There’s a refrigerator magnet in my kitchen that says: How to live on an island. Expect company.
For sure. When we moved to Key West full time in 2012, we extended casual invitations to friends and acquaintances. Come see us if you’re ever headed to Key West. I mean, after all, it was the polite thing to do. Right? And, when we used to do it at our previous hometowns, everyone would nod, say “sure; that would be nice” and never show up. We were politely friendly — and never had to wash the sheets and prep a guest room.
We’ve learned to keep a Key West guest calendar. Sheets and linens at the ready. Copies of the best maps and what-to-do lists. A spare key for the side door. We like sharing the island with friends and family — and the occasional acquaintance who decides we’re a new best friend.
But…. And, you knew there had to be one, right? We’ve also learned it’s helpful to have some house guest helpful hints.
- We aren’t on vacation. You are. If you want to be asked back, it’s good to remember that your hosts aren’t on vacation, not even the ones who are retired. We have meetings to attend, chores to do, errands to run. Many of us are working. We often can’t spend every waking moment squiring you around the island, as much as we might want to. It’s best if you can entertain yourself and let us join in when schedules allow.
- Your accommodations are going to be tight. We don’t have much space for spreading out. Our houses, condos and apartments are about the size of your garage back home. Pack light. Be neat. Pick up after yourself. Especially if there’s no guest room and you’re sharing a bathroom with others.
- Don’t expect us to cook and clean. A fresh pot of coffee each morning, additional towels for the pool, maybe a shared meal or two and access to whatever is in the fridge. Might even toss your dirty clothes in the washer in a pinch. We can do that. But three meals a day, snacks and adult beverages? Not so much. You can always stop by Fausto’s for provisions to share or head out for meals on your own.
- The weather can suck. Yeah, we advertise sun, sand, surf and breezes, but it can be downright nasty here on occasion. We’ve had week-long house guests on whom it rained all day, every day. Don’t blame us. We’ll help you find fun things to do. We don’t offer cancellation or weather refunds, but we probably have spare ponchos and umbrellas.
- Pay your fair share. Don’t expect your hosts to pick up the tabs for your vacation entertainment, dining and recreation. It never hurts to whip out your credit card and pick up the bill for those drinks, dinner or water sport outing — and it’ll guarantee you’ll get a return invitation.
- Tip big. You might think 15 percent is a great tip on the mainland. Not here where servers are often holding down three jobs to make ends meet and make your vacation memorable. Make it 20 percent minimum; always tip on the total amount and not the happy hour discounted amount; and, don’t hesitate to make it 30 percent or more for good service and a great experience. I’ve been known to slip an extra tip to a server when a house guest sorta didn’t do quite right.
- Rethink the hostess gift. Really. I know you learned long ago it was always appropriate to bring a token of your appreciation to the host and hostess. But, remember Tip 2: Space is at a premium; we don’t have room for more stuff. On the other hand, a bottle of wine and picking up the tab? Go for it.
- Forego being affronted if we say not-this-time. Seems everyone wants to visit between Christmas and Mother’s Day. Of course they do. That’s high season and sometimes the hostess’ calendar looks like we’re a bed-and-breakfast. February 14 may be the only time you can come to Key West. We get that. But if we’ve had visitors for the two weeks prior and more coming later in the month, well, we just might not be able to squeeze you in. Ask again. Or come in off season.
- Careful with the politics and cultural observations. Not all your hosts and hostesses share your politics and certainly their friends may not. So, while it’s fun to meet “the locals,” keep in mind you’re the new kid on the block and your politics might not quite mesh. For sure, this isn’t the time to point out all the things wrong with Key West. We know the beaches aren’t as nice as, say, the Outer Banks or Sanibel. That’s not why you came to Key West, right?
- Leave the kids and pets at home — unless you’re family. Or get a hotel room if you need more space to corral the urchins and fur babies. I am totally delighted to have my brother’s Newfoundland in the house for a week. Or my nephew’s and son’s kids. Not as delighted to have other people’s toddlers and yappy dogs. And our Cat 5s are horrified.
Now, on the off chance all our former house guests are reading this and wondering if something they did prompted the column: No. It was not you. Everyone of you has gotten a return invitation. Just don’t forget to book ahead.
Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of KeyWestWatch Media, which publishes Key West Island News. Her opinions are her own.