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.