There’s a difference between traveling and a vacation. I discovered this when I backpacked across Europe in my 20s and relearned it when I took my Girl Scouts to Italy. Traveling, while wonderful, is hard. It’s not relaxing because there’s a lot to do, and adventures to be had.
A vacation is for relaxing. My preference is seaside where my biggest decision is pool or beach. And that’s the trip I just had.
What my traveling and vacationing have always had is common is that I’ve always done it on a budget. So, when I won five nights at a Waldorf Astoria for writing a travel story about that Girl Scout trip to Italy—I was beside myself with excitement. After much thought my sweetie and I decided to go to Key West.
We needed a place to recharge, to do nothing, to be waited on. We’d been to the Keys early in our relationship and had sweet, warm memories of this tropical paradise. So fly away we did; to the land of magenta bougainvillea, trees bursting with bright yellow blooms, six-toed cats, pastel cottages, crystal clear blue-green waters, and a rum-soaked-laid-back-island-way of viewing life. Where the sun rises over the Atlantic and where every evening the entire town goes to watch and celebrate the sun sinking into the Gulf of Mexico.
We stayed at the Casa Marina, a grand hotel that opened on New Year’s Eve in 1920. You could feel the history of old Key West with all it’s glamour, decadence, and excess from the moment we drove up and two valets opened the doors and welcomed us into the lobby. It’s located on the eastern, quiet side of the island, which is just 4 miles wide. After dropping our bags off in our room (which was not very impressive considering it was $500 a night), we headed to the poolside bar. After sampling several pina coladas during our vacation, it was scientifically determined that our hotel had the best. They made them with black strap rum and they tasted like an icy praline. We also figured with all the fruit, it was almost like drinking a smoothie.
Over the next few days, we spent hours on the beach. It was lying on the beach that I learned that it was the service that made this a 5-star resort. Despite being surrounded by water, there is not a lot of beach in Key West. The Casa Marina has their own private beach, so it is only hotel guests that are there. Attractive cabana boys and girls waited on us while I read my beach book and soaked up the sun. They’d walk by and offer mango lemonade to quench your thirst or an ice-cold face cloth soaked in refreshing eucalyptus to soothe you from the sun. They were quick to move your umbrella for you, so you could stay in the shade. And if you got tired of your chaise lounge, there were hammocks you could take a nap in.
We’d occasionally leave to get a meal or to go watch the sunset. Our favorite brunch was at Blue Heaven. A funky, colorful, arty, outdoor restaurant shaded by ancient, exotic banyan and almond trees where chickens and cats wander freely. If you go, get their BLT, a bacon, lobster, tomato, eggs benedict. We needed to return to our horizontal beach position as soon as we finished brunch.
I had many wonderful moments happen while I was busy doing nothing.
- Looking up and seeing an osprey with a huge fish in its talons, bringing a meal back to her baby birds high up in their nest.
- A father playfully running after his toddler up and down, and up and down, the length of the hotel property.
- Watching the staff and photographers get ready for a beach wedding. Seeing the beautiful bride and her handsome groom and the happy friends and family who were there to celebrate this life milestone as the sun set through the palm trees.
- Watching a buxom woman in her string bikini, with her Kardashian derriere and tattooed sleeve, posing for a sexy photo in the surf.
- My favorite moment came one night when we found the darkest part of the beach and gazed up at the millions of stars that you can only see when you’re away from city lights and saw the distant ships blink on the ocean’s horizon as they traveled to another exotic locale.
It was a glorious vacation, a real luxurious getaway. In the week we were gone, spring exploded in Louisiana. I’m rested and happy to be back home where the pink and white azelas are in full bloom. Now if I can just figure out how to get that firepit and view from the hotel in my backyard.
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