The Key West Mystique

Key West Island News


Key West Island News connects Key West residents and friends of the island, fosters our One Human Family culture and advances understanding of shared goals for our island community

Key West tourist pledge

Would you sign a pledge to protect Key West, follow the rules and behave on vacation?

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.


I’m pretty sure the worldwide dispensing of polite behavior began the day I walked out out my parent’s house without makeup. Somewhere in the late 1960s or early ’70s. There might even have been a refusal to wear white gloves to church, although I wasn’t rude enough to sport hair curlers in public.

We baby boomers were raised with a bunch of rules. There was an etiquette class in my fifth grade where we learned — boys and girls — how to set a table, hold a conversation, send a thank you note, shake hands firmly with eye contact. OK, and, yeah, some of us had to “take cotillion,” which taught us to waltz and caused sweaty hands.

As we headed into adulthood, boomers chafed at the rules and bent and broke them at will. We spurned the rules, but we could call upon them as needed. Now that we are creaking around in our older years, we’re baffled that anyone needs to sign a pledge to do the — clearly — right things.

Here cometh the dear-heaven-there-are-too-many-visitors-stop-them-before-they-kill-us pledges. Countries and cities with over-trafficked tourist destinations are crafting pledges of responsibility for visitors. These places, like Key West, are desperate to minimize the environmental disasters created by too many people with no commonsense in too small a space.

In my mood this morning, I just want to shout: What were you thinking, you clueless dope, as you casually ran a stop sign, crashed into a car and had the nerve to explain you didn’t think the stop sign applied to you? Have you no commonsense?

Well, no. We don’t. We boomers raised the Xers who raised up the Millennials without teaching, much less enforcing, some basic rules. Hence we must have pledges of all varietals, which no one may read, much less heed, but without which polite society doesn’t stand a chance.

(Sidebar: Sort of like Moses, the wandering Israelites and the 10 commandments. I guess polite society has always needed pledges. End passing thought. Back to the tourist pledges.)

According to an excellent roundup in the Washington Post, “Many of the pledges include common themes: treat the destination respectfully, don’t leave trash behind, stay on marked paths and sleep at official campsites. Safety over social media is another constant. (“I won’t risk life or limb [human or sapling] for more likes,” reads Bend’s pledge.) And some are extremely specific to their destinations. Hawaii’s Pono Pledge notes: “Molten lava will mesmerize me, but I will not disrupt its flow.’ ”

Seriously? We have to tell people not to do stupid things that would kill them when they take a selfie? Or not step into an active lava flow? Yeah. We do.

It’s easy for me to scoff at pledges like these and I’ll admit to rolling my eyes when I read the story. But it got me thinking. If Key West were to create its own pledge for visitors, what might we say?

Here’s my first draft.

I, (fill in name here), do hereby pledge to the following during my visit to Key West.

  1. I will not be a jerk. Key West tolerates most human oddities, including things one might not get away with on the mainland. But we slam the door if you’re a jerk. Being a jerk is like pornography; we know it when we see it. Getting into a hotel or vacation home bed in full body paint qualifies as being a jerk. Take a shower — and clean up the mess, preferably with your own towels and not the good sheets.
  2. I understand that Key West is not Disney World. You cannot walk down the middle of Duval as though you’re on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom. Ditto stepping off curbs and into traffic. You will get killed.
  3. I will respect the island’s environment. Don’t drag your anchor across the reef. Don’t stand on the coral. Don’t litter. Don’t toss cigarette butts on the sidewalk. Wear ocean-friendly sunscreen. Here are more suggestions on the off chance you have no commonsense.
  4. I will leave my politics behind. I will not wear MAGA apparel or Bernie hats; Mayor Pete for President might get a pass. Key West is a blue dot in a sea of Florida red. Visitors need to know that. There is a gaggle of Republicans in Key West but they lie low and you have to hunt for them. We won’t flaunt our politics while serving you at the bar and we don’t need to be harangued at work.You’re on vacation; stow the politics.
  5. I know what the rainbow means. If it bothers you when two guys hold hands across a restaurant table or two women kiss on the street, go somewhere else. Key West isn’t interested in your homophobic slurs. Keep them to yourself, including the eye rolls; don’t be a jerk.
  6. I will tip large. I will buy local because I can do chain stuff back home. Most of the people in our hospitality and tourist businesses are working two or three jobs to make ends meet and to make your vacation memorable. You think it’s expensive? Try raising a family in Key West.
  7. I will not do things I cannot do on the mainland. I will not ride a bike if I haven’t done so since grade school. I acknowledge that I can die if I rent a scooter, saddle up on a personal watercraft or snap on a snorkel. I recognize that just because I am on my magical island vacation I cannot magically do things my body and mind aren’t previously equipped to do.


Miscellaneous fine print:

  • I know there are sharks in the ocean.
  • I know the beaches aren’t why I came to Key West.
  • I will wear water shoes on the Fort Zach beach.
  • I will go the right way on the one-way streets, including when I am on a bike.
  • I know I can’t see Cuba from Key West. Not even on a dark night.
  • I know sunsets don’t work on rainy days.
  • I know January, February and March are winter in Key West. At the least, that means the ocean water is chilly.
  • I know September is hot, humid and hurricane prone. Except for locals, it’s not a terrific time to be on-island. That’s why you didn’t pay as much for airfare or your hotel room.
  • I will not walk around Publix or Fausto’s naked.


  1. Laurie Stroup

    This is great! Thank you! I pledge to honor the code.

  2. Joseph Barton

    A lover of Key West and it’s mystic. A weekend visitor, that respects the island and Robert the Doll(Happy belated Birthday, Robert. I pledge to honor the code, leave politics at home(can’t stand them anyway) and respect the locals and environment!!!

  3. Lesa

    This is fabulous! Could I also suggest a pledge for locals? Start with, I understand that tourism is our town’s life blood, and I won’t subject visitors to random acts of rudeness that make them not want to come back.

    • Linda Grist Cunningham

      Thanks for the great idea! I’ll collect others like your suggestions and do a future column.

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