Key West, FL

Christmas is one of my favorite holidays because it’s when all of my family gets together & nothing is better than good food, good laughs & good company. But for this past Christmas we decided to switch our plans up a bit. Since it was our first holiday as husband & wife – we decided to skip the cold NJ winter and head south for some relaxation in the sun.

We decided on KEY WEST, FLORIDA.

My husband did a short stop there once on a cruise but I have never been and I heard such great things about it that I had to experience it for myself.

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Flying into Key West during the week of Christmas was super pricey so we booked a flight to Miami, rented a car (same day pick up/drop off both ways) and drove the 3 hours. I highly recommend this! The drive is not bad at all and the scenery is incredible. This also gives you the option to stop at some of the other keys along the way for lunch or just to explore.

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We stopped at Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen in Key Largo.

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We split the “Konk” Chowder to start. It was real conch in a rich spicy tomato base. We absolutely loved it. Ryan went for the Captains Caesar with Blackened Fish and I had the Crab Cakes. Both were good. We are huge seafood lovers so while the food was good, it wasn’t the best we’ve had but none the less, it was a very satisfying lunch. I also checked into Yelp while there so I got a free Key Lime Freeze. To say it was delicious is an understatement – this is a must when at Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen.

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Upon arriving in Key West, we checked into our hotel: Hyatt Key West Resort & Spa

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What drew me to this hotel was its location and how beautiful the grounds were. I felt like we could have the quiet & relaxing vacation we were looking for but all the fun of Duval Street within a 1 minute walk. It was truly the best of both worlds. Being from New Jersey when you think Christmas you think of the cold but the Hyatt Key West had their lobby decorated with a gorgeous tree and even incorporated a fun Elf on the Shelf themed game for their guests which kept us in the holiday spirit.

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Here are a few shots of our room.

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The room was spacious, super clean and we even had a partial ocean view. You could literally melt into their beds which made getting up in the morning a little difficult, but a comfy bed gets extra points from me. Walking into our room to this wine & cheese/fruit platter was very sweet as well.

Jala Spa is on location at the Hyatt. Unfortunately, we did not get a chance to visit it but I suggest booking all services in advance.

Here are some shots I got from around the resort.

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SHOR American Seafood Grill is the Hyatt’s on location restaurant. We dined here twice during our stay and the food was delicious.

Breakfast:

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Dinner:

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Over all we had an amazing stay at the Hyatt Key West Resort & Spa. Everything was perfect and they have the best staff.

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While in Key West, we had the pleasure of being invited by Casa Marina to experience their Toes in the Sand dinner. Casa Marina is a Waldorf Astoria Resort and upon walking in you see beautiful wood floors and exposed beams and every corner you turn someone is holding a door for you or asking if you need any assistance. Customer Service at this location is certainly not lacking. We were escorted to Sun Sun where we were greeted by the restaurant manager, Sarah, and introduced to our lovely waiter Tony. I knew we would be seated on the sand (hence: toes in the sand dinner) but I was taken back by how beautifully set up the dining area on the beach was.

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We looked over the menu and each had a drink while taking in the scenery before the first course was served. I went with my favorite drink, a Cosmopolitan, and my husband had the White Sangria.

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Our starter was a Seared Scallop with Corn Polenta in a Tomato Lime Vinaigrette. The flavors were executed perfectly! As a seafood lover I’m surprised I never really got into scallops, but this dish has changed my mind.

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For the appetizer, I chose the Mixed Green Salad and Ryan had the Island Conch Chowder. The chowder was very tasty. It was hearty and had some nice size pieces of conch. I really enjoyed the salad. It was light and had a slight tang which complimented the roasted red peppers.

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How incredible is this view from dinner?

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For the entrée, I went with the Beef Tenderloin and Key West Pink Shrimp and Ryan had the Lobster Brandy Smoked Garganelli Pasta. Both of these were cooked to perfection. The tenderloin was moist and the red wine sauce was delicious. The lobster pasta was by far one of the most delicious pasta dishes I have ever had. I have mentioned on more than one occasion to my husband that I need that pasta in my life again soon!

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By this time we were absolutely stuffed but dinner is never complete without dessert and a little champagne on the side. We got to try the Key Lime Pie & Pineapple Upside Down Cake. By this point in the meal I knew the desserts would be good but “good” doesn’t even begin to describe them. The Key Lime Pie was tart yet sweet and that graham crust was perfect! I never thought of myself to be a Pineapple Upside Down dessert lover but this right here is hands down the BEST dessert I have ever had.

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Everything about this experience was 5 stars.

From this view…

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to Tony, our waiter, who was super knowledgeable about the whole menu and extremely friendly to Alex, the Executive Chef. I loved that Alex made it a point to stop at our table to see how we were enjoying the food. You can tell that he, as well as his staff, cook with love and they really put 100% in the dishes they serve. The next time I am in Key West, I will be dining here again and I highly suggest you do the same when in the area.

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Even though we were not able to stay at Casa Marina we did explore the grounds a little and it’s a magnificent property. They have a private beach and 2 heated pools and the rooms are known to be spacious and comfortable. Casa Marina is also home to the al Mare spa which has recently gone through an expansion as well as an upgrade in services.

Here’s some photos of the grounds and rooms:

CMR_30162614_080313_TR_CM_AERIALS_SHELBY_13FAll images are licensed to LXR for a period of 5 years from the shoot date.

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When in Key West, Duval Street is a MUST. There are bars, restaurants, shopping and even more bars spread throughout the mile. I loved Fat Tuesdays and anytime I wanted a quick drink to go – this was my spot. Don’t limit yourself to just 1 spot though, bar hopping is a favorite in this area.

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My favorite coffee & breakfast place has to be the Cuban Coffee Queen. I promise you – you will not be disappointed! I had the most amazing breakfast sandwich on Cuban bread with a Vanilla Cafe con Leche on the side.

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Another super popular place for Breakfast or Brunch is Blue Heaven. We only made it for Lunch but it was absolutely delicious. The bar has strong, tasty drinks and I love that they have live music.

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Since we wanted this vacation to be all about relaxation, we only did a few activities. We went to the Butterfly Conservatory. Being surrounded  by the beautiful butterflies was an amazing experience. I did find it a little on the pricey side but it takes money to be able to up keep the environment for the butterflies so it wasn’t too bad.

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My favorite activity of the trip was fishing with Tortuga Charters! We had the absolute best time and caught so many fish. The staff is really helpful and at the end of the trip they prepare your fish so you can bring it to any local restaurant to have it cooked. It was a great feeling to be able to sit down for dinner and eat what you just caught a few hours before. Across from the Tortuga boat on Conch Harbor Marina is Dante’s. This is where we went and they prepared our fish 3 types of ways and included sides. It was so delicious and really affordable.

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I absolutely LOVED Key West. It’s truly the Caribbean of the US.

Have you been before? What are your must do activities or restaurants in the area?

Click HERE to see what Trip Advisor recommends.

If you have any questions or need more suggestions when planning your own Key West trip, do not hesitate to contact me! E: pearlsandparis@yahoo.com

Traveling: If I can do it, so can you.

I’ve been wanting to launch the Travel Series of my blog for quite a while now. Between purchasing my home, to getting engaged & married, to balancing 2 jobs while blogging – it’s been a struggle to keep everything in order. Creating deadlines and sticking to them hasn’t been my strong point in the last 12 months or so. I decided that in 2015 I would get more organized and make a big push to launch this feature.

If you know me personally or just follow along with Pearls & Paris, you already know that traveling is a passion of mine. As a kid growing up, my father brought me to Puerto Rico numerous times. We would stay with my aunt in Salinas and every trip we would explore the island from 1 end to the other. From visiting my mothers (now late) Grandfather and watching him climb his Guenepa tree in Aguada all the way to El Moro in Old San Juan and every beautiful spot in between. We even got to experience El Dia De Reyes (Three Kings Day) there. I left the camels a box of grass under my bed & I woke up to a present…Sally Secret! (Don’t act like you 80/90’s babies don’t remember that doll lol) It has now been 11 years since I lost my dad but that thrill to want to explore and the thirst for knowledge and love of culture runs through me, just like it did him.

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 Later on in my teens, I got to go on a few cruises with some of my family thanks to my mother. On those cruises I got to visit multiple Caribbean Islands. Some of my favorites would have to be St. Thomas, Aruba & Grand Cayman. We were beach bums, swam with stingrays and parasailed. After those experiences I realized that there was so much more to see than good ol’ NJ.

Cruise Ship Docked at Ocho Rios

From a girls only Spring Break Trip to Acapulco, to beautiful Curaçao to now traveling to many parts of the US &  Europe with the love of my life – traveling is a permanent staple in my life.

When someone finds out I have booked my next trip, I always get the same few responses. Some people tell me how amazing it is that we travel so much and say they can’t wait to see the pictures but then I get some of the responses that rub me the wrong way like “How do YOU afford to travel so much” or “I WISH I could travel.”

Traveling: If I can do it, so can you.

I will be sharing my secrets for traveling on a budget and getting the most for your money when away from home. I will also be highlighting some of my own personal trips and giving you tips on where to sleep, eat & explore while there.

Stay tuned & if there are any specific questions you have or a particular location you would like me to post about – email me at: pearlsandparis@yahoo.com

Travel – Montreal

I’m headed back to Montreal for my Bachelorette party next month with a few of my girlfriends. I’m sooooo excited because I haven’t been in 2 years. The city is so vibrant, beautiful & full of culture. The locals are also really nice which is a nice change from my normal NJ/NYC’ers. Here are a few shots I got from Tripadvisor 🙂

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Travel – Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

While in Berlin, I booked a tour of the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. Sachsenhausen was a Nazi concentration camp in Oranienburg, Germany. Upon booking this tour I really wasn’t sure what to expect but all I knew was that a trip to Berlin would not be complete without visiting this local camp & learning about the history behind it. When people mention Berlin a lot of people instantly think of music, art and especially the Nazi era.

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This is the walkway into the camp.

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This is the original gate to enter the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. All of the camps had the same slogan – “Arbeit macht frei” which translates to “work makes (you) free” This detail instantly gave me chills. The people who were brought to the camps did not know where they were going & so this sign was the first thing they saw.

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Remains of the ovens at the gas chambers.

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Execution Trench

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Sachsenhausen Memorial

 About 200,000 people passed through Sachsenhausen between 1936 and 1945. Camp punishment was extremely harsh and 30,000 people died there from exhaustion, disease, malnutrition, pneumonia, etc. due to the poor living conditions. Many were executed or died as the result of brutal medical experimentation. No amount of words could explain what it felt like to walk through the entire camp, see the bathrooms and bunkers still intact, to feel that frigid cold air and just imagine having to stand out there for hours a day. There’s a museum you can explore and you can see the hand written letters, photos of all the prisoners & their uniforms, messages from prisoners that survived and all the original files. I encourage everyone to travel and learn about life and history and see what others have been through. I’ve always appreciated life but visiting this camp made me feel something I have never felt before while travelling. To think that this all occurred only  69 years ago is very surreal.

Travel – The Lennon Wall

Lennon Wall

Photography by S.M

During my last trip to Europe a few months ago, we stopped in beautiful Prague.

The Lennon Wall was really high on my “Must Sees” while in Prague – to say I was disappointed would be an understatement. This small photo was the only portion not covered in graffiti. A wall that once inspired people and was filled with beautiful art, Beatles lyrics and quotes of peace is now poorly defaced. Such a shame! Hopefully it will be re done soon.

Here is what the wall looked like in 1998.

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This is the wall currently.

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I’m Back!

Hi everyone!!! I’ve returned from my Europe vacation 🙂

While the Jet Lag is settling in, I am beyond excited to be home and to write up a detailed post about my adventures and share many photos with you all in the next few weeks. Upon my return home, I was surprised with a gift pack from KISS for my participation in the Influenster challenge and since I own many products from them, I plan to do a giveaway for you guys so they don’t go to waste sitting on my dinning room table.

stay tuned

xoxo