- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

The 4-mile long island at the end of U.S. Route 1 oozes with the essence of a South America sanctuary. Swaying palm trees, hidden hammocks and growing ivy that offers homes part-protection and part-privacy from the curious visitors that walk the island are what make Key West inviting and mysterious.

Here, Ernest Hemingway penned some of his greatest works, which along with the descendants of his cats, remain in the home he inhabited on the island, just 90 miles north of Cuba.

Today, Key West remains a popular destination for writers, artists and musicians looking for a muse. It was the inspiration for many of Jimmy Buffet’s most treasured songs and a favorite sight of painters and photographers wishing to capture the colors of the Key West sunset.

Before you dismiss the idea of an island visit altogether, let’s address a few misconceptions about Key West.

For starters, you don’t have to be on Spring Break or hold your fraternity’s title for keg-stand champion to have a good time here. Key West is one of the most laid-back and relaxing destinations in the U.S. perfect for families, girlfriend getaways, or students needing a break from studies.

There’s something for everyone in Key West, and its not necessarily found at Margaritaville. Jimmy Buffet’s island enclave is certainly a tourist draw, but a quick walk down Duval Street will introduce you to many other bars and restaurants, all offering their own unique ambiance. Whether you’re looking for candlelight dinners or dollar drafts, you’ll find it in Key West.

Finally, it’s true what they say about the sunset — the Key West sunset is one of the most majestic sites you’ll ever witness, and it’s completely free.

A quick search for flights and hotels in Key West yielded a variety of options. For anxious travelers looking to vacation in the next 30 days, Key West vacation packages (including round-trip airfare and hotel stay) started at approximately $800 for six nights and seven days. If you can hold off a few months, plan a midsummer getaway and the price drops $300 per person for the same flights and hotel.

(Flights arrive and return from Washington’s Dulles to Florida’s Key West airports. Hotels were priced for two people per room.)

Once you’re on the island, take advantage of happy hour which occurs daily from 4 to 8 p.m. and spend a day at sea. For under $65 per adult (less for children), you can spot dolphins, go snorkeling and parasail along the Gulf of Mexico. Hint: save your ticket stubs and save on dinners and drinks at restaurants and bars around the island.

Melanie Nayer is the Senior Editor of Cheapflights.com.

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