Fodor’s In Focus: Florida Keys is perhaps the most traditional of the lot, presented in a very modern and visually accessible way. It opens with heavy glossy paper that is perfect for the many photos, but the remainder is thin paper sheets, making it about a centimeter thick, a compact size for sliding into a purse or bag. It opens with a seven-page spread on ’14 Top Experiences’ which include:
- Key West architecture (number one? Really?)
- Kayaking and canoeing
- Key lime pie
- Dolphin adventures
- The Cuba Connection (which refers to the food)
- Duval Street
- Key Largo’s Christ in the Deep (a statue in friendly snorkeling depth)
- Ernest Hemingway’s Home
- Highway 1 (unavoidable if you leave Key West, as its the only highway)
- Beaches (a suspicious entry, given the vast majority of beaches don’t fit the white sand stereotype)
- The Dry Tortugas
- Fresh seafood
- Fishing (meh)
- Sunset at Mallory Square (Key West again)
I found that to be a disappointing list, a combination of the obvious (the only highway, seafood) and Key West sites. The rest of the book is a traditional format, with an explanation of star ratings, quick page-long sections on Planning (how to get there, which Key), What to Do, When to Go, Kids and Families, and Great Itineraries broken down into 3, 7 and 10 day stays.
The book then sections into Upper Keys, Middle Keys, Lower Keys, Key West, and Gateways to the Keys that very briefly cover Miami, Florida City, and Homestead, ending with a section called Travel Smart. Given a compact book that is only 182 pages, none of these sections is hugely detailed. Think of it as presenting highlights. Each area has a brief description, an orientation to that island with a map, an ‘Exploring’ section that notes family-friendly activities, ‘Beaches,’ ‘Where to Eat,’ ‘Where to Stay,’ ‘Nightlife,’ ‘Shopping,’ and ‘Sports and the Outdoors,’ although this full of a description is only for the larger islands (Largo, Islamadora, Marathon, West). Fodors stars some sections with ‘Fodor’sChoice,’ noting them to be particularly good examples. For instance, in Key Largo they star John Pennekamp State Park under ‘beaches,’ and Key Largo Hilton under ‘places to stay, Key Largo Chocolates and Old Road Gallery under ‘shopping,’ and Quiescence Diving Tours under ‘Outdoors.’
I enjoyed that certain highlights were starred, and I don’t think I’d quibble with starred recommendations for things to do/outdoors. I’ll note that the eating places tended to be pricey, with cheaper recommendations having entrees always starting at $22 or so, but the more normal ‘choice’ place starting at $30-40 per entree. Likewise, ‘choice’ hotels tended to start at $350-$480/night, with a rare ‘cheaper’ choice at $269/night, all of which are generally higher end for the Keys depending on season. So, this is not a section that will give you the latest up-and-coming or the insider deals, but it will pick out reliable places. Honestly, Yelp is my place for restaurants, and tripadvisor for hotels.
Overall, it’s a decent Keys overview, indirectly giving a sense to what goes on at each island (hint: there isn’t any ‘nightlife’ in Big Pine Key). I did appreciate that some tour and diving companies were highlighted as ‘choice,’ as it gives a way to evaluate more solid businesses for the unsuspecting tourist. However, I’ll note that Florida Keys also does that with their Bluestar Program. It was somewhat of a surprise Fodor’s doesn’t mention it, which is perhaps their biggest weakness: a tendency to the predictable but not necessarily responsible. It does try to refer the reader to Fodors.com for more suggestions on places to eat, etc. for smaller Keys.
Note: this is the 2017 Edition. It mentions Bahia Honda Key and it’s associated state park as having one of the best beaches in the Keys; alas, Bahia Honda was one of the Keys that took the brunt of Irma, and part of the beach was still closed when I checked online in May. I’ll also note that the parks don’t seem to be as good as individual businesses when it comes to updating their website, so I’m hoping to discover differently.