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   Cruise Travel - Millenium Cruise

Day 7 - Tuesday, January 4, Key West, Florida

by Joe Koshuta, TravelPage.com

January 4, 2000 - Greetings from Key West, Florida, here's what happened today:

We arrived in Key West, Florida early this morning and left at sunset. Key West is the southern most point of the continental United States and it is closer to Havana, Cuba (90 miles) than to Miami, Florida (150 miles). Over the years it has been home to pirates, thieves, writers, musicians and a host of what the world of statistics call "extreme values". These are people that march to their own drummer and seem to have a different perspective on life. Today it is a popular tourist destination attracting tourists year round although the most popular months are still late-December through March.

We had been to Key West a number of times previously, but this was our first visit by cruise ship. Since we had seen the town before, we decided to start the day off with a kayak tour of the north side of the island. The island is roughly four miles long and two miles wide and is divided into old town and new town. Old town is home to Duval Street and the many bars and restaurants frequented by the tourists.

From the pier we saw that the Dolphin IV of Cape Canaveral Cruises had docked ahead of us.vA van picked us up at the pier and ferried us to the abandoned set of the brief-running TV show "Key West". The set, which was built to look like an old fishing shack/bar from the old town, was built on the Riviera canal and a the series of salt marshes and maze of mangrove trees that were to be our destination. There were about 9 of us on the tour and I was accompanied by my five year old son who served as lookout in our kayak. We started out in search of a manatee that had been spotted earlier in the week and headed down the canal, passing the former home of Jimmy Buffet along the way. No luck with the manatee so we turned into the mangrove trees and wound our way through a canopy of roots and branches. The trees were covered with small spider crabs that popped up every once in a while to see what we were doing and then proceeded along with their business. The depth of the water at time dropped to 12 inches and many times it was easier to pull ourselves along by the branches than try to paddle through the narrow openings.

As we exited the mangrove forest, we entered the salt flats that had once been used to extract salt from the sea. The salt was then sold to help preserve meats and other perishable types of food prior to the advent of refrigeration. The salt flats were also home to thousands of "upside down jellyfish" that floated just like that - upside down - as they extracted nutrients from the shallow water. As we headed back into the mangrove forest on our way back the dock, the heavens opened up and we were drenched. It was still reasonably warm so the rain didn't dampen our spirits as we dodged the raindrops in a wild dash back to the dock.

When we got back to the dock I took a few minutes to stop and take photographs of the Dolphin IV and the Arkona which was tied up just behind us. A group of us then headed into town and proceeded to Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville restaurant for a "cheeseburger in paradise" and what else - a margarita. We spent the rest of the day exploring Key West, stopping in at the impressive little aquarium, visiting Hemingway's house, passing Sloppy Joes and stopping in at Captain Tony's for a drink. On the way back to the ship we walked through the Truman Annex which in the late 40s and early 50s served as the southern retreat for U.S. president Harry Truman. The "Little White House" where Truman stayed is now a museum but the rest of the complex is a stunning combination of new and renovated structures.

As the Volendam left at sunset, our group gathered at the aft pool for a sail-away party. We also attempted a group photo with the kids looking like a band of very small "Grateful Dead" fans in their tie-died tee shirts they made as part of the kids program. We returned to our cabins briefly to get a head start on packing and then re-grouped at the Atrium bar to watch the beginning of the Sugar Bowl.

The theme for the evening was Dutch and the appropriate hats were waiting for each of us at our table. As it was the last evening of the cruise, the dining staff serenaded us with a traditional Indonesian farewell song - very nice. Since one of our group had graduated from Virginia Tech we ended up watching the rest of the game at the Atrium bar and then headed down to our respective cabins for the dreaded "last night packing".

Check back later for updates or click here to learn more about Florida.

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