Our 2017 Key West Winter Part One: Drycamping, Friends, and Food

OK, this will be either a very long post or the start of a multi-parter.   On the one hand I really want to catch up on the blog since we are already four states away from Florida, but on the other hand we spent eleven weeks in Key West, so it deserves a bit more than a standard five paragraph summary like we would for a week long visit.  Let’s just plow ahead and see what happens.

Adjusting to the dry camping and rotation cycle.  Look, we rave about our winter stays in Key West, but we can only (financially) manage it because of our access to the Naval Station campground.  And, as we have discussed at length before, that means dealing with the downsides, particularly the dry camp to full hook up rotation schedule.  If you don’t want to click those links to see the full explanation, here is the short version:  Only about 20% of the military RV spots in Key West have services, the rest are dry camping.  The base Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) department has set up a rotation process once the campground begins to fill: two weeks max stay in hook up if anyone is waiting in dry camp.  The “peaker” the season, the longer the wait for those sites.  With our very late December arrival, this meant an initial three week stay in dry camp, followed by two weeks in hook up, then four full weeks in dry camp until we closed out our season with ten days in hook up again.

So it is always an adjustment coming to the keys and having to rely on our generators and batteries, moderate our water usage to stretch the time between visits to the dump and refill stations, and limit A/C use to only the hottest portions of the hottest days.  This also means the day is filled with the soft buzz of multiple generators punctuated by the excited noises of school age children forced outside where the sea breezes make things more tolerable than the stifling enclosure of an RV in Florida heat.

But it is so worth it.  We pay $14 for the privilege of living in paradise, and just like the children, we are forced outdoors, which means engaging with neighbors and seeking out activities in town or at the community center.  As our fiend Bob from Michigan pointed out in a comment on this blog, the dry camping rotation is almost certainly a major part of why Sigsbee Park has such a sense of community.

Friends from last year and new ones.  This was our third winter in Key West, with each year seeing us linger longer.  Part of that is because we have (barely) gotten beyond the newbie full time RVer’s need to go go go, but also because we have developed a growing number of friends with whom we enjoying hanging in Key West.  I resolutely refuse to attempt a comprehensive list for fear of missing someone.  They know who they are, and are pretty thoroughly represented in our pictures, both here and our other social media ventures.  We look forward to seeing them all again next winter, and perhaps even crossing paths before then.

The Food.  I don’t think Key West has a particular claim to foodie mecca status, but our multiple lengthy visits here have allowed us to explore and develop favorites, both hidden and well traveled by tourists.  Like every other major island in the Florida Keys, KW has a winter seafood fest.  I wouldn’t put it up there with our top festivals, but it was a fun event, free for military active and retired, with a healthy amount of fried local fare, including our robust basket of conch and oysters.

Any place worthy of calling itself a town has to have a fresh farmers market, and Key West offers several.  We really enjoyed the Thursday event in one of the local parks, where we could score very affordable fresh baked breads, fruit, and veggies, (though we passed on the $20 a pint olives.)

For budgetary reasons we generally limit our restaurant visits, and in Key West that means avoiding down town.  But you can’t spend 75 days there and not try one or three, right?  And so we selected Kelly’s Bar for their very well priced appetizer happy hour menu (surprisingly good chicken wings and margheritas) and the truly wonderful brunch menu at Blue Heaven.   Perhaps next year we will try a couple of others, but man they get pricey the closer to Mallory Square you get.

As an alternative to those expensive downtown restaurants, we were directed to Kennedy’s Cafe just outside the Sigsbee Annex base.  What a find!  With an interesting mixture of east European and Mediterranean options, it became our favorite place.  Turns out our blog acquaintance, Eric from Jeneric Ramblings, holds Kennedy dear so we were able to meet him there during one of his short business trips to the lower keys.

There have been a couple of places that wowed us in past years that seemed disappointing during our recent visits, so we try to keep an open mind about shifting our patronage to new options.  Our new cost sensible deal this year was Lucy’s because of their Taco Tuesday extravaganza: $1 tacos and $2 Coronas.  An unbeatable event for this island, and one that quickly became a Sigsbee mainstay, so much so that we had warring 20 person parties competing for the long outside table.

OK, so that’s it for now, I know the eyes of everyone that reads this glazed over at paragraph two.  Part 2 tomorrow, with the more exciting reports of the parties, markets, visitors and geocaching events from our stay.