This year my in-laws decided to host a family reunion in Key West, FL for Christmas break which meant, of course, sunshine and palm trees for the tired and weary. Bring it on! Besides Jimmy Buffet’s reference to stepping on a pop top and busting his flip-flop I had as little understanding of Key West as I did the importance of printing out boarding passes on Southwest Airlines before you arrived at the airport. Not knowing how Southwest works meant that none of our family of four got to sit together as we were the last to board the plane. (Note to readers: do not do this.)

My ignorance of Key West meant that I was unprepared for the amount of “happy-go-lucky, why bother with stop signs?, let’s party right now!” crowds that dominate Duval Street all hours of the day and night. I was also completely unprepared for roosters and cats that have free reign over the city as well as the Mallory Square crazy man who trained cats to jump threw hoops of fire while a breath taking sunset served as his odd show’s backdrop.

Personally I would not recommend making Key West a family vacation destination any more than I would recommend heading to Las Vegas with the kids. Though there are no casinos in Key West, they have a lot in common including tasteless t-shirts, lots of smoking, and well advertised ways for adults to be entertained. Nonetheless, we had a blast and if your in-laws rent a house and invite you – Go!

Key West is naturally tropical and beautiful. We biked and para-sailed. We fed baby sting rays and ate a ton of ice cream. I love Chapel Hill but coming home was like a cold splash of water as was, I’m sure, the bill for renting a house in Key West over the holidays. A couple things I took away from that place—besides extra lbs. from eating Key Lime pie—was a realization that:

  1. Crazy people and normal people can co-exist quite peacefully when there are enough bars.
  2. Even at the Southern most point in the US the ocean is really cold
  3. There are some words you simply cannot explain to your children in good conscience and
  4. Laid-back attitudes are contagious because they make you stop and enjoy life.

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