Sunday, January 15, 2006
1 Fly into Fort Lauderdale or Miami. Both the Key West and Marathon airports can cost considerably more to fly to than their larger neighbors to the north (see Details, below right), and while the drive south can be a drag, the savings can be substantial.
2 Go in the off-season. Lodging rates plummet during the off-season in the Keys, generally summer and fall, so you can get that waterfront room instead of the one overlooking the dumpster. And avoid visiting during special events, like lobster season and October's Fantasy Fest, Key West's crazed ode to Halloween.
3 Do your own cooking. Large supermarkets are found throughout the Keys, with prices comparable to the D.C. area. Stock up, then check into one of the numerous hotel rooms with full kitchens. Packing a lunch and picnicking at a park or beach can also save you a bundle. Or . . .
4 . . . Eat out early. Even the diviest eateries can have entrees that top $20 or more during peak dining hours, but this is the land of early-bird specials and tiki bar happy hours -- so expect reduced food prices. Also, eating lunch at some of the pricier joints allows you to sample their menus at lower rates.
5 Camp. Many of the state parks in the Keys offer beautiful campsites at water's edge. Go to http://www.floridastateparks.org/ for info on fees and parks that offer tent camping, RV facilities or both. The Florida Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (850-562-7151, http://www.floridacamping.com/ ) can help you find private RV parks or campgrounds.
6 Ask for discounts. Many attractions, restaurants and hotels offer AAA, senior and military discounts. Pick up the free tourist guides in supermarkets, restaurants, etc.; they're loaded with coupons.
7 Bring or rent snorkel gear. Because some of the best places to snorkel are well offshore, an organized tour comes in handy. But if you're just a casual fish-ogler, there are plenty of spots where you can wade just a bit into the surf and see some aqua-life.
8 Get a pass that covers multiple attractions or parks. For instance, the Island, Paradise and Key West passports, sold at the Pier House and the Key West Welcome Center gift shop on Fitzpatrick Street (305-292-8962), cost $60, $77 and $123, respectively (you can also buy ahead at http://www.historictours.com/keywest ) and include admission to Key West attractions and shopping discounts.
Likewise, if you plan to visit many Florida state parks or make repeat visits to the area, consider an annual pass. A family pass, which is good for up to eight people, allows entry to most parks and costs $80. For information, go to http://www.floridastateparks.org/annualpass . The passes can also be bought at any park.
9 Pinch pennies in Key West. It's an expensive place, so try to buy your commemorative T-shirts and magnets elsewhere in the Keys. Lodging is cheaper just north of the city in spots such as Big Pine Key, and you won't have to deal with the congestion. (You can leave your rental car at the Park N' Ride on Grinnell and Caroline streets all day for $13 and ride the free shuttle downtown.) Save on bike rental costs by finding accommodations that lend guests bikes for free. Check the Web sites of Key West's museums before you go; some have admission discounts you can print out.
-- Andrea Sachs and John Deiner