Key West with Tweens: A Perfect Family Day

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Vacationing in Key West with tweens can be a lot of fun. Now that they are a bit older and able to travel easier, it's time to get out and do more of the things you couldn't do when they were young children. You'll find that innocent curiosity has been replaced with a sense of adventure and a need for excitement. Key West is just the place for a family vacation they will be talking about for years to come. Here are some family vacation ideas for the perfect trip to Key West with tweens.

Morning

Since the charter boat you want to be on leaves at 8AM, it will be an early morning for you and the kids. You'll need to get a filling breakfast to go before starting on your adventure. Stop by Old Town Bakery and pick up some coffee and multigrain baguettes for the adults and orange juice and banana nut muffins for the kids, then hop in the car. You don't want the boat to leave without you! The bakery is located at 930 Eaton Street, Key West; they're open 7AM-5PM every day except Wednesdays but call 305-396-7450 to check.

One of the best family vacation activities in Key West is snorkeling. There are many charter boat companies on the island, but the more intimate tours will give you the best experience, especially when you're snorkeling. Abyss Dive Center has a small boat, the Vitamin Sea, which holds only six passengers. The knowledgeable captains will take you out to the most popular reefs, like my favorite, the Donut. Wear long-sleeved rash guards to protect you from the sun and help keep you warm while you and the kids swim through harmless walls of jellyfish and observe the wealth of sea life just 20 or 30 feet below you. Vibrant tropical fish of every shape and size, manta rays, eels and octopus are just a few of the things you will find.

The first time the kids put their face in the water, they will pop right back up and exclaim, "MOM! Look at this!" The reef itself is living and full of colorful plants that dance with the rhythms of the ocean. Whether you swim into a school of fish or watch them from a distance, this will be a favorite and lasting memory of your trip to Key West with tweens.

The four-hour trip for the small charter costs $57 per person including all equipment. Abyss Dive Center headquarters is located at 12565 Overseas Highway, Marathon, FL 33050. Call them on 305-743-2126 for more information.

Afternoon

After you help the captain unpack the boat and rinse off the equipment, everyone will be pretty hungry. Throw something comfortable on over your swimsuits and head over to Keys Fisheries at 3390 Gulfview Avenue, Marathon. Everything on the menu is fresh off the boat and seating is entirely outdoors on the covered docks over the water in the breeze, which is helped along by huge steel fans. Start off with the crispy and flavorful conch fritters. The shrimp quesadilla is great for kids and the lobster rueben is absolutely delicious. Make sure you stick your heads in the sign and snap a memorable family vacation photo of your tweens on your way out! If you wish to check opening hours (usually 11AM-9PM daily) or make a reservation, call Keys Fisheries on 305-743-4353.

No family vacation in the Keys is complete without touring the home of the most popular Key West celebrity: Ernest Hemingway. There is even a bar named after him! Hemingway called Key West home beginning in the 1920s and many of his books were influenced by the people and the experiences he had while living in the area.

Touring the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, at 907 Whiteheads Street, Key West, will give you and the kids a taste of history and you will meet the famous Hemingway (six-toed!) cats, the living descendants of the previous ownersÕ pets. The tour is one of the most affordable family vacation ideas, charging only $11 for adults and $6 for kids. You could even end your tour with a stop at Hemingway's local watering hole, the family-friendly Sloppy Joe's bar and restaurant at 201 Duval Street, Key West.

Evening

After a long day of water-based family adventure and ghost-chasing, it's time to sit down and relax with some good food and cold drinks. Your family vacation with tweens will end perfectly if you dine at Turtle Kraals, where the casual Caribbean atmosphere is complimented by a perfect bay view. Order any of the barbecue dishes - all of them are slow-smoked for 14 hours over wood chips. I recommend any of the dry rub dishes (ribs, chicken) with sauce on the side. Barbecue enthusiasts will tell you this is the only way to eat smoked meat. The fish tacos are also delicious and are served with black beans and rice. Turtle Kraals, 231 Margaret Street, Key West, 305-294-2640.

If your kids thirst for a bit of eerie adventure, take them on the Ghosts & Gravestones "Frightseeing" Tour. The tour company promises that you will be spooked, or your $27 admission fee will be refunded. The Travel Channel named Key West one of America's "Most Haunted" locations and it's no wonder, given the gruesome tales of woe you will hear. This tour is not for the faint of heart but for thrill-seeking tweens who really want that little something extra to text home about. Tours leave from the corner of Front and Duval Streets in Key West. Call 305-294-4678 to check seasonal times and rates: there are usually ghost tours at 8PM and 10PM March to November, and 7PM and 8:30PM November to March. Reservations are required.

Key West is a city full of exciting places to see and things to do, especially if you are traveling with tweens. Take some of these suggestions and you're sure to have a memorable vacation in Key West with tweens, kids and adults alike.
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