96 Hours in the Keys: Day 2

We were pretty stressed out on Saturday evening because the weather forecast said that it was going to be stormy and drizzly for our trip out to the Dry Tortugas. We checked in around 7AM (per the directions we received in an email) and asked about the weather. The nice gentleman at the desk said that the radar looked pretty clear and there might be a passing shower or two. This sounded much better than thunderstorms so we were really happy.
Luckily for us, the only rain we experienced was a light drizzle on the boat ride and when we arrived at the island it was gorgeous blue skies.

There are a couple of options for getting out onto Garden Key. You can either take the ferry or take a plane, which is pricier. It isn't cheap to get out to the Dry Tortugas, but I definitely recommend it. You can also camp on the island; we want to do this eventually. Maybe we'll try next year.

When we checked in, we were given little laminated cards which functioned as our boarding passes.
Once we were aboard, we grabbed some seats upstairs and then went to get some breakfast. It was a typical continental spread with bagels, ham, and fruit.
On our way out, we were treated to a rainbow! Lucky us.
Despite the Dramamine we took and the claims that the ferry has some fancy schmancy technology to prevent dramatic rocking, we did feel a little sick. The best solution to avoid hurling was to hang out on the bow of the boat.
It took us about two and a half hours to get to the Dry Tortugas. We saw some other small islands on the way out.
We took a quick walk around the fort while we waited for the snorkel equipment stand to be set up. We had our own snorkel and mask but we wanted to borrow some fins. (The equipment is included in the cost of the ferry ticket. You just need to sign a waiver on the boat and get a stamp on your hand to get the equipment.)
The water surrounding this key is crystal clear and rather shallow. It's a great place to try snorkeling for the first time. There's also reportedly a crocodile in the area (no worries; he hasn't hurt anyone in the past decade) and some people saw him but we didn't. So that's another reason we want to go back. We want to meet Mr. Croc!
We had so much fun snorkeling. It was really great. There wasn't that much diversity in the fish population but I think it was the first time I've seen huge schools of fish traveling around the sea.
After snorkeling for about an hour, we went to grab lunch from the ferry before they cleaned up. We were warned that if we got there too late, we would be out of luck. We were treated to sandwiches and lots of watermelon and strawberries.
After lunch, we sat in our little pop up tent for a bit to digest before hopping back into the water for a little more snorkel time. This would have been an opportune time for us to reapply our sunscreen, but we were just so excited about snorkeling that we forgot. This resulted in us getting a bit of a burn on our bums and backs but it was worth it.
Just after 2PM, we got out of the water and rinsed off in the fresh water rinse on the boat. We changed and then spent the rest of our time walking around the fort. We climbed up the stairs in one of the towers to the top to enjoy the amazing views.
We didn't actually go on either of the tours so we didn't find out why this fort exists while we were there, but of course, curiosity got the best of me. From my brief research, basically, this (unfinished) fort was built as a companion structure for the lighthouse on a nearby key. There was a naval commander who was hoping to find a spot for a naval station, but thought this area wasn't appropriate. However, others saw benefit in it as a spot for a lighthouse to guide ships around the abundant reefs and shallow waters in the area, since this was a busy area with ships passing through to bring goods to the area. (I shared a faraway view of the lighthouse in one of my photos above.) So that the ships patrolling the Gulf of Mexico would have a bit of protection as well as a place to rest, they built Fort Jefferson. It is the largest brick structure in America, made of more than 16 million bricks, some of which have crumbled off with age.
The five or six hours we were given to spend on the island passed by so quickly, which is another reason we'd like to try camping here. There are no mosquitos, which is a giant plus, but my coworker said that there are rats on the island so she recommends not camping under any trees.
After we got back, we washed up and then borrowed a couple of bikes from our hotel. I'd made reservations at Little Pearl, which was a quick three minute ride away.
We were given a delicious warm baguette to start. It was really good but because we were ravenous, it was extra delicious.
For one starter, we got the ceviche of the day, which was local wahoo. It was crisp and fresh and delicious. I loved that it wasn't overly acidic. It actually had a creamy component to the sauce, which was really nice especially in contrast to the strong spices.
We also got the Bangkok octopus, which our server said was super popular. It was braised in a sweet and savory sauce and set in a coconut milk red curry with a big pile of cilantro leaves. It was incredibly tender and even though it was a bit salty, the creamy sauce helped offset some of that sharpness.
For M's main, she got the ahi tuna with squid ink rice and bok choy. The rice was super flavorful and delicious, the tuna was cooked perfectly, and the bok choy gave it the added crunch it needed.
For my main, I got the grilled wahoo with risotto and escoveche. We loved escovitch when we were in Grand Cayman and this had similar flavors. The meaty fish with the creamy risotto and the tangy capers and shallots came together beautifully.
For dessert, we shared the moscato poached pear with vanilla gelato. The pear was piping hot, lightly spiced with cinnamon, and delicately sweet. And paired with the cold gelato, it made for just the most perfect finish to our meal.
After dinner, we rode up to Mallory Square to join in on the sunset celebration. Unfortunately, it was rather similar to our experience last year where there were just too many clouds in the sky to make it enjoyable so we didn't really stick around for long.
We decided to bike around some more and ended up at the Edward B. Knight Pier where there were dozens of other cyclers. The sunset view from here was much prettier, we thought.
Once the sun fully set, we rode back to our hotel for another early bedtime.