A very different Florida trip than, say, bustling Miami or Orlando, the laid-back Keys may sound a little dull to kids at first. But soon, even the most action-oriented will slip into the 120-mile island chain's gentle pacing and natural abundance of water, fish, and beaches.
The winter or "shoulder" seasons (late fall, early spring) are ideal times to capitalize on the Keys' dry, warm weather. The area used to practically hibernate in the rainier, buggier summer, but in recent years it has become a more year-round attraction. (Because it's so close to water, it's not nearly as hot or humid as Miami.) Getting up and out as early as possible will help you navigate around the less favorable summer conditions.
The weather's the best in November to February, when the average temp is 76 degrees, but highs rarely top 90 degrees -- even in the summer. Shorts, a T-shirt, and comfortable sandals are the dress code year-round in the Florida Keys -- dictated by both the weather and the informal atmosphere. You might need to accessorize with a light jacket or sweater at night in the winter, and you'll definitely need to travel with a rain poncho or umbrella in the summer months. Late summer and early fall are also peak hurricane times in the Keys. Get more weather info.
Although there are small airports in Marathon and Key West with regional airlines flying planes from Miami, most visitors save the considerable expense and enter the Keys by car, which you'll need to navigate the long island chain anyway. After flying into Miami International Airport (MIO) or taking the Amtrak or Greyhound, take the Florida Turnpike extension to U.S. 1 South. It eventually becomes the Overseas Highway, the central road running from uppermost Key Largo to southern Key West.
Like most of South Florida, there's no good public transportation in the Keys. So unless you're planning to ensconce yourself at a single resort for the duration -- in which case you can take the Greyhound bus from Miami to any of the major islands -- you'll need a car. Fortunately, it's easy to get around since the main Overseas Highway is divided by mile markers, starting with 127 and working down to the zero marker in Key West. Most attractions advertise their mile-marking in ads and brochures.
Because the Overseas Highway is a narrow, two-lane road through most of the Keys, and because it takes about three-and-a-half hours to drive from Miami to Key West on a good day, it's best to avoid the area during major festivals. Some of the more family-friendly festivals are listed below.
Find hotels, attractions and the events calendar at the official website, or call them at 1-800-FLA-KEYS.
You can find dollars-off coupons in the "See Florida Keys" magazine and other guidebooks distributed in all major hotels and restaurants. Individual attraction websites sometimes also offer discounts for online ticket purchases.