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Key West Cruise Port Tips

Key West cruise port. © Monroe County Tourist Development Council
Key West cruise port. © Monroe County Tourist Development Council
The Key West cruise port in Florida is closer to Cuba than Miami, but visitors will experience a unique blend of cultures, attractions and lifestyles.

This remote island at the southernmost tip of the United States is growing in popularity as a cruise port because of expanded port facilities as well as the island’s history and attractions.

Even though it isn’t in the Caribbean, it is a fairly common stop on western Caribbean cruises, especially ones that embark from Tampa and other Florida ports.

Visitors will disembark at Pier B, Navy Mole or the Mallory Square Dock next to Mallory Square Plaza. All of them are located on the west side of the island where they will find the historical Old Town and spend most of their time.

Quick Tips

  • The highly commercial town center is the main attraction.
  • Free shuttles take cruise visitors around the city.
  • April and May are the best months to visit.

Where is Key West?

Key West is both a city and an island in the Straits of Florida. It is the southernmost city in the contiguous United States.

Key West is about 160 miles southwest of the Miami cruise port on the eastern coast of Florida and 240 miles from the Tampa port on the western coast of Florida.

Attractions and Shore Excursions

Unlike most ports in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, Key West is small enough that cruise visitors can see attractions on their own instead of paying for tour operators.

Even better, the city has free shuttles that take cruise passengers from the docks to the town center where they will find plenty of shopping, dining and other things to do. The town center is one big open-air mall with shops, restaurants and tourist attractions.

Mallory Square is a plaza with nightly entertainment and sunset watching. The amount of entertainment varies with each night. It is next to the Key West Aquarium and Duval Street, which is the main tourist drag.

It’s hard to miss the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum at 200 Greene Street or a few blocks south of Mallory Square. It has many shipwreck displays including a 77.76 carat emerald and other valuable items from a 1622 fleet of Spanish treasure galleons. It also has educational exhibits and laboratory tours. The museum claims it is the only fully accredited museum in the Florida Keys.

Another interesting attraction is the Key West Historical Memorial Sculpture Garden at Wall Street near Mallory Square. It’s a quick visit and good for photos.

Visitors who are willing to walk a bit will find the former homes of such famous people as Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Frost and Jimmy Buffett.

One of the closest and most famous is the Harry S. Truman Little White House at 111 Front Street. It served as a getaway for Truman during his Presidency as well as Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy.

Audubon House and Tropical Gardens, 205 Whitehead Street, is near the Mel Fisher Museum. It is the restored mansion of the Geiger family, which lived there for 110 years. The Museum commemorates the 1832 visit to Key West of artist John James Audubon and displays his artwork throughout the mansion. The gardens often have more than 200 orchids in bloom along with a koi pond, cook house and herb garden.

The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum at 907 Whitehead Street is less than one mile from each of the cruise docks.

The Florida Keys Eco Discovery Center, 35 East Quay Road, has more than 6,000 square feet of exhibits educating visitors about the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

The sanctuary is one of 14 marine protected areas that make up the National Marine Sanctuary System. Exhibits include a mock-up of Aquarius, the only underwater ocean laboratory in the world. Entrance is free.

Otherwise, cruise shore excursions are mostly standard activities such as jet skiing, glass bottom boats, parasailing and kayaking.

Beaches Near the Cruise Port

Fort Zachary Taylor
Fort Zachary Taylor. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license
Fort Zachary Taylor protected the Florida Keys during the Civil War. This state historical park also has a beach, fishing, snorkeling and picnic grounds. It is about one mile from Mallory Square on the southwest tip of the island.

Our ship docked by the Truman Annex of the Key West Naval Air Station. It also has a beach, but visitors need to go through a military checkpoint and show a photo ID.

Getting Around / Transportation

Key West has some of the best public transportation of any Caribbean port we have ever visited. And we have visited a lot of them.

The free shuttles that pick up passengers right at the docks follow a standard route from the docks to the town center. But they can stop at various points along the way to pick up or drop off passengers.

The Conch Tourist Train is a trolley that drives along Duval Street and makes various stops including Old Town, the waterfront and the Hemingway house. The “train” and Old Town Trolley are the two main motorized tour services on Key West.

Taxis and rental cars are almost non-existent. Nor do any cruise visitors need them unless they plan to tour all of Key West island along with nearby connected islands.

Weather / Best Time to Go

The average high temperature in Key West ranges from the mid 70s Fahrenheit in January to the high 80s Fahrenheit in the summer, according to the U.S. National Weather Service.

The island has a dry season from November through May when the average rainfall is two to three inches a month. The rainy season peaks in September with an average rainfall of nearly seven inches.

The best time to go for a combination of warm temperatures and low risk of rain is April or May.
Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.

 > Category: Florida   Cruise Ports   

May 01, 2019

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