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10 Things to Know Before You Vacation to the Florida Keys

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I live in the Florida Keys. Anything I write will be specific to not only living here but working in vacation rentals as well.

The Florida Keys

The Florida Keys

So, You're Vacationing to the Florida Keys?

With the beautiful clear waters, wonderful food, and kind locals, it's no wonder millions of people visit the Florida Keys every year. I'm sure that if you've booked a vacation here, you have already read many wonderful articles about the beautiful turquoise waters, the never-ending tiki bars, the amazing seafood, etc. Well, I'm here to give you a nice reality check that, in some ways, may disappoint you or may help you enjoy your vacation even more. So read on and learn what to really expect and know about the Keys.

Don't be too upset if the beach is covered in seaweed, that's nature being nature!

Don't be too upset if the beach is covered in seaweed, that's nature being nature!

1. No One Controls the Weather

As someone who is in property management, this is really the biggest issue that seems to be forgotten.

Did you book a beautiful beachfront home just to show up to a seaweed-covered beach? Are you mad because you spent so much money on a beachfront home just to realize you're going to have to wade through a foot of squishy weeds just to get to the water? Well, it's not your property manager's fault. No beach is beautiful all the time. The winds push seaweed in. It happens within the normal course of the world, and you might have forgotten about that because you were over-excited. Still, not the property manager's fault.

This also applies to the water in the canals turning brown and smelling like rotten eggs. If you do some research, you'll easily find out that sargassum is a seaweed that gets pushed in by the winds. After it sinks, it turns the water brown and smells putrid.

So please, do not call complaining to your property manager over weather-related issues. I assure you that all we will do is remind you that we don't have any control over the weather.

Since we have had this happen, let me tell you: If you call the fire department because of the smell of seaweed, we will all judge you! Not being mean here, but our first responders should not have to waste part of their day because you didn't research things that might happen wherever you were vacationing.

2. Follow the Speed Limit

Ok, ok ... we know the water is gorgeous! It's breathtaking! However, if you are driving 55 miles per hour and then go to get on the bridge and suddenly slow down to 40 to sightsee you are holding up traffic, practicing distracted driving, and risking a wreck. Many locals are driving too, and they have places to be or work to get to. When you cause a traffic jam because of your sightseeing you are negatively impacting those around you.

Don't risk causing a wreck! There are plenty of other ways to see the beautiful water.

While we are on the topic, when I say do the speed limit, I also don't mean go 20 over. I promise our police love to give out tickets. They start at $376. So do you really want to lose out on that money?

Just be a responsible driver. We have one way in and one way out. Don't ruin everyone else's day due to your irresponsibility.

Don't run the risk of a car accident by practicing distracted driving while gazing at the water!

Don't run the risk of a car accident by practicing distracted driving while gazing at the water!

3. Beach, Please

I know Florida has so many beautiful beaches. However, the Florida Keys are not known for beaches. Don't get me wrong, we have a few pretty spots. Sombrero Beach is gorgeous almost all year round, and Bahia Honda has a wonderful beach. But we are not another place where you will see Destin, Florida, type beaches. If you show up in our local groups asking about beaches, the resounding answer will be random places on the mainland.

It's just how it is. It's kind of hard to have a lot of beautiful beaches when you are surrounded by coral reefs. So don't be disappointed; it's still beautiful on the water. Rent a kayak or a boat and find a sandbar. Those are amazing and genuinely a once-in-a-lifetime thing to do.

There is a difference between the Florida Keys and Key West.

There is a difference between the Florida Keys and Key West.

4. The Keys Are NOT Key West

This is a short one. Please know that Key West is at the end, it is not the entire Keys. It's kind of annoying for those of us who live here when we're sitting at the bar in Marathon, Florida, and people keep saying they are in Key West. There is a big difference, so that might be why we're so weird about it. Just please remember Key West is a city not everything after you've left the mainland.

Dusk in the Florida Keys

Dusk in the Florida Keys

5. Shopping is Minimal in The Florida Keys

Unless you are flying into Key West or really well off and flying into Million Air in Marathon, make a stop at Target or Walmart in Florida City before you get here. We have very few options for buying things, and the options we do have are overpriced.

Working in property management, I have noticed that tourists seem to think their property management company has a little store in the back. We do not. We do not have high chairs, strollers, spare beach toys, etc. We have things like towels and toothpaste. We are not a store.

Alternatively, if you are flying, check with your property management company to see if they will let you order stuff online a couple of days before your trip and ship it to their office. I know our office offers this. We are not a delivery service or a concierge service though, so we do not deliver items to your rental (some exceptions apply). The option of delivering to the office is a great option for those flying or those who were so excited they forgot the stop at Walmart on the mainland.

While you are at it, get your nonperishables while you're on the mainland as well. Basic food costs are 10–40% higher here. Save money on the day-to-day requirements—then you will have more money to spend on the fun stuff!

P.S. Marathon, Florida, is the cheapest area in the Keys to get gas. Don't wait until you get to Key West.

6. Lets Hope You Love the Outdoors

So this is another big one we see with tourists. They aren't outdoorsy and they decided to come to a place that has little to do other than outdoor activities. This is just frustrating. How do people not research this kind of stuff before coming?

No, we do not have an amazing normal shopping plaza. We do not have a mall. We do not have skate rinks and bowling alleys everywhere.

This is the Keys. You either enjoy the outdoors, or you enjoy alcohol. Other than that, we do not have a lot to offer.

Respecting the wildlife while in the Flordia Keys is essential.

Respecting the wildlife while in the Flordia Keys is essential.

7. Respect Our Wildlife

Manatees, lizards, and chickens! Oh my!

Yes, we do have a lot of different creatures here. Please respect their space. Do not chase the chickens. Do not drive your boat fast through shallow water. Do not grab lizards by their tails.

Now, don't get me wrong. Enjoy these creatures and even take their pictures. Just remember at the end of the day, they live here and you, however, do not. This is their home. Let them live in peace.

If you are driving from the middle Keys to the lower Keys, please remember that the Key deer are a protected species. If you are speeding and hit one of those Key deer, you may face more than just a speeding ticket. Also if you are caught feeding or petting them, the police may also get involved. Even worse, a local may get involved because you are putting our wildlife at risk.

It's rather sad this section even had to be put in here. Can we all agree that treating animals with care is just being a decent human being?

8. When Things Go Wrong ...

So, you've been driving for 15 hours, you are completely exhausted, and you arrive at your rental tired and ready to enjoy your vacation, but two hours later the AC stops working.

This is a horrible start to your vacation. You do what anyone else would do and immediately contact the company you rented through. They tell you that unfortunately, it will be the next day before anyone can fix it. You become irate and decide you are leaving a bad review. Let me stop you there. Please learn the phrase, Island Time.

See, here in the Florida Keys, Island Time means nothing works at the same time as on the mainland. Handymen, deliveries, HVAC companies, roofers, mechanics, etc. are closed a lot. If you can get someone to fix something on a Sunday, you should count it as a miracle! Island time is not the fault of the company you went through. It happens to us also.

I would like to add here that the low people on the pole at the property management company did not want this to happen. You likely have to interrupt their evening, and they'll have to stop enjoying time with their family. Please, just remember they are human. Treat them kindly and understand they are almost as frustrated with the situation as you are.

Remember, access to services is more limited in the Keys than it is on the mainland. Be patient!

Remember, access to services is more limited in the Keys than it is on the mainland. Be patient!

9. Ask For Pool Heat Before You Arrive

Unless it is May through October just go ahead and pay for pool heat in advance and ask for it to be turned on in advance as well. If you arrive on a Saturday night, decide you want to play in the pool, and then realize it's cold, only to ask then ... well that's not going to be a great outcome.

No company will come out and turn your pool heat on after 4 p.m. on a Saturday. So, if you are lucky, they'll show up on Sunday. Still, pools take 24 hours to heat up. So in reality, it will probably get turned on Monday morning, and it won't be warm until Tuesday.

Just eliminate this issue in advance and ask before you get there. It will save everyone a good bit of hassle, and it will ensure you have a good stay.

10. Be Kind

We all know that vacations are meant to be fun and stress-free. It can be both of those things while you are a kind person. Here are a few things to keep in mind regarding kindness.

  • Workers here pay $2,000 a month and up for housing. Seriously, there aren't options below that, even living in trailers. So, tip well and often.
  • Not one person here thinks "Hey, let's make sure this person doesn't enjoy their stay at the house they just paid $3,000 to $10,000 for a week to stay at." So speak kindly to the staff at the property management company. Many of us work seven days a week to keep tourists happy.
  • Worry more about enjoying yourself and worry less about a light bulb that is out. (This for some reason is a common issue with the people who aren't outdoorsy and just sit in the house all week.)
  • Don't throw away unopened food items when leaving even if the instructions tell you to. I promise housekeeping isn't going to tell on you. They are going to eat your food and be thankful. This applies to alcohol as well. I've seen entirely too many 12-packs sitting in trash cans.
  • Traffic is insane in the Florida Keys. So be kind and let people out of parking lots if you can.

At the end of the day, the Florida Keys is an amazing vacation spot. We want you to enjoy yourselves; our livelihood depends on it. Just don't ruin our home. Treat our home like you are a visitor, and we will treat you like a local.

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