Journey: Adult Spring Break in the Florida Keys

Let the kids have their bars and trendy hot spots. It's time to feel young again in the Florida Keys.

Photo by Florida Key’s News Bureau, Bob Care

I’m still not entirely sure how I ended up in Florida for Adult Spring Break. I’ve never been a fan of the state. The humidity, the bugs, and my irrational fear of fish—which always seemed to zero in on my legs when I was in Florida waters—had kept my beach vacations to pretty much anywhere but Florida.

But it had been a rough year. I recently separated from my husband of 12 years, and one of our two young children had taken it particularly un-well. The past several months had been intensely sad, heartbreaking, and exhausting. So when my aunt offered to take my kids for spring break week, I couldn’t throw them at her fast enough.

I started planning my own spring break trip. First to Cuba, then Costa Rica, then Mexico. For a variety of reasons, none of those destinations worked out, but the Sunshine State did. And somehow, in the end, I had the greatest-ever Adult Spring Break in the Florida Keys with my best friend, whom I’d known since we were young enough to have actual, real-life, public school spring breaks.

This was my first time in the Keys, and I found the 125-mile long strand of islands to be pretty different from my previous Floridian experiences. It was less humid, less buggy, and, I’m happy to report, the fish stayed away from my legs.

We started in Key West, where we spent three days and nights on an anchored sailboat we rented from Airbnb. We couldn’t have had a better time had we stayed at the world’s most luxurious resort. Our stunning aquatic surroundings in tranquil Cow Key more than made up for our boat’s lack of amenities (like refrigeration, plumbing, air conditioning, space to walk around, and pretty much any other amenity you can think of).

Photo by Amber Kipp

I felt the happiest I’d felt in years exploring the glass-like waters via kayak, gleefully trying to match my strokes to my friend’s as we glided across the water. We navigated—and I mean navigated—mangroves searching for jellyfish and manatees, we snorkeled, alone and unbothered, with tens of nurse sharks, and each night we docked our kayak for dinner, instead of parking a car.

One night we rowed ourselves to shore and hit Key West’s bar-lined, Bourbon Street-esque Duval Street, which overflowed with stereotypical (read: younger) spring breakers. That jaunt was enough for us to fully surrender to the slower pace of our Adult Spring Break, which, at age 37, no longer involved 2 a.m. beer bongs.

As much as we adored staying on our little sailboat, after three days we were ready for a shower and toilet that had, you know, walls around it. We drove north to Key Largo, where we checked into Baker’s Cay Resort, a beautiful, nature- inspired property tucked into a lush, waterfront setting.

Coming off the sailboat experience, merely having air conditioning seemed extravagant, but Baker’s Cay further spoiled us with a balcony overlooking Florida Bay, an Aveda-stocked spa, and a tiki bar smack dab on one of the resort’s two private beaches.

On the rare occasion we left our lounge chairs on Coconut Beach, it was to explore more of that amazing water, which might be the most consistently clear I’ve ever seen. With an abundance of both coral reefs and shipwrecks, Key Largo is known as the dive capital of the world, and while we didn’t do any diving, we were blown away by the variety of fish and colorful coral we encountered snorkeling around White Bank.

By the time our week in the Keys was up, I’d made a few breakthroughs. I could most certainly find joy in post-divorce life, Florida was pretty cool after all, and every adult should get a spring break.

Photo @seefromthesky

What to do

There are beaches and bars, Ernest Hemingway’s house and an artisan village, but come on, you’re there for the water. Charter a fishing boat, hop on a paddle board at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, dive a shipwreck, snorkel with nurse sharks, kayak a mangrove maze, zip around on a jet ski, or just settle in for the afternoon on an oversize floatie. When you’re in the Keys, you’ll want to get wet.

What to eat

After eating your weight in conch fritters and stone crab and “researching” all of the delicacies at Cuban bakeries, you’ll have to push through the fullness for key lime pie. Key West’s Blue Heaven restaurant— where Oprah’s a big fan—is a favorite for its vertiginous, meringue-topped slices. You can even have it for breakfast; we won’t tell.

Where to stay

Hurricane Irma may have temporarily knocked down Baker’s Cay Resort in 2017, but it didn’t knock it out. The 200-room, waterfront luxury resort reopened in February 2019 with a refreshed look; use it as your basecamp for exploring Key Largo’s storied waters. (Rates from $280 May-December; $475 January- April)

Airbnb.com has many quirky rentals in the Keys, from tiny houses at sea to a floating barrel cabin to rustic sailboats.