The lower Florida Keys: Wildlife and friendly folk
The bottom line: small inns, small deer
I spent about $173 a day on food, lodging, gas and guided trips during four days and nights on Big Pine Key in February, which is high season. Car rental was extra.
The four-room Barnacle Bed-and-Breakfast, 1557 Long Beach Drive, Big Pine Key, (800) 465-9100, fax (305) 872-3863, www.thebarnacle.net, is a modern wooden house. My spacious room ($115) had a private bath with shower, but no view. Breakfast (eggs benedict, sausage or ham, muffins) is served communally on a deck overlooking the ocean.
I wasn't able to see any of the three rooms at Casa Grande Bed-and-Breakfast, 1619 Long Beach Drive, telephone and fax (305) 872-2878, on the Web at www.floridakeys.net/casagrande. Winter rates: $119.
My ground-floor room at the Deer Run Bed-and-Breakfast, 1985 Long Beach Drive, (305) 872-2015, was the cheapest of the four in the house. It had a low ceiling and was slightly damp, but I liked the place better because of its atmosphere. The owner keeps a menagerie of parrots and toucans. A family of about 10 deer is around the property all day. Breakfast (eggs or quiche, bread, sausage, juice, coffee) is included in the rate of $95. No credit cards.
At the Big Pine Motel, Mile 30.5, (305) 872-9090, fax (305) 872-2816, www.bigpinekeymotel.com, my basic room had two double beds, and a bathroom with shower and tub. The rate on a Friday in high season is $89, which drops by $10 on weeknights.
I liked the look of Parmer's Resort, 565 Barry Ave., (305) 872-2157, fax (305) 872-2014, www.parmersplace.com, a large complex of motel rooms, cabins, and a pool facing a canal on neighboring Little Torch Key. Prices ($65 to $175 double, with Continental breakfast) are similar to the Big Pine, but it's a much better deal; the 40 rooms were full during my visit.
Alabama Jack's, 58000 Card Sound Rd., Key Largo, (305) 248-8741, is a classic open-air Florida fish joint and bar. Although I wasn't knocked out by the conch fritters, which arrived in an amorphous single piece, the atmosphere was great -- the deck looks out onto a mangrove channel, and the bar attracts characters out of a Carl Hiassen novel. Lunch of chowder, iced tea and fritters was about $12.