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Do it yourself in Key West

It turned out that our sailing shore excursion got canceled due to lack of interest. The man at the excursions desk explained that most people choose to do city tours rather than water-based activities in Key West. But when we disembarked, I saw a booth for the same trip on the pier and inquired about a sailing tour. Not only was the company running tours that day, but we were charged a cheaper rate than we would have paid onboard.

And that is today’s lesson about Key West. There is no reason to book most tours with the cruise line, and depending on what you want to do, perhaps no reason to book a tour at all. You can easily plan your day yourself and save money while you’re at it.

My travel companion, Julie, and I did a two-hour sail on the Schooner Liberty, which was docked pretty much next to our ship. Several other companies, such as Fury and Danger, run kayaking, snorkeling, and sailing trips from the same pier, so you can book your excursions directly rather than paying a premium for onboard reservations. When we walked through Old Town Key West before our departure, we saw several places to sign up for city tours, as well as establishments that rented scooters and little electric cars. There didn’t seem to be much need for advance reservations.

In the afternoon, Julie and I split up. She headed for Fort Zachary Taylor state park and beach, about a 25-minute walk from the cruise port. There’s an entrance fee, but once inside, you can rent snorkel gear and get up-close views of the coral reef. I took a more historical approach and visited the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. The $11 entrance fee is a bit steep but it includes a tour of Hemingway’s home, writing studio, and garden, and probably goes toward the upkeep of this historic home and the 40 to 60 cats that live there. On my way back to the ship, I passed the Little White House, Harry S. Truman’s mansion, which is also open for tours.

There are plenty of shopping, eating, and drinking options, as well as a couple of pirate and maritime-related museums, within walking distance of the cruise pier. Everything you’ll need is easily accessible, and as this is the U.S., people speak English and the dollar is the primary currency. So my recommendation is to ignore the shore excursions staff trying to sell you on expensive day trips and plan your day the old-fashioned way—by yourself.

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