Memorial Day weekend in Miami Beach can be a chaotic mess, leaving residents two acceptable choices: get out of town or don’t leave the house. This year we opted for the former, though perhaps foolishly headed for a destination just as fraught with traffic and crowding challenges: Key West, FL. We were eager for a full road test of the recent repairs made by Mario of Diesel Outlaw (a solid, honest, and reliable diesel roadside specialist) and boy did this trip put the Big Kahuna through his paces. Normally it would take us 3 ½ hours to make the trip from Miami to Key West, but the traffic jams in the upper keys resulted in a 5 hour trip down on Saturday and 6 hours to return home on Monday. Despite the frustration of traffic, we count the trip a rousing success due to the enjoyable time we had, the lessons we learned, and the solid performance of the bus.
I had run across the RV Park owned by the Key West Naval Air Station during previous trips to the keys, sans motorhome, when Rosemarie and I stayed in the rental town houses also owned by the Navy’s Moral Welfare and Recreation department. But it was not until another recent convert to motorhome ownership arrived in the office to tout the excellent location and affordable price of this military owned park that I seriously considered staying there with our RV. At $23 a day for a full hook up (50 amp power, potable water, and sewage) you simply can’t beat the price. Nowhere else in the keys, especially Key West, will you find such a deal.
The catch is that for retirees there are no reservations, it’s first come first serve. I have gotten conflicting information about the likelihood of showing up and not getting a spot. During the off season, particularly the Summer, I was told there are always openings, and yet when we arrived the camp host told us we got the very last of the 94 full hook up sites. I was told by multiple residents that during the Winter high season the managers enforce a rotation system whereby the long term residents will periodically shift from the full hook up spots to one of the more than 400 dry camping sites, which are significantly cheaper, ($13 per day), but it was not clear if a rotation would be forced upon a resident just because a short termer like myself showed up with all the full hook up spots already filled.
The dry camping sites are actually a good option during the more tolerable winter months for those equipped with generators or solar panels, particularly if you want to position your rig much closer to the downtown Key West scene. The main RV site with the hook up spots is located at the Sigsbee compound, about a 3 mile ride to Duval Street and Mallory Square. One of the overflow locations for the dry campers, however, is located at the Trumbo Point facility, less than a mile from all the action.
One of the realities of parking on a military facility is the plethora of inconsistently enforced rules. For instance, depending on who is checking you in, you are likely to have to show the full range of paperwork (registration, insurance, driver license) for both your RV and tow vehicle. Did you bring your bikes? Great, now where are your helmets? That’s right, it is mandatory to wear them while riding anywhere on the base. Did you want to snorkel next to the shore? Better have your dive flag! Got a motorcycle? You will need not only a helmet, but proof of safety course completion, long pants, long shirt sleeves, full fingered gloves, over the ankle boots, googles, and a reflective vest. Fortunately, with the exception of the over the top motorcycle rules, most of this stuff is pretty easy to comply with. But having stayed mainly at, shall we say, looser facilities, we were caught off guard by a couple of the requirements.
Lest this turn into a glorified camp review more suited to Yelp or Trip Advisor, a few words and pictures about what we actually did. Arriving in the mid-afternoon on Saturday, we pulled in next to Brian and his daughter Clementine, a very welcoming and helpful family that gave us the low down on the park and local entertainment. After exploring a bit of the area on foot, and on Brian’s advice, we spent the evening enjoying the live music and cheap drinks at the Sunset Lounge, along with an appropriately spectacular sunset. On Sunday we slept late, walked, biked, and did some shore snorkeling after renting a dive flag ($2/day) from the marina. We spent a fantastic evening in communal meal with Brian, Clementine, and another local long termer, Master Chief Jim, with much storytelling, political debate, fine barbecued food and more than a few drinks. It would be hard to say which part of the meal was the highlight; given the evidence I am sure Clementine would vote for Rosie’s ribs, but I would have to support Brian’s fresh caught grilled file fish served on toasted tortillas with avocado.
After a leisurely breakfast the next morning, we packed up, said our good byes, and began the long trip home. The first 60 miles sailed by without a hitch, but once we reached Marathon we ended up in a virtual parking lot for more than an hour, and sporadic stop and go traffic all the way up to Key Largo. Somewhere in the vicinity of Tavernier we pulled over at one of the popular roadside public parks for an hour to snorkel and relax before making the final stretch home, and made the wise decision to take car Sound Road rather than US1 from Key Largo to Florida City, saving us from additional traffic induced headaches.
We got the Big Kahuna stowed away in Opa Locka before heading to Miami Beach, marveling about how nice it is to arrive home even after a nice mini vacation. It is this sense of “home” that will be most critical for us to recreate in the motorhome when we move in full time.