you'll find it in Key West.’

‘There are two schools of thought on Key West -- one is that it has become way too commercial, and the other is that it's still a place where you don't have to worry about being prim, proper, or even well-groomed. I think it's a bizarre fusion of both -- a fascinating look at small-town America where people truly live by the (off) beat of their own drum…’
‘Laid-back Key West still exists, but it's now found in different places: the backyard of a popular guesthouse, for example, or an art gallery, a secret garden, a clothing-optional bar, or the hip hangouts of Bahama Village. Fortunately, there are plenty of these, and Key West's greatest historical charm is found just off the beaten path.’

‘The heart of town offers party people a good time -- that is, if your idea of a good time is the smell of stale beer, loud music, and hardly shy revelers.’


New York Times
OK article by Sarah Wildman on 36 hours in Key West
All the other articles are 2009 or before.
Best quote:
'Ditch the car'

I was not at all impressed by this site.  Key West is relegated to part of the broader Florida Keys, which is not really how tourism works here.  Not much on Key West itself.  And quite boringly written.

Lonely Planet
It very honestly quotes the ‘last updated’ date – which is unfortunate as it’s way back in 17 February 2009.  Apart from a quick list of what to visit and a 300 word introduction, that’s it for Key West.

Best quote:
Anyone will tell you Key West is a little kooky – and darn proud of it. In the words of one local: ‘It’s like they shook the United States and all the nuts fell to the bottom.’

Rough Guide
Dismal coverage of Key West – the worst.  I hope that the actual (paper) book is better than what they make available online.
Best quote:
‘To best absorb this atmosphere – and the mellow pace of local life – take time to amble the gorgeous, lushly vegetated streets, make meals last for hours, and pause regularly for refreshment in the numerous bars.’

And now the other commercial web guides. (Not covered here are fan sites or non-commercial guides, like my blog.  You can see my recommendations to the best Key West blogs here.)


Trip Advisor

Everyone knows TripAdvisor.  It’s a great site and the Key West pages and reviews are very active and generally quite accurate.
Hint: the Key West forum is very good for any tricky question you have.  It’s manned by a dedicated crew of Key West local experts. No question has yet gotten the better of them!

A wide variety of 26 articles on Key West attractions and way of life.  Well worth a look as there are some gems in here.  Including:
Top Events
The overseas highway history
Best bars in Key West


The Florida Keys and Key West official tourist website

This is good as it features the entire Florida Keys and not just Key West so that is useful if you are planning on stopping off on the driver down.  It’s also a very good looking site with impressive images.
The  ‘How to Get Here’ section is useful.  The second video, about KW history, on the KW page is pretty interesting.  And the calendar of events is searchable and essential – very useful to check out what’s on when you are planning on coming.  The Key’s Voices section is also interesting, with over 50 profiles of the fascinating people who live in the Keys, including the granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway, several the Key’s scuba divers, biologists, artists, actors and drag queens!
Finally, the interactive map is pretty cool as well.
All in all, this is a great site and a great resource for the traveller.

This site is massive and it’s fantastically optimised for the web which means that it ranks very often in #1 position and so you’ll see it a lot on Google.  But it is worth Google’s high ranking?
Basically, it’s ok.  It’s a quasi-official Key West tourist board site so don’t expect too much critical assessment, reviews or detail.  It’s good as a listing of everything available.  Also the sponsored adverts at the top of most pages really get in the way and, of course, are not necessarily a sign of quality as the advertiser paid to go there.


Best on Key West

Visit Key West online
Mainly just a listings site with no value add beyond this.  Promises hotel reviews and images and does not have them. Broken links.
Not the best, but with 1 exception:
The historical photo album has some cool old black and white images of Key West as it was

Visiting Key West – Location Guide
The mast head on this site does not even feature Key West – it looks like Miami coastline (maybe).  There is content here, and it’s ok, but you really get the feeling that it was written by someone who has never visited Key West!  

Key West Travel Guide
Again, mainly listing.  No special or unique content that I could find.  Nice quick summary though.

Whats at Florida Keys
Apparently ‘Key West attractions are often cheap, laid back, but certainly memorable,’
Ok so they have a stab at a best of list, here’s what they include: Hemingway House, Seahorse charters (what?), Butterfly conservatory, Mallory Square, The turtle hospital (which is brilliant and very fantastic place to visit – but it’s 23 miles away from Key West and they don’t mention this!), Little White House and Robbies Marina (what?).
Also, not a lot of content here.

Remember to check out the best fan blogs to Key West too.

If you know of any other good blogs please do email or leave a comment.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Key West blogs

There are a select number of Key West blogs which are essential reading for preparing and researching for a visit to Key West.

Unfortunately, there are quite a few poor, old, crappy blogs about KW.  And only very few good ones!   Here’s my view on which are the best Key West blogs.

Key West Blogs that give a flavor of the place

#1 - Key West diary by Conchscooter

The best Key West blog.  Conchscoter has been doing a daily photo blog (which is an amazing and very time consuming commitment) since 2007 and it's very good with lots and lots and lots of images of Key West and the lower Keys.

Key West Visitor Guide

Obviously, I hope you like this blog -  [my blog, this blog you are reading now!]

Key West Travel Blog

Regularly updated and lots of pictures - a good blog.

The Key Wester

Regularly updated by Genn, the Key West concierge, a good local perspective, particularly good on restaurant reviews.

Key West Blogs that give a flavor of the people

This Week on the Island

A weekly summary of news and other bits and bobs, written by Doug Bennett.  Very good.

Key West the Blog

Written weekly or so by Arthur A. Winstanley it's a highly personal, amusing and sometimes political take on Key West and other issues.

And that's them all!  If I've missed any then please do let me know in the comments below.

Key West websites

I wanted to do a blog about Key West websites.  So many people plan their visits in advance and check out the websites, it’s really important for tourism businesses to get it right.

I do website marketing for a living so I am a bit qualified on this subject! 

So, what makes a good website?

It’s not a simple question, as websites need to do a variety of different jobs these days, but I would say:

  • Give a real feel for the place and what's it is like to visit.  So when designing it really think carefully before how you can do this.  It's tricky but it's worth the effort.
  • Very easy to find the basic visitor information – where is it, when is it open, how much does it cost – including maps and directions and telephone numbers
  • Lots and lots of great pictures- this is where many KW websites fell down
  • A few videos, well produced, not more than a few minutes otherwise it’s too long
  • About who owns the establishment, the history, the heritage
  • Some detail - An online tour of the exhibits so readers can be sure it's right to visit and not too risky
  • Good quality site so it ranks highly in search results – search optimised website.  This is not easy to achieve – you need great original content, regularly updated, and (just as important) also a website that is search engine friendly.  Not all website platforms are like this.
  • Finally, reference any awards, unique features, TripAdvisor citations, special offers, or visitor praise.

In general, the sites I visited were all ok or better, which is great as it means they ARE  doing themselves justice. However, lots of room for improvement, and in some cases simple changes for the better....


Conch tour train website
8 out of 10

Great branding, including a special logo they have made up for its 50th anniversary.  The main image box takes up a lovely big area above the fold and has very engaging photos.  The home page is a bit too long and crowded – they have tried to get everything including the kitchen sink on it!  There’s a good video, on the homepage, complete with compulsory tropical music soundtrack!  Telephone number clearly displayed, and a contact us section.  Could have linked the ‘Tour Route’ page to the map.  They even include the prices.  All in all, it’s a fun and engaging site and gives a good impression of the tour itself.

Old Town Trolley Tours website
7 out of 10

When you open this page, there is an embedded video that starts automatically (ie you don’t have to click it).  It’s ok but not helped by the singing Mike Myers looking hippe who comes on for a musical  cameo half way through the video.   A little bit embarrassing, actually.
The branding and feel of the site is not as good but it’s simpler and less crowded.  Static single image on the web (rather than revolving multiple images) is a missed opportunity.  'Meet our conductors' section is a nice touch.  The Our Company section is also genuine. 
The call themselves ‘Key West’s best sightseeing tour’ all over the website – not sure how they justify that!
The content here is better than the competition – the description of the tour is much better and more comprehensive – so it’s just a shame the pictures and the website isn’t as impressive on first look.


Mallory Square website
4 out of 10
This looks very corporate and boring – it doesn’t help that whenever the site mentions Mallory Square they put a little ‘sm’ after it (for legal purposes, I suppose, but looks really bad).  The pictures are small and don’t impress.  It’s known for the sunset celebration and they’ve chosen only a moderately good sunset, in my opinion.  I’ve got loads of better pictures of the Key West sunset they could use!

Hemingway home and museum website
9 out of 10
Very dramatic pictures and great branding on the site, including of a cute Hemingway House cat.  Very detailed content about the man and all aspects of the house – very impressive content indeed.  Also picture slideshows of the gardens.   On the logistics side, there’s a map and directions and a clear and easy contact us form.
Truman Little White House website
7 out of 10
Again, good content including lots on the man himself – so not just a few pages.  The branding and pictures are not as good  as Hemingway site.  But the separate photo gallery section, with lots of old pics,  is fascinating.  They have a social media section too.
Mel Fisher Maritime Museum website
7 out of 10
A really interesting, fascinating homepage that really draws you in.  Good volume of content, several 30 second videos.  Not the clearest navigation but all the info is there once you find it.

Key West aquarium website
8 out of 10
I was pleasantly surprised – this site is lively, colourful and really fun.  Lots of pictures and easy to navigate.   Almost all the pictures are close up of fish – would be nice to see what the aquarium inside actually looks like.  OK content on the animals.
Audubon House website
5 out of 10
This website is not as sophisticated as many of the others reviewed here but that’s not surprise as it’s a non profit organisation.  Bearing that in mind, they have done a good job although the pictures could be larger, and more numerous, the store is ‘under construction’ (just take it off the navigation for now!) and there could be some more content on.  This is such a cool place to visit in person, it’s a shame the website does not quite live up to it.
Key West tropical forest and garden website
5 out of 10
Another non commercial site.  They could really do with more pictures on the homepage, including of the gardens themselves which are totally cool – but this really does not come over in this site.  There is a good separate photo gallery but it’s a bit hidden.   I love their logo by the way!  The visit us section is nice and clear with good directions.

Technorati token DV878R6MB5M8


Please ignore this post! I am trying to get this blog listed in Technorati directory and i need to put this code into here to prove to them it's my blog!

Please move on to my next post!