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What To Do In Key West When On A Cruise


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Neila Lyons



Key West, Florida, often referred to as the “Conch Republic,” is a vibrant and picturesque destination that attracts thousands of cruise ship visitors every year. Located at the southernmost point of the United States, this tropical paradise offers a wide range of activities and attractions for travelers of all ages.


Known for its laid-back and welcoming atmosphere, Key West is home to stunning beaches, historic landmarks, unique wildlife, and a thriving arts and culture scene. Whether you’re seeking relaxation, adventure, or a bit of both, Key West has something to offer everyone.


As you step off your cruise ship and onto the island, you’ll be greeted by the warm sunshine, gentle ocean breeze, and a myriad of possibilities for exploration and entertainment. From strolling the charming streets of Historic Old Town to indulging in delicious seafood and Key Lime pie, Key West is a destination that will leave lasting memories.


In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the top things to do in Key West when visiting on a cruise. Whether you have a few hours or a full day, you’ll find plenty of options to make the most of your time on this stunning island. So sit back, relax, and let’s dive into the wonderful experiences that await in Key West!


Explore Historic Old Town

One of the highlights of Key West is its historic Old Town, characterized by its charming architecture, colorful buildings, and quaint streets. Taking a leisurely stroll through this part of town is like stepping back in time.


Begin your exploration at Mallory Square, the vibrant hub of Key West. Here, you’ll find street performers, artists, and vendors selling local crafts. It’s the perfect place to catch a beautiful sunset or simply soak in the lively atmosphere.


Continue your journey down Duval Street, the main thoroughfare of Old Town. Lined with shops, restaurants, and bars, Duval Street offers a lively and eclectic mix of entertainment. You can find everything from unique boutiques and art galleries to iconic landmarks like the Key West Lighthouse.


As you venture deeper into Old Town, you’ll discover the Key West Historic Seaport. This area is a bustling marina with picturesque sailboats and fishing boats bobbing in the turquoise waters. Take a stroll along the waterfront and embrace the authentic maritime atmosphere.


Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Truman Little White House, the former winter home of President Harry S. Truman. This historic landmark offers guided tours that provide fascinating insights into the life and presidency of Truman. It’s a must-visit for history enthusiasts.


Throughout Old Town, you’ll also find numerous historic homes and museums that offer a glimpse into Key West’s rich past. The Key West Shipwreck Museum and the Key West Museum of Art & History are just a couple of the many attractions that showcase the island’s unique heritage.


Take your time as you wander through Historic Old Town, and don’t forget to stop by the charming Key West Cemetery, known for its ornate gravestones and fascinating epitaphs. This quirky and intriguing spot offers a glimpse into the island’s diverse cultural history.


Exploring Historic Old Town is an essential part of any visit to Key West. It’s a place where history, culture, and beauty come together to create a truly unforgettable experience.


Visit the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum

If you’re a literature lover or a fan of Ernest Hemingway’s work, a visit to the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum is a must when in Key West.


The museum is located in the heart of Old Town and is housed within the former residence of the famed American writer. As you step inside, you’ll be transported back to the 1930s, the time when Hemingway lived and worked in Key West.


The beautiful Spanish colonial-style house is filled with artifacts and memorabilia from Hemingway’s life, providing a fascinating glimpse into the world of this literary icon. You can explore the rooms where Hemingway wrote some of his most renowned works, such as “A Farewell to Arms” and “To Have and Have Not.”


One of the highlights of the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum is the presence of the famous six-toed cats. Hemingway was known for his love of cats, and many of these polydactyl felines, descendants of his original pets, still roam the grounds today. Visitors can spot these unique cats lounging on the verandas or exploring the lush tropical gardens.


Aside from the main house, you can also visit the Hemingway Studio, a separate building where Hemingway wrote and conducted his work. The studio remains virtually unchanged since his time, providing a fascinating insight into his writing process.


Guided tours are available throughout the day, led by knowledgeable docents who share stories and anecdotes about Hemingway’s life and his time in Key West. They will regale you with tales of his adventures, his love for the sea, and his enduring legacy in the literary world.


When you visit the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, you’ll not only learn about the life of this esteemed writer but also immerse yourself in the ambiance and charm of Key West in the early 20th century. It’s a literary journey not to be missed.


Relax at the Beaches

When it comes to beach destinations, Key West certainly doesn’t disappoint. With its crystal clear waters and white sandy shores, this island paradise is an ideal place to relax and soak up the sun.


One of the most popular beaches in Key West is the Smathers Beach. Spanning 2 miles along the southern shore, this beach offers ample space for sunbathing, swimming, and beachside activities. It’s also equipped with picnic areas, volleyball courts, and rental stands where you can find everything from beach chairs to jet skis.


For a quieter and more secluded experience, head to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. Located at the southwestern tip of the island, this state park boasts a beautiful beach surrounded by lush foliage and historic fortifications. You can enjoy sunbathing, snorkeling, or even explore nature trails and observe wildlife in the park area.


If you’re looking for a beach with a lively atmosphere, Higgs Beach is the place to be. With its adjacent white-sand volleyball court, children’s playground, and Higgs Beach Dog Park, it’s a great spot for families and pet owners. You can even rent paddleboards or kayaks and explore the calm waters just off the shore.


For those seeking a unique beach experience, a visit to the Southernmost Point Beach is a must. Located near the iconic Southernmost Point buoy, this small beach is perfect for a quick dip in the ocean or snapping a photo at the famous landmark.


No matter which beach you choose, make sure to bring your sunscreen, beach towel, and a good book. Spend the day lounging under the palm trees, taking refreshing dips in the water, and immersing yourself in the laid-back island vibe.


Key West’s beaches offer the perfect blend of relaxation and natural beauty that will make your cruise visit even more memorable. So kick off your shoes, feel the sand between your toes, and let the soothing sounds of the waves wash away your worries.


Take a Dip in the Crystal Clear Waters

One of the biggest draws of Key West is its crystal clear waters that invite visitors to jump in and explore the underwater wonders. Whether you’re an experienced swimmer or a beginner, there are plenty of opportunities to take a refreshing dip and discover the beauty beneath the surface.


A popular activity in Key West is snorkeling, and there are several excellent spots to do so. One such spot is the Fort Jefferson National Park in the Dry Tortugas. Accessible by ferry or seaplane, this remote coral reef boasts an abundance of marine life, colorful coral formations, and clear visibility, making it an ideal snorkeling destination.


For a closer-to-shore snorkeling experience, visit the stunning and vibrant coral reefs of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The waters surrounding Key West are teeming with tropical fish, sea turtles, and even the occasional encounter with a majestic manatee. Gear rental and snorkeling tours are readily available for visitors of all skill levels.


If you prefer a more immersive experience, why not try scuba diving? Key West offers a variety of dive sites, including wreck dives, where you can explore sunken ships and discover the fascinating marine life that has made these artificial reefs their home.


If you’re not a fan of getting wet but still want to experience the breathtaking underwater scenery, consider taking a glass-bottom boat tour. These tours allow you to observe the vibrant marine life and vibrant corals while staying dry and comfortable on the boat.


Before diving into the waters, be mindful of the environment and practice responsible snorkeling and diving habits. Respect the reefs and marine life by not touching or disturbing them, and be sure to follow local regulations and guidelines to protect these fragile ecosystems.


Diving or snorkeling in the crystal clear waters surrounding Key West is an unforgettable experience that allows you to connect with nature and witness the beauty that lies beneath the surface. So grab your mask, snorkel, and fins, and get ready for an underwater adventure like no other.


Discover Key West’s Wildlife

Key West is not only a paradise for beach lovers but also a haven for wildlife enthusiasts. With its diverse ecosystem and proximity to the ocean, this island offers unique opportunities to encounter a variety of fascinating creatures.


One of the most iconic wildlife experiences in Key West is the chance to spot bottlenose dolphins in their natural habitat. You can embark on a dolphin-watching tour, where knowledgeable guides will take you to the areas where these playful marine mammals are commonly found. Watching them leap and play in the waves is a truly magical experience.


Aside from dolphins, Key West is home to an array of bird species. The Great White Heron and the Key West Quail-Dove are just two of the many avian species that can be spotted around the island. Visiting areas such as the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden or the National Key Deer Refuge offers opportunities for birdwatching and observing other wildlife species that call Key West home.


For a close encounter with marine species, consider taking a visit to the Key West Aquarium. This educational and interactive facility showcases a variety of marine animals, including turtles, sharks, stingrays, and colorful tropical fish. You can even participate in feeding sessions and touch tanks to get up close and personal with some of the fascinating inhabitants of the ocean.


No trip to Key West would be complete without encountering the famous Key West chickens. These colorful and lively birds freely roam the streets of the island, adding a unique charm to the atmosphere. Keep your eyes peeled for these feathery friends as you explore the streets of Old Town.


In addition to the wildlife on land and in the water, Key West is also known for its vibrant butterfly population. The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory provide a serene and enchanting environment where you can observe hundreds of species of butterflies fluttering among beautiful flowers and plants.


As you explore the natural beauty of Key West, always remember to respect the wildlife and their habitats. Keep a safe distance, never feed or disturb them, and follow any guidelines provided by guides or conservation organizations.


Key West’s wildlife is as diverse as it is captivating. From dolphins to birds, turtles to butterflies, the island offers a unique opportunity to connect with nature and witness the incredible creatures that share this beautiful corner of the world.


Snorkeling and Scuba Diving Adventures

Key West is revered as a premier destination for snorkeling and scuba diving, offering unparalleled opportunities to explore the vibrant underwater world. With its pristine waters and diverse marine life, it’s no wonder that diving enthusiasts flock to this tropical paradise.


For snorkelers, there are numerous reef sites just a short distance from Key West that are teeming with colorful coral formations and an abundance of marine species. One such popular spot is the Sand Key Lighthouse Reef, where you can snorkel alongside parrotfish, angelfish, and even see the occasional sea turtle gracefully swimming by.


If you’re a certified diver or looking to get certified, Key West has a wealth of options for incredible scuba diving adventures. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary offers a range of dive sites, including the iconic Vandenberg Wreck. This former military vessel rests on the ocean floor, now serving as an artificial reef system and attracting an array of marine life.


The Key West Marine Park is another fantastic area for divers to explore. With its shallow reefs and clear waters, it’s an ideal location for beginners and experienced divers alike. Keep your eyes open for nurse sharks, eagle rays, and schools of colorful fish as you dive through the vibrant coral formations.


For a truly unique scuba diving experience, consider diving at the Dry Tortugas National Park. This remote and pristine area, accessible by ferry or seaplane, boasts stunning coral reefs, abundant marine life, and even the opportunity to explore shipwrecks. Swim alongside large groupers, spiny lobsters, and an array of tropical fish in this unspoiled underwater paradise.


Not a certified diver? No problem! Key West offers a range of introductory scuba diving courses where you can learn the basics and experience the thrill of breathing underwater under the guidance of professional instructors.


Whether you choose snorkeling or scuba diving, exploring Key West’s underwater world is an absolute must. With its clear waters, diverse marine life, and enchanting coral reefs, you’ll be enthralled by the beauty that lies beneath the surface.


Always prioritize safety and responsible diving practices. Follow the guidance of experienced professionals, adhere to any conservation guidelines, and respect the delicate marine ecosystem to ensure its preservation for future generations.


Enjoy Water Sports and Activities

Key West is a playground for water sports enthusiasts, offering a wide range of thrilling activities that are sure to get your adrenaline pumping. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced adventurer, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.


One of the most popular water sports in Key West is jet skiing. Zooming across the crystal clear waters, you can feel the exhilaration as you navigate through the waves and take in the breathtaking coastal views. Guided jet ski tours are available, allowing you to explore hidden coves, remote islands, and even spot marine life along the way.


If you prefer a more laid-back experience, kayaking or paddleboarding is a fantastic option. Rent a kayak or paddleboard and leisurely explore the calm and serene waters. You can paddle through mangrove trails, discover secluded beaches, or simply enjoy the tranquility of being surrounded by the beauty of nature.


For those seeking an adrenaline rush, parasailing is a must-try activity. Strap into a harness, get lifted into the sky, and enjoy breathtaking aerial views of Key West. As you soar above the water, you’ll feel a sense of freedom and awe, taking in the stunning coastline and spotting marine life from a unique perspective.


Another thrilling water sport is deep-sea fishing. Embark on a fishing charter and try your luck at catching some of the bountiful fish that inhabit the surrounding waters. From snapper and grouper to marlin and sailfish, there’s always a chance for an exciting and memorable catch.


If you’re a fan of water parks, don’t miss the opportunity to visit Fury’s Water Adventures. Located at the Westin Key West Resort, this water park offers a range of activities, including water slides, inflatable obstacle courses, and more. It’s a fantastic option for families and those looking to cool off and have a splashin’ good time.


As you partake in these water sports and activities, remember to prioritize safety and adhere to any guidelines provided by the operators. Wear appropriate safety gear, listen to instructions carefully, and respect the natural environment to ensure a fun and responsible experience.


Key West is a paradise for water sports enthusiasts, offering endless opportunities for excitement and adventure. From jet skiing to fishing, paddleboarding to parasailing, there’s no shortage of thrilling activities to make your time on the water unforgettable.


Explore Key West’s Art and Culture

Key West is not only known for its stunning natural beauty but also for its rich art and culture scene. As you explore the island, you’ll discover a vibrant and diverse community of artists, musicians, and performers that contribute to its unique and eclectic atmosphere.


Start your exploration of Key West’s art scene by visiting the vibrant galleries and studios scattered throughout the island. From contemporary art to traditional paintings, you’ll find an array of styles and mediums that showcase the talent and creativity of local and international artists. The Key West Art & Historical Society, the Studios of Key West, and the West Martello Tower are just a few of the places where you can immerse yourself in the dynamic art world of the island.


No visit to Key West would be complete without stepping foot into the iconic Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. In addition to its literary significance, the museum also displays Hemingway’s personal collection of artwork, including original works by renowned artists that adorned his walls. Explore the museum and gain insights into the life and creative influences of this celebrated writer.


For a taste of Key West’s vibrant performing arts scene, catch a show at one of the many theaters and performance venues. The Waterfront Playhouse and the Red Barn Theatre are known for their outstanding productions, featuring talented actors and musicians. From classic plays to contemporary performances, you’ll be captivated by the quality and diversity of Key West’s theater community.


Music is also a key component of Key West’s culture, with live performances happening throughout the island. From lively bars and street musicians to music festivals and events, there’s always a melody filling the air in Key West. Take a stroll down Duval Street and listen to the sounds of talented musicians playing everything from jazz and blues to Caribbean rhythms.


Immerse yourself in the local culture by attending one of Key West’s many festivals and celebrations. From the vibrant Fantasy Fest, with its colorful costumes and parades, to the Hemingway Days Festival, complete with fishing tournaments and a look-alike contest, these events showcase the unique spirit and character of the island.


Key West’s art and culture scene is a reflection of the vibrant and diverse community that calls this island home. Embrace the creative spirit of the island as you explore the galleries, attend performances, and immerse yourself in the rich artistic tapestry that makes Key West a truly unique destination.


Indulge in Delicious Seafood and Key Lime Pie

No visit to Key West is complete without experiencing its culinary delights, particularly when it comes to seafood and the iconic Key Lime pie. Key West offers an array of exceptional dining options where you can satisfy your taste buds with the flavors of the sea.


Seafood lovers will be in paradise as they explore the local restaurants and seafood shacks. From fresh catches of the day to succulent shrimps, delectable oysters, and mouthwatering lobster, you’ll find an abundance of options to satiate your seafood cravings. Try classic dishes such as blackened grouper, Key West pink shrimp, or conch fritters, and indulge in the flavors of the ocean.


For a truly immersive dining experience, head to one of the waterfront eateries dotted along the marinas and harbor. Sit back, relax, and enjoy a delicious meal while overlooking the stunning views of the boats and the shimmering sea. The combination of fresh seafood, tropical ambiance, and waterfront atmosphere creates an unforgettable dining experience.


Of course, no culinary journey in Key West is complete without sampling the famous Key Lime pie. Made with the tangy and zesty Key limes that are native to the area, this refreshing dessert is a must-try. From traditional pie slices to Key Lime pie martinis and other creative interpretations, you’ll find an array of options to satisfy your sweet tooth. Be sure to savor every bite of this iconic Key West treat.


Additionally, the island offers a variety of other culinary delights for those looking to explore beyond seafood. From Caribbean-inspired dishes to international cuisine, farm-to-table restaurants, and casual food trucks, Key West has something to suit every palate.


As you embark on your gastronomic adventure, don’t forget to pair your meal with a refreshing beverage. Key West is known for its vibrant bar scene and offers an array of tropical cocktails, including the famous Key West Mojito. Sip on a cool and refreshing drink as you relax and savor the flavors of Key West.


Whether you’re a seafood enthusiast or simply enjoy indulging in delectable desserts, Key West’s culinary scene has something to offer for everyone. So come hungry, pull up a chair, and treat yourself to the mouthwatering delights that make Key West a true culinary destination.


Experience Key West’s Vibrant Nightlife

When the sun sets in Key West, the island comes alive with a vibrant and energetic nightlife scene. From lively bars and bustling nightclubs to live music venues and unique entertainment, Key West offers a diverse range of experiences that are sure to keep you entertained well into the night.


Start your evening by exploring Duval Street, the heart of Key West’s nightlife. Lined with bars, restaurants, and shops, this bustling street offers a lively atmosphere and a wide variety of establishments to choose from. Whether you’re in the mood for a relaxing drink at a rooftop bar or dancing the night away in a high-energy nightclub, Duval Street has something for everyone.


Live music is a staple of Key West’s nightlife, and you’ll find talented musicians performing at venues all around the island. From intimate acoustic sets in cozy bars to full bands playing on outdoor stages, the music scene in Key West is diverse and impressive. Enjoy the sounds of jazz, blues, rock, or Caribbean beats as you sip on your favorite cocktail and immerse yourself in the island’s laid-back rhythm.


For a unique and entertaining experience, head to the world-famous Mallory Square for the Sunset Celebration. Every evening, locals and tourists gather to watch the stunning sunset while being entertained by street performers, musicians, and artists. It’s a festive and lively atmosphere that perfectly captures the spirit of Key West.


If you’re in the mood for some laughs, Key West offers a variety of comedy clubs and improv theaters where you can enjoy hilarious performances by local and visiting comedians. From stand-up comedy to improv shows, these venues are a great way to add some laughter to your evening.


Key West is also known for its drag shows and cabaret performances. Experience the glamour, talent, and fabulousness of these incredible shows as performers take the stage with their extravagant costumes and captivating performances. It’s a night of entertainment you won’t soon forget.


As you enjoy the vibrant nightlife of Key West, remember to drink responsibly and be respectful to those around you. Take the time to explore the hidden gems and unique venues that make up the island’s lively after-dark scene.


Key West’s nightlife is as vibrant as its daytime charm. From lively bars and clubs to live music, comedy, and unique performances, there’s no shortage of entertainment options to keep you engaged and entertained throughout the night.



Key West, with its stunning natural beauty, rich history, and vibrant culture, is a destination that offers a multitude of experiences for cruise visitors. From exploring the historic Old Town to indulging in delicious seafood and Key Lime pie, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in this tropical paradise.


Whether you prefer relaxing at the beautiful beaches, immersing yourself in the crystal clear waters through snorkeling and scuba diving, or embarking on thrilling water sports adventures, Key West provides endless opportunities for adventure and rejuvenation.


Key West’s art and culture scene is also a highlight, with its galleries, museums, and theaters showcasing the island’s creative spirit. From the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum to live performances and festivals, you can immerse yourself in the rich artistic tapestry that defines this vibrant community.


Indulging in the local cuisine, especially the seafood and Key Lime pie, is a must-do in Key West. Allow your taste buds to be delighted as you savor the flavors of the sea and indulge in the tangy sweetness of the island’s famous dessert.


As the sun sets, Key West’s nightlife comes alive, offering a vibrant array of bars, clubs, live music venues, and entertainment options. From Duval Street to Mallory Square, you can dance, laugh, and revel in the island’s energetic atmosphere.


Whether you have a few hours or a full day on this captivating island, Key West delivers a memorable experience. So, grab your sunscreen, sense of adventure, and open mind, and get ready to create lasting memories in the tropical paradise known as Key West.