Key West is an exciting Disney Cruise Line Caribbean port of call not far off the coast of the continental United States. As the largest island in Florida, Key West measures 4 miles long and 2 miles wide and is a tourist destination made famous in the last century for being the residence and occasional inspiration for notable writers Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams. The island represents the southernmost point in the continental U.S., and because of proximity to the Gulf Stream, enjoys a mild tropical climate.
Things to See and Do
Key West is frequented every year by families who travel by cruise ship into the harbor to enjoy the city's various recreational offerings. Upon arrival, it's easy to see why so many flock to this Caribbean destination for fun in the sun.
Lovers of the outdoors will find plenty to admire in Key West, an island with gorgeous golden-sand beaches, and which supports its own Botanical Forest and Garden and Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. You can enjoy a vast array of water sports—from snorkeling to parasailing—just as easily as you can enjoy a fresh-air hike.
Apart from its natural wonders, there are numerous sites to visit in town for memorable experiences. Key West boasts a host of theaters and a thriving artist community at the Studios of Key West. Cosmopolites will especially enjoy New Town, which is the chief commercial and residential sector of the island, featuring shopping centers, malls, schools and charming neighborhoods.
Local Culture and Flavor
With its beautiful beaches, balmy weather, pristine natural settings and an Old Town boasting some of the most fetching of old American architecture, it's no wonder Key West is a celebrated locale for world-class leisure, recreation and scintillating nightlife. The island also possesses a fascinating culture all its own.
The oldest part of the island includes the historic district and is known as "Old Town." Here, visitors can tour Mallory Square—where a street festival is held daily at sunset—and Duval Street, a popular destination for carefree dining and drinking. Old Town also features Victorian mansions and many of the island's legendary establishments, dating as far back as 1886 to 1912.
Past and Present
With so much of its original architecture still intact, it's clear that Key West is a settlement with a long history. Once part of the Spanish-owned territory of Florida, it was transferred in 1815 by the governor of Havana to U.S. citizen John W. Simonton, who bought the island on the recommendation of his friend, John Whitehead—a man who had been shipwrecked on the island once and had recognized its vast potential as a strategic harbor.
Positioned on the wide shipping lane of the Straits of Florida, it was known as the "Gibraltar of the West" for its mercantile and military value. Famous Commander Matthew C. Perry physically claimed Key West as U.S. territory by planting an American Flag on its shores in 1822.
Early settlers farmed key limes here; later inhabitants salvaged cargo sunk on nearby reefs to eventually create young America's wealthiest city.
Many initial residents of Key West were immigrants who traveled there from the Bahamas; their cultural influence is felt heavily and richly in Key West today. Because the island is situated closer to Havana than it is to Miami, a steady influx of Cuban immigrants transformed the population of the island throughout the last century.
Today, you can tour streets that Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams called home, or choose to travel to the coasts for snorkeling adventures in the crystal-clear waters, as so many vacationers do happily year after year.
Fun Facts & Tips
If you plan to explore Old Town by foot, be sure to wear comfortable shoes.
Don't miss Old Town, which has the largest collection of unique 19th-century architecture in the world.
Key West is approximately 2 miles wide by 4 miles long.