Monday, December 8, 2008

The Midlife Slam

Turning the BIG 5-0 can be a life changing event. Some people buy a sports car, some have an affair, others buy a Harley and hit the road.

Field & Stream Magazine editor Mike Toth decided the best therapy for him was to invent the "midlife slam" and try to catch fifty different species of fish in less than a week. Wow!

There are not many places to accomplish such a feat so easily as the Florida Keys and specifically here in Islamorada, the Sportfishing Capital of the World. Mike easily met his goal and you can read all about it in the December issue of Field & Stream.

My point in bringing this to your attention is that Islamorada is possibly the best place on the planet for fishing and we (as a destination) do a poor job of promoting the family aspect of fishing here. Way too much emphasis is placed on tournaments, fly-fishing and world records.

The truth is you don't have to know anything about fishing to have a great time with the whole family on the water and it can be done on just about any budget. If you have any interest at all in going fishing, you really ought to let us help you set something up.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A New Partnership: Book your rooms and activities all in one place... FREE!

Over the years I've seen so many people waste their vacation running around town researching who and where to book instead of relaxing and enjoying themselves. 

That's why long time fishing buddy and Bud n' Mary's owner Richard Stanczyk and myself have teamed up to make it easier to book your rooms and fishing guides all in one process right from Pines and Palms and soon direct from our web site.

These are the same guides already on our short list... the same fishermen you've been seeing all these years on television and in countless magazine and newspaper articles about Islamorada.

You'll also be able to book kayak rentals, boat rentals, guided tours, diving and snorkeling all with one phone call to the resort (and soon with a few clicks from our web site).  Call 800-624-0964.

This service is absolutely FREE. You do not pay a penny more than if you did the research and booked them yourself. Our goal is to help you have fun. You've trusted us all these years with the resort, now let us help you with your activity plans.

My recommendation: Book early so the best fishermen are in the boat with you instead of somebody else. Fishing, diving, boating, kayaking, dinner... we've got you covered and we're here to help.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Florida Bay Fishing Report - Hot Spots Revealed in 2 Articles

Fall has arrived and delivered our first mini-cold front of the year. Wow, that air feels great! Cooler air combined with shorter days and less sunlight has sparked the fishing in Florida Bay. 

Two recent articles (one in the Miami Herald and the other in Florida Sportsman) caught my attention because they both revealed very specific locations to begin your hunt for Redfish and Snook. Usually these articles give just enough information to get you excited but only a general idea of locations.

Click HERE for the Snook article by Susan Cocking of the Miami Herald. For the article on Redfish spots, you'll have to purchase the October edition of Florida Sportsman Magazine and turn to page 66 in the Action Spotter section. 

Friday, August 29, 2008

Ahhh September...

Great fishing, warm crystal clear water, calm inviting seas, the crowds are gone... ahhh September, quiet time in the Florida Keys. 

This is the time of the year when locals regroup after a long season, when captains work on their boats, when kids go back to school and when you can get the best deals on hotels, fishing, diving and dining. 

In the old days, hotels would actually close in September due to the lack of business. It was cheaper to close than to stay open. Now days, hotels are open and offering their best deals of the year. 

Yes, there is the chance of a hurricane but most hotels are flexible with cancellation polices to make it easy for you to be here. 

Come on down and relaaax. 

No lines, no hassles, no problems. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Hotel Booking Tip: Better ask about Hidden Fees!

With the economy off and gas prices up, people are shopping around for the best hotel deals. My advice is to be very careful. Don't just call and ask for the room rates. Ask if there are additional charges other than tax. 

In many cases the true daily cost will be the room rate plus a "resort fee" or other hidden charges AND they won't tell you if you don't ask. I do not like this trend. It's not a "bait and switch" situation but it's not totally honest either. It makes the consumer think they are getting a better deal and/or a much lower rate than the hotel down the street. Upon arrival, it may be too late to go somewhere else. 

The most common hidden daily charge is a Resort Fee. You have to look for the fine print on a confirmation letter, web site, or hotel rules to find out what it is and 99% of the time it is not negotiable and must be paid along with the room rate. These fees range from $10 to as high as $60 per day ($60 is at a hotel less than a mile from Pines and Palms). So if you were quoted a room for $279 per night for example, when you add the resort fee (say $30), you get a real nightly rate of $309 per night and a total extra cost for a week of $210.

Another hidden fee could be for parking, common in big cities but not something you would expect in the Keys. Bringing a boat? Not only will you be charged a daily dockage fee but sometimes a fee to launch your boat and park your trailer. Want your room cleaned daily? Look out for daily housekeeping fees. What's next? Some hotels are now experimenting with added energy fees.

This thing bothers me because at our place we do it the old fashioned way. Everything is covered in the daily rate: coffee, daily newspaper, housekeeping, energy, dockage, towel service, parking, etc. You are not forced to pay for extras like kayaks, bicycles, snorkeling equipment, fishing gear, etc., stuff that you may not use. 

You gotta compare apples to apples. One place might seem to have lower rates but don't forget to add in the resort fee and other charges to find the best deal.

Now you know... the rest of the story.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Pet Friendly Resorts

Quite often somebody stops by and complains they had to leave their hotel and find somewhere else to stay because there were animals everywhere and/or their room smelled like dog. 

The reason is simple. There aren't many places that allow pets. The ones that do are magnets for people traveling with cats and dogs and other animals such as ferrets and birds (strange but true).

Don't get me wrong, I love animals. That's me in the photo with our dog "Baby." We've experimented with allowing pets at the resort. We've tried a limited number of pet friendly rooms, we've tried small animals only... unfortunately it's the same result: dog droppings, hair, barking, and smell. 

Do yourself a favor, before you book a room ask if they allow pets. If it's a smaller property and you're not traveling with your doggie, you might want to try someplace else. If it's a larger property request a pet-free room.

As a resort owner, I wish there was a good way to allow pets and still keep the rooms clean and quiet. Let me know if you have any ideas. 

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Lobster Mini-Season

Did you come down to the Keys to get some lobster? 

The annual 2-day "mini lobster season" frenzy has come to a close and it looks like most folks did pretty well. 

If you missed out on the early fun, you can still come down and get your freebies because the regular season opens August 6th and runs through March 31st. 

It's been my experience that there are still plenty of easy-to-get lobsters through the month of October. After that, the commercial fishermen will have put a good dent in the population so it becomes a bit more difficult to find them.

If you are looking for lobsters, the important thing to remember is that they move around every night. Just because a likely looking place has been cleaned out doesn't mean they are gone for good. Good cover is good cover. Wait a few days and you might be surprised. 

Gas prices have reduced the numbers of people visiting in the Keys so if you want to visit now is a great time and there are some good deals out there. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Jewfish Creek Bridge Opens

It couldn't happen any sooner... the new Jewfish Creek Bridge opens this Thursday (May 22) reducing a major traffic snarl on the Keys side of the 18 mile stretch. The bridge soars 65 feet into the air and will eventually eliminate the need for the drawbridge that has stalled traffic and caused huge problems during hurricane evacuations. Much of the repaving and widening of the road has been finished on the Monroe County side but we won't see completion of the entire project (Florida City to Key Largo) until 2011.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Where's the Beach?

As a hotel owner in the Keys, it freaks me out when a visitor tells me they can't wait to get here so they can take a long walk down the beach. In their mind I'm sure they hear screeching sea-gulls and see crashing waves with endless miles of white sandy beach.

Sorry, we don't have that here. Many people just don't do the research before going on vacation and are disappointed when they arrive. And I learned a long time ago, as the owner of the resort... it is going to be my fault for not revealing this fact. So we do a lot of explaining on telephone calls about the beaches (or lack of) in the Florida Keys.

Our beaches are quite beautiful but different. Most Keys resorts have a nice beach area for sunning and swimming but they are not long enough for running or taking a walk. We bring the sand in by the truckload because we really don't have much naturally occurring sand due to the lack of wave action. 

Here's a couple of definitions you need to understand: A "Sunning Beach" means the resort has a nice sandy beach area with lounge chairs but you can't swim from the beach due to a sea wall. A "Swimming Beach" means they have a nice sandy area but you can get up from your lounge and walk directly into the water without negotiating a sea wall.

There are a few nice beaches in the Keys. Near Islamorada there is Anne's Beach located at mile marker 73 on the ocean side. The beach has a nice shallow sandy swimming area, covered picnic tables, boardwalk and bathroom facilities. It's close to the road but pretty nice.

The nicest beach in the Keys is Bahia Honda located at mile marker 37. Some of the most prestigious travel magazines rank Bahia Honda as one of the best beaches in Florida and others rank it as one of the best and beachs in the world.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Islamorada Restaurant Guide

Our guests really appreciate this restaurant guide we provide as they check-in at the resort. B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner, ** means this is one of my favorite places, O/S = Oceanside, B/S = Bayside, B/A = Boating accessable.

*Lazy Days: (L,D) mm 79.9 O/S; 664-5256; 2nd floor oceanfront dining, a beautiful view. Get a reservation for the balcony and eat outside. In the summer, ask for a table on the balcony but in the shade. B/A
Hungry Tarpon: (B,L,) mm 77.5 B/S; 664-0535; This is fun little Keys diner. It’s a “dive” but the food is really good. It’s a popular local favorite. Try their unusual breakfast specials. Good burgers. Eat, then go have some fun feeding the Tarpon out back at Robbie’s… those fish are BIG, imagine catching one on a fly rod! B/A.
*Midway Café & Coffee Bar: (B,L) mm 80.4 O/S; 664-2622; They have good homemade food and the best coffee (which they roast). This is Islamorada’s version of Starbucks but with high quality food. Breakfast & lunch served 6:00am – 3:00pm Thurs.-Sat., 7:00am-2:00pm Sunday, closed Wednesday. Smoothies are super too. A bit more expensive than your average breakfast place but, homemade is homemade.
**Uncle’s: (D) mm 80.9 O/S; 664-4402; One of my favorite dinner places! They don’t have a view, but the food and the service is excellent. Known for Tuna, try the “Tuna Teriyaki” (it’s a bit hot); excellent local fish preparations; usually a wild game dish on the menu too. Bring an appetite; they give you tons-o-food! Arrive early and enjoy the antics of Tony the bartender… you’ll know what I mean after you meet him.
**Spanish Gardens Café: mm 81 O/S, (L,D); UPDATE! One of my new favorites for lunch, the sandwiches are unbelievably good. This is a small deli and restaurant with fine cheeses and meats with fresh bread. There are also smaller tapas items available, coffee and fresh squeezed juices. They also sell neat gourmet items. I just updated this (1/15/09) to a ** rating because they recently updated their dinner menu and everything is fabulous. Order a glass of the Rioja with dinner... yum.
*Green Turtle Inn: (B,L,D) mm 81 O/S; 664-2006; My new favorite place for breakfast and they have great coffee too (Starbucks). Lunch and dinner is very good too. It’s real nice inside, let us know what you think!
Islamorada Fish Company: (L,D) mm 81.5 B/S; 664-9271; Fun must-do lunch while you are here… eat outside on their dock... fish in a basket style… beautiful Bay view AND it’s a working seafood market. Shop at the Worldwide Sportsman next door before or after dining. If it’s Stone Crab season, don’t leave without trying some… they’re fully cooked, get the honey mustard sauce and a wooden mallet to break open the shells, take home and eat: yum… sweet meat! The boats come and go daily with their fresh catch in season. B/A
Zane Grey: (L,D) mm 81.5 B/S, located inside the World Wide Sportsman, 664-4244. Excellent view of the bay from the upstairs balcony, light lunch – dinner, cigar bar, entertainment (sometimes). B/A
**Morada Bay: (L,D) mm 81.5 B/S; 664-0604; Go here for nightly sunset celebration. One of our favorite hangouts for a cocktail and/or dinner. Wear your sandals so you can walk barefoot on the beach. Watch the sunset sitting in an Adirondack chair while you wait for your table. “Full Moon Party,” monthly starting @ 7pm on the full moon. Tip: eat at the bar if it’s crowded instead of waiting for a table. It’s a fun place, wonderful sunsets. Take your camera. Kids welcome.
**Pierre’s: (D) mm 81.5 B/S; 664-3225; The elegant sister restaurant to Morada Bay, gourmet dining. Start with a cocktail downstairs, so you can see their beautiful bay front bar and porch... a work of art. Request a table on the balcony, for best dining experience. Reservations recommended. Time your dining with the sunset. The place to go for a very special dining experience. Expensive.
Islamorada Restaurant & Bakery (Bob’s Bunz): (B,L) mm 81 B/S; 664-8363; Excellent basic All-American eggs and bacon breakfast. Try their famous cinnamon buns with cream cheese frosting (get it… Bob’s Bunz!) … a side of bacon… coffee… yes! (go early, they sell-out fast!). Carryout bakery items. Good basic lunch too. Open 6am – 2pm.
Tower of Pizza Restaurant: (L,D) mm 81.5 B/S; 664-8216; Basic good to great pizza – they are generous with the cheese! Eat in or take out. Excellent Italian entrees too, free delivery after 4pm. Good food.
*Chanticleer South: (D) mm 81.5 O/S; 664-0640 This is located where Manny & Isa’s used to be. Their ad reads “Fine French Cuisine” and the food quality is excellent and expensive. Let me know if you like it!
Kaiyo: (L,D) mm 81.7 O/S; 664-5556; If you like sushi, this is the place. Beautiful interior design. Try the Islamorada roll. It’s fun to eat at the bar rather than wait for a table. Something for everybody, not just sushi.
The Lor-e-lei: (B,L,D) mm 81.9 B/S; 664-4656: The Lorelei was destroyed by hurricane Wilma but the cabana is open with a new chef and updated menu. A nice place to go for lunch and a traditional place for the nightly sunset celebration. New owners, not as fun or as good as it used to be. Mostly bar food but pretty good. B/A
Mangrove Mike’s Café: (B,L) mm 82 B/S; 664-8022. Another breakfast and lunch spot, like a diner, serving 6am – 2pm; daily lunch specials start at 11am. Locals hangout. Excellent breakfast and lunch.
Taki Outi: (L,D) mm 82 O/S; 664-0600; Your basic Chinese carryout with free delivery. Sesame chicken is good.
Athens Café & Grill: (L,D) mm 82 O/S; 664-0848; Greek food in the Keys? Yes, and it’s real good. Mostly carry out but a few tables inside. They deliver. Gyros are authentic and excellent! (Not open on Sundays.)
Whistle Stop: (L,D) mm 82.5, 664-4246: Best place for late night eats, serving food until 3 am Monday through Sunday. This is also our local liquor store next door. Lots of cigarette smoke!
Islamorada Village Gourmet: (B,L,D) mm 82.7 O/S; 664-4030. Opens at 5:30 am for breakfast. This is a little gourmet food shop, diner, and carryout. You can eat outside in the little courtyard next to the restaurant. Good place for dinner if you don’t want to wait in line at the other restaurants.
Bentley’s: (L,D) mm 82.8 O/S; 664-9094. One of the older establishments; feels like a TGI Fridays. Some people really like this place. To me the food and service seems just ok.
**Ziggie and Mad Dog’s: (D) mm 83 B/S; 664-3391. The “Ziggie” name has lots of Islamorada history. It recently reopened as a steakhouse with new owners. Looks way better on the inside than on the outside. The food and service is excellent! Try the filet, it’s huge (excellent fish too). White linens, nice atmosphere, excellent wine list. John will usually greet you and has everything perfect.
Whale Harbor Seafood Buffet & Raw Bar: (D) mm 83.5 O/S; 664-4959; B/A. They feature their famous all-you-can-eat seafood dinner. Most of their seafood on the buffet is not local but it is still popular. If you’re interested in watching the fleet come in, try a seat at Wahoos Pub & Grill upstairs at Whale Harbor. The food is pretty good.
Braza Leña: (D) mm 83.5 O/S; 664-4940; B/A. A Brazilian Steak-House. A grand selection of all you can eat meats and a large salad bar all for one price.
Hog Heaven Sports Bar & Grill: (L,D) mm 85 O/S; 664-9669. Full menu available until 4am, great burgers! Also pool tables & shuffleboard.
*Island Grill:(L,D) mm 85.5 O/S; 664-8400; B/A. One of my favorite dinner places. Neat little Keys-style oceanside eatery… just this side of the drawbridge. Live Entertainment. Indoor or outdoor seating. Everything we tried on the menu is excellent. Inside tip - eat at the bar if it’s crowded instead of waiting for a table. Go by boat too. A fun place to eat.
Chillie-Willies: (L,D) mm 86.7 O/S; 852-8786. Large sports bar & grill plus huge game room. They have 14 televisions so if you are looking for a certain sports game, chances are they can tune it in. The menu and food is excellent for this type of place. Try the hot wings or BBQ ribs.