The Key West Mystique

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Key West vacations with kids Fort Zach

Key West vacations with kids? Easy answer: It depends

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.


Key West vacations with kids are not for the faint of heart. I know that’s not what you wanted to hear. I know that’s not what the marketing folks tell you, but the words Key West, vacations and kids don’t play well together. Oh, you can do it but, as with sky diving, you probably ought to ask not “can I do it,” but “should I do it”?

Key West vacations with kids

Ranger Ed and I are wrapping up a week with our nine-year-old grandson, which adds some context. If you’re thinking about bringing along the kids — or inviting your grands to visit you here — here are three things Connor taught us.

It’s hot. It might be a typical Key West day, but as soon as they can talk, the first words out of kids’ mouths are going to be a huff-and-puff “it’s hot” with hot having seven syllables. Connor was shocked I had on long sleeves when we did the Turtle Hospital in Marathon earlier this week, though he pretty quickly understood the sleeves acted as a bit of shade. Ditto a hat and even long pants.

Your young visitors are going to be hot, sweaty and miserable unless they live on their own tropical island. Not even kids whose southern summers rival Key West in March are prepared for the relentless heat and humidity. You can help them acclimate by making sure they’re drinking more water than at home, especially outside.

Improve the odds for Key West vacations with kids

Age matters. Try to hit the sweet spot, which is probably nine-13. Old enough to dress themselves; young enough to have imperfect eye-rolling. Anything younger than nine is dicey; they simply can’t sit still. Older than 13? Bored mindless.

Pretty much every Key West venue that bills itself as kid-friendly really isn’t. We don’t offer the high-touch, sophisticated, interactive “experiences” that are home turf for our young visitors. Our venues require walking around (it’s hot) and reading (I’m bored). Or walking around (see previous) and listening (ditto). The Key West Aquarium is adorable and the EcoDiscovery Center (still not open, folks) was decent, though they, too, demand a lot of walking, sitting, listening, reading. Your visitor needs to be accustomed to sitting still and paying attention for long periods; like in school.

Bring your teenagers only if they love the water and are happy spending endless hours on the sand and in the sun — and that there’s an adult or two willing to follow suit. I gotta tell you, I can’t think of anything more boring for a teenager than a week’s family vacation in Key West. Oh, there will be a handful of fun moments, but few and far between is the teen who’d actually think a ride on the Conch Train was worthy of a Tik Toc post, unless it was to make fun.

(Side note: Connor is nine. This was the first time he had the patience to last 90 minutes on the Conch Train– and by the end he was getting testy. You have but to imagine the meltdown of a five-year-old to understand why I say age matters.)

Buy as much space as you can. Don’t even think of cramming two kids and a couple of adults in hotel room and expect anything other than a disaster. The common areas of our hotels are notoriously small. The rooms are small. Our sidewalks are barely wide enough for a person, much less those VW-size strollers. You’ll likely have to leave the hotel to forage food that doesn’t require a college tuition payment.

There’s nothing like paying $24 for your kids’ breakfasts only to have them take two bites and say “this doesn’t taste right.” We offer only a handful of the mainland-style restaurants they know: McDonald’s, IHOP, Denny’s, Taco Bell and (yay!) Dairy Queen. We may think Dion’s is the best fried chicken on the planet, but our young visitors are likely to make Dion’s a big “no” followed by an anguished cry of “what do you mean you don’t have a Chick-fil-A”?

Our hotel pools are best suited to half a dozen adults with cocktail glasses. Pretty sure your eight-year-old’s cannon ball off the side isn’t going to sit well; nor is your toddler’s sagging swim nappy.

Key West vacations with kids Geiger Key

I’m going to take a deep breath and recommend a vacation rental if you’re determined to do a Key West family vacation. (Family is defined as two kids; two adults. If you’ve got more than that or multiple families, you need seriously to re-think Key West for now. Most places here just won’t work for you.)

Make sure your rental has enough bedrooms, outside space, a private (not shared) pool, an outside shower and off-street parking. And, for the love of all that’s holy, tell your rental agent to find you a place in a high-traffic, busy neighborhood where kids just being kids aren’t going to turn the next door local residents into vigilantes. The last thing I want at 6 a.m., is a bunch of screeching girls in the pool next door. Or their parents at midnight for that matter.

Sure, you can do a Key West vacation with kids though I usually steer you elsewhere. Unless. Unless, you live here and can just welcome the grandkids home. That makes me smile.


  1. Barbara Dower

    My kids came to KW a few times per year when my parents were alive. So, we at all meals at home and used the condo pool and walked over to Smathers Beach. They played tennis, did puzzles,but as they’re water rats, spent most of the day in the pool. At night we went to the movies. Rarely went downtown. If course would go to sunset, then Dairy Queen. It was ideal. I miss those days. But basically do agree with you. That was in the mid 70s through the 90s.

    • Linda Grist Cunningham

      Sounds like a wonderful time. That’s much like what we did with Connor this week — including Dairy Queen!

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