Located in the Florida Keys, Key West is Florida’s southernmost city of the continental USA.
Key West is unique destination known for its sunsets, water sports, rich cultural heritage, diverse blend of architecture, laid-back lifestyle and famous historic homes – Ernest Hemingway and Jimmy Buffet both called Key West home.
Key West is small in size – only 4 miles wide (6.5 kilometers) and 2 miles long (3 kilometers) and it’s easy to see the entire island in a day. With temperatures rarely dropping below 65°F (18°C), a day in Key West will most likely be a warm and sunny one.
Known as the Conch Republic, Key West is a fascinating port of call offering activities for all ages and interests. Over 800,000 cruise passengers visit Key West annually via a Western Caribbean or Bahamian cruise.
Currency: US Dollar
Primary Language Spoken: English
Where Do Cruise Ships Dock in Key West?
There are 3 cruise ship docks – Pier B (a privately owned pier ship dock behind Margaritaville Key West Resort and Marina), Mallory Square and the Old Mole (located in the Truman Annex).
Most ships dock at either Pier B or Mallory Square – which are both adjacent to the Old Town section of Key West. A 5-minute shuttle ride takes passengers from the Old Mole dock into the Old Town area where many tourist attractions and points of interest can be found.
Getting Around Key West
Given Key West’s size and the amount of time ships spend in port – usually 7 hours or more – it is very easy for cruise passengers to get around and visit most points of interest and attractions.
Walking – The majority of activities and attractions can be found less than 20 minutes walking from the cruise docks and many cruise passengers enjoy exploring Key West this way.
Taxi / Pedicab – If the Florida Keys heat is getting to you or you find it too far to walk, you can easily take a taxi or pedicab – there are many near the cruise docks and Mallory Square.
Kid Friendly Beaches in Key West
While Key West isn’t known for its beaches, there are several kid-friendly spots to soak up some rays and take a dip in the Atlantic Ocean.
Higgs Beach – Located in Old Town, not far from Duval Street, Higgs Beach is a free beach where families can go for a relaxing morning or afternoon. There are two children’s playgrounds, tennis courts, volleyball courts, and a restaurant nearby. Beach chairs, umbrellas and water sport equipment like kayaks and paddle-boards are available for rent from Tropical Water Sports.
Smathers Beach – This beach is the largest beach in Key West running over two miles long. The water is shallow enough that visitors can quite far from shore without worrying about sudden drops. Chairs and umbrellas are available for rent and picnic tables are available for families wanting to bring lunch to the beach.
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park Beach – If you’re looking for an inexpensive (admission is $2/person) and educational experience for the family, head to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park for their tour and spend time at the beach. This small beach offers visitors a close up view of iguanas, tropical fish and birds. It’s not a beach with powdery soft sand so it’s recommended visitors wear water shoes.
Top Attractions & Activities in Key West for Families
Many attractions are within walking distance from the Mallory Square dock area. There are two popular streets where you’ll find many Key West tourists and cruise passengers.
Duval Street runs southeast from Mallory Square and is home to many restaurants, boutiques, bars and souvenir shops. Whitehead Street – just south of Mallory Square and parallel to Duval Street – is where you’ll find several attractions and historical landmarks including the Southernmost Point marker, the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, the terminus of U.S. Highway 1, the Lighthouse Museum and the Ernest Hemingway House.
Here are 6 kid-friendly attractions and points of interest families might want to include during their day in Key West:
Conch Tour Train – This open air train tour runs multiple times throughout the day and provides families with an overview of Key West.
The Conch Tour Train begins at the Front Street Depot (1 block south of Mallory Square at Duval and Front Street) and makes one loop through Old Town Key West. You’ll pass by the Ernest Hemingway House and Museum, the Key West Lighthouse, the Southernmost Point and the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory.
There are 3 stops throughout the tour and families can choose to get off at any of them to explore the area and resume the tour later in the day. There is a 10 minute washroom and rest break at the Station Depot where you can pick up a snack, drink or souvenirs.
Tickets for the Conch Train are $30.45 for adults ($27.30 for military and seniors ages 62+) and kids under 12 are free. Passengers that purchase tickets online qualify for a 10% discount. You can also combine a Conch Tour Train with a visit to the Shipwreck Museum or Aquarium (or both). Packages can be found here. Recommended length of visit – 2 or more hours
Old Town Trolley Tours – If you’re looking for a hop-on hop-off type tour, Old Town Trolley’s 90 minute tour might be a good option as they cover over 100 points of interest and have 13 stops along their tour route. You can tour and explore Key West at your own pace as tickets are valid from 9:00AM to 4:30PM.
Tickets for the Old Town Trolley Tour are $31.45 for adults ($28.30 for military and seniors age 62+) and $10.50 for kids 6 to 12 years. Save 10% when you purchase tickets in advance online. Recommended length of visit – 2 or more hours
Southernmost Point – One of the most recognized structures in Key West is this colorful buoy at the end of Whitehead Street. Tourists flock to have their picture taken beside this marker and you’ll often find a long line there when cruise ships are in port. The line moves quickly though so if you want to visit the most southern point of the Continental USA it may be worth lining up for. If you want to avoid the crowds, it best to head there as soon as you get off the ship. Recommended length of visit – 10 to 30 minutes
Key West Aquarium – Open every day from 10:00AM to 6:00PM, visitors can learn about alligators, sharks, jellyfish and other marine life at the Key West Aquarium. There is a touch tank where families can pet conchs, sea urchins, hermit crabs and horseshoe crabs.
The aquarium is in the Mallory Square area and a short walk away from the Pier B and Mallory Square cruise ship docks. Admission is $15.03 for adults, $12.90 for seniors and $8.59 for kids 4 to 12 years. A small discount is given for visitors who purchase advance tickets online. Recommended length of visit – 1 to 1.5 hours
Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center – The Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center is a free attraction where families can learn about Key west’s unique ecosystem. It features over 6,000 square feet of interactive exhibits including a theater, a 2,500 gallon reef tank with living corals and tropical fish and an underwater ocean laboratory. Located in the Dr. Nancy Foster Florida Keys Environmental Complex on the Truman Annex waterfront, the center is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:00AM to 4:00PM. Recommended length of visit – 1 hour
Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory – If you’re interested in getting up close and personal with butterflies, birds and turtles then a visit to the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory at the end of Duval street may be worth the visit. The Conservatory is open from 9:00AM to 5:00PM daily and admission is $12 for adults and $8.50 for kids ages 4 to 12. Recommended length of visit – 1 hour
Where to Get Free WiFi in Key West
There are several restaurants and cafes that provide free WiFi for paying customers in Key West. Starbucks at 430 Duval Street is just a few blocks away from the pier and is the closest shop offering free WiFi for cruise passengers.
Read More About Caribbean Cruises with Kids:
- Best Water Shoes for Toddlers and Kids
- Cruise Port Guide – Nassau, Bahamas with Kids
- Cruise Port Guide – Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands with Kids
- Which Caribbean Itinerary is Best – Eastern, Western or Southern?