What is more romantic for Valentine’s Day than a last minute trip?
I propose the Florida Keys, for several reasons. No. 1, now that winter has finally arrived, who doesn’t want to escape to a nice, sunny, tropical paradise? No. 2, if you go right now, you’ll miss all the spring break traffic and get a great deal!
Getting to the Keys from the Tri-State is a synch and a short trip won’t break the bank if you plan it right and take advantage of a few little secrets I’ll let you in on, but we’ll get to those in a minute.
Right now, Allegiant Air is offering low-cost round trip tickets to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. from Huntington Tri-State Airport. The northern most Florida Keys are about a 90 minute drive from Fort Lauderdale, so transportation is a must.
Combine your flight with a car rental and you get an even better deal when you book online. Service between the two cities are offered on Sunday and Thursday only.
A quick check this week found: Two round-trip tickets departing Sunday, Feb. 19 and returning Thursday, Feb. 23, along with the rental of a Ford Mustang Convertible costs a budget-friendly $421.16 with taxes and fees. If you leave Thursday and return Sunday, the costs goes up to $546.16. I prefer to travel during the week anyway, as the crowds are typically much smaller and if you leave Sunday, you get an extra day!
Plan to check one bag at the airport. It will contain your snorkels, masks, fins, and a tent, with lightweight sleeping bags and, if you desire, a fishing pole or two. If you are as pale as me, take a large bottle of sunscreen. Packed of course in a ziplock bag (or two) to avoid any messy spills during transport! Now, you’ve got everything you need for a relaxing, low cost mini-trip to the keys.
The flight to Fort Lauderdale, an approximately 90 minute drive from the northern most Key Largo, lands at 10:20 p.m. so book a cheap hotel near the airport and stay put for the night. In the morning, set off with the sun toward the keys. Make a stop in Miami – if you want too – then head straight down U.S. 1 to Florida’s John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park to spend the afternoon snorkeling in the parks’ 70 nautical square miles of protected coral reefs.
Park entrance fees are $8 for a carload and snorkeling tours are $29.95 per adult and $24.95 for children. The park’s reefs are located 3 to 8 miles off shore, so take the boat tour, which gives you 1.5 hours of snorkel time.
Then make the 30 minute drive to Long Key State Park, where you will spend the night. Camping here is right next to the ocean. Fall asleep listening to the waves lap gently at the shore and wake to watch the sunrise without lifting your head. Entry to the park is $5 per carload and its $36 to camp with water and electricity. There are plenty of hot showers and restrooms here.
The next day, continue your journey south to Bahia Honda State Park, a forty-minute drive south. This park is the crown jewel of the trip. Spend the day here, swimming in lazy surf, walking along its pristine white sand beaches, and of course, snorkeling. The reefs at Bahia Honda are a few hundred feet off shore and in shallow water – 4 to 6 feet. They are perfect for beginners.
Plan to camp here, but make a reservation, as this park’s three campgrounds fill up fast and the ocean front sites are limited. Again, fall asleep to the waves and awake to sunrise.
Continue to meander along U.S. Hwy 1 to Key West. Splurge on one of the pricy bed and breakfasts for the last night. Watch the sunset from the famous Mallory Square Dock and take in its evening Sunset Celebration.