96 Hours in the Keys: Day 1

This trip to Florida was funded by my sister. She generously gifted me a snorkeling holiday for my 30th birthday so we decided to try and visit the Dry Tortugas again, since last year's trip was canceled by an impending storm.
We had a bit of PTSD associated with last year's weather so this year, we opted to visit just before the wet season but late enough in the spring that it was still really lovely and warm. Honestly, the last week in April is probably the ideal time to go. It's past the peak of spring break so you won't see too many rowdy children or hungover university students, the weather is pretty predictably awesome, and the pricing really isn't too steep.

Here's what I packed
We also packed a little pop up tent so we'd have a bit of shelter on our beach days. We got ours on Amazon and it came in super handy. I definitely recommend getting one; just search "pop up beach tent" and you'll get a slew of results.

Before we left, we enjoyed a delicious Korean feast. It's always nice for us to indulge in our "default cuisine" before we leave. It prevents homesickness.
We were supposed to take off around 6PM and get in before 9PM but a couple months ago, we got an email saying our flight was rescheduled to take off around 8PM and get in before 11PM. Fast forward to the actual day of our flight: by the time everyone boarded the plane, we were already a bit late so we didn't get in until close to midnight. No worries though! We were in good spirits because that's what vacations do for your mind. They put you in permanent good moods.
After grabbing our rental car, we were off! We sprung for a convertible this time around because we were being super luxe and cool and it was only $20 more than it would be to rent an economy compact so why not?
We rented with Alamo this time because the price was right. The service was courteous and helpful and I was happy with them so I would definitely recommend them.

The rate for the hotel close to FLL that we stayed in previously was almost three times the rate it was last year. So, I dug around for another option. I decided that if we were going to stay elsewhere and it wasn't going to be a two minute drive from the airport, we might as well start heading south and make the next day's drive a bit easier so I settled on this hotel. The pricing was reasonable and the rooms were decent. It wasn't anything to write home about, but the service was friendly and because I'm a Marriott elite member, I do try and squeeze in some points wherever I can.
The next morning, we woke up really bright and early; seriously, we had a 6AM wakeup call on a Saturday whilst on vacation. However, we had to make it down to John Pennekamp for the first snorkel tour of the day. Plus, it's always a good idea to get an early start when you're trucking along Route 1 heading down to the Keys to avoid the bulkiest traffic.
Before driving down, we made a pit stop at a CVS so we could grab some road trip snacks and sunscreen.

Unfortunately, the water visibility forecast wasn't great. We didn't want to waste money on a ride out if we weren't going to be able to see any fish so we decided that we would kill some time and see if the visibility improved for one of the later trips.
So, we grabbed a couple of oars and hopped into a kayak and did the 'Canoe Trail' around the mangroves instead. We kayaked last year and we were terrible. This year, we were much more coordinated and we had a great time. It was a pretty fantastic workout too.

When we got back from our hour-long paddle, we checked on the snorkeling status again and found out the visibility had gotten worse. So, we decided not to snorkel at all. Instead, we walked around the park, did a little "hike" on the Tamarind Trail, and enjoyed the fresh sea air.
By the time we'd finished exploring the park, it was time for lunch. I'd bookmarked a few options on my map last year but none of them really jumped out at me so as I was doing a bit of research last year, I found Morada Bay Beach Cafe. It looked so picturesque with the colorful tables and chairs out on the sand, the view of the water, the surrounding palm trees; I decided we needed to try this place.
It was a really relaxing place and the food was delicious. It is a bit pricey, but you're really not going to find super affordable eats on the more touristy keys so you either have to just go with it or pack a cooler full of food if you want to avoid it.
We started with delicious frozen mango sunsets. They were so good, we were having trouble trying not to suck the entire glass down in one go. For our meal, we picked a few shareable dishes, opting for the mahi mahi tacos (blackened), the ahi tuna tartare (which was basically poke), and the watermelon and feta salad. Everything was delicious and it totally hit the spot. Enjoying seafood by the sea is the best.
After our meal, we took our glasses of water to some of the adirondack chairs closer to the ocean and relaxed for a bit.
Even though we'd just indulged in a lavish meal, I decided we deserved a frozen treat. So, we stopped by Charli's Shave Ice (which is in Robbie's Marina). This is a super cute area with touristy wares for sale. It's a nice spot for a rest stop as you're traveling along the Overseas Highway.
I went for the pina colada flavor while Sis went for the tiger's blood (which was a combination of strawberry, watermelon, and coconut). It was refreshing and syrupy and enjoyable but to be honest, not the best shave ice I've had. I have to give that credit to Ululani's in Maui.
After our snack, we headed over to the docks to find dozens of pelicans hanging out. Soon, the blue skies went cloudy and it looked like rain so we hopped back in the car to make our way south. It was actually perfect timing because as soon as we snapped in our seatbelts, it started pouring.
For our two night stay in Key West, I chose the Southwinds Motel because it had amazing reviews and it was super affordable. The rooms were modern and clean and hardly what I would picture when I hear the word "motel." Plus, they had bike rentals on site and it was in a really great location. I can't recommend this place enough.
After checking in and dropping off our things, we took a walk around the neighborhood to kill a little bit of time before dinner. Luckily, the rain paused long enough for us to explore.
For dinner, we headed to Blue Heaven because of the great reviews and because it was close to the hotel. We shared the famous yellowtail snapper signature dish, the daily special which was a cobia served with mashed potatoes, and a side of sweet plantains. Everything was super delicious and really well seasoned. We're not big fans of overly salty foods and they did it just right here. The dishes were flavorful and special and really great.
For dessert, we shared the chocolate torte. It was pure dark chocolate, which we loved.
After dinner, we rushed back to our hotel in the drizzling rain. We stressed out about the next day's weather forecast for a bit. And then we promptly fell asleep around 8PM because we were so exhausted from the early wake up call and the long day.