Why Pier House Resort Key West is the Ultimate Solo Retreat

Why Pier House Resort Key West is the Ultimate Solo Retreat

*Thanks to Pier House for reviving my mind, heart, body, and soul. As always, the following opinions are my own.

Wishing you could just ride (or sail away) into the sunset?

Sick of winter or overwhelmed by a longer season of taking care of business, children, grandchildren, or parents?

Recently I found the port in the storm I needed.

Sure, Pier House Resort and Spa in Key West is a destination for dream weddings, honeymoons and anniversary celebrations. But it’s also PARADISE if you need a Solo Soul Retreat. A safe harbor of beauty and a launchpad for adventure. A place where I enjoyed some solitude and experienced the kindness of strangers.

If one of your resolutions this year is to take better care of yourself, this is the place. Put it on your Bucket List — not in spite of but because of loved ones depending on you.

Take a quick look at just a few reasons why Pier House Resort & Spa is the #1 place in Key West to rest and reset.

“I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before.”

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

Pier House Resort and Spa, a destination in its own right, is located on Fantasy Island, a.k.a Key West. If you’ve heard that all the beaches are manmade and that deters you, don’t let it. An island in the largest living coral reef in the Continental U.S. (and 3rd largest in the world) where you can play in the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico is something to behold. Key West is a three-hour scenic drive from Miami, a ferry ride from Fort Myers, and accessible by commercial airlines. 

Key West feels like the Caribbean where I lived for a year minus the worries of what can happen if you leave the resort. The town is the best of Old Florida with a twist of New Orleans quirk. But members of The Conch Republic pride themselves in being different from the rest of the state — or anywhere — for that matter. You have to love rebels with a cause who are celebrating over 40 years of Fun-dependence since they staged a kind-of-coup in 1982. They’re an inclusive bunch, inviting you to celebrate this historic moment with them in April and every sunset year-round.

From the moment I saw from my plane fleets of sailboats bobbing below on emerald, turquoise, aqua, and midnight blue waters, I was smitten. I loved walking down the ramp and across the tarmac to the tiny airport (4 gates) as if in some classic movie. If you’re a romantic, too, I advise you to experience the Key West International Airport before the completion of the expansion in 2024.

Getting around couldn’t be easier. The Lyft driver met me at the pickup point a few steps from Arrivals within 5 minutes of my call. I paid $20 for the 15-minute drive to Pier House, and other than hitching a ride in a Pedicab and sailboat, I enjoyed walking everywhere during my 3-day stay. You can also rent a bike, Vespa, or go-cart to explore the 2 by 4-mile island.

Riding along the Malecón took me back to The Dominican Republic. The temperature was 75, 40 degrees warmer than the temperature in Nashville when I left. Palm trees, oh, how I love palm trees! waved a welcome as did the waves, clear and blue as the sky.

We rode through the Historic District of Old Town Key West where homes and churches circa 1800s – early 20th century line the streets. Pretty in pink, yellow, and blue hues, they have shuttered windows, verandas, and gardens with white picket fences. Similar to architecture in New Orleans, there are stately two-storied, white- columned homes, Spanish Colonials, and Queen Annes with gingerbread trim and whimsical gables, turrets, and towers. The single-storied conch cottages or “cigar houses” built by Cuban cigar makers are charming.

My plan was to drop my bag off at the resort and explore until my room was ready. I’d caught the Allegiant red- eye flight at 6 AM to get the $150 roundtrip deal. Allegiant flies to and from Nashville on Fridays and Mondays only, so I was happy to get an early start on my weekend. I got up with the chickens so I’d decided to have breakfast with the roosters at Blue Heaven built on the site of the Key West Arena in Bahama Village where Ernest Hemingway refereed open-air boxing matches. 

Normally I like getting my bearings in a new place with a low-key food tour where I also get a local’s tip on where to eat. This trip I was THRILLED that I’d be eating meals at the resort not only because the menu looked amazing but also because I was too tired to make decisions. I’d left the house at 3:30 AM, but, to be honest, I arrived weary from becoming a full-time caregiver last April. As I often felt as a single mom from the time my kids were tiny, I just wanted someone to take the wheel. I was armed with a map and directions, but when a pedicab driver with big personality and a cute little friend named Oliver offered me a ride and impromptu tour in his pedicab, I hopped in.

In our short ride I learned about “South Vegas,” saw The Harry S. Truman Little White House Museum, the former home of Kelly McGillis (Top Gun, Witness actress who moved to Key West in the early ’90s to raise her family in the friendly, small town), banyan trees, roaming chickens, termites, Mile Marker 0 (end of Highway US 1), and “the best people on the planet.” It was a joy ride.

The Lobster Benedict, live music, and roosters lived up to the hype at Blue Heaven. The wait was over an hour, but you can eat at the bar straight away if there’s an empty chair. I like doing this when alone because it’s a way to meet locals and other travelers who’ll give you their must-sees and don’t-dos. Trey from Ohio who often comes to Key West with his sailing friends sat down beside me and did just that.

Quick Travel Tale for Caregivers on Why Getting Away is Important

As I started breakfast, the lady I’d hired to care for Mom called. I couldn’t hear her questions over the band or understand her text. Afraid something was wrong, I said I’d call her from outside as soon as I paid the check. Trey saw that I was shaking, told the waitress (who was slammed) to add my tab to his, and insisted that I go. He said, “My dad passed away a few months ago. It’s a good thing you’re doing.” I told him I haven’t been doing it so well lately.

I actually felt like a failure. I share this story because 1) there are kind people in the world and plenty of them in Key West, 2) if you’re a caregiver to the elderly and feel isolated, know that you’re not alone. According to the CDC, 80% of people with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias are receiving care at home. Approximately two-thirds of dementia caregivers are women… and approximately one-quarter of dementia caregivers are also caring for children under age 18. 3) Give yourself a break. Mom and I have had fun together and share moments I’ll treasure forever. But some days I’ve felt depressed, irritable, and frustrated, then guilty, because I can’t imagine how hard many days feels to her. A social worker told me that no matter what we do, don’t do, or how we do it, when our parents are gone we feel we should have… could have… done more. She said burnout is real, and if we don’t put on our own oxygen mask we can’t care for others. My mom knew this when my kids were little. She’d take them once or twice a year while I went alone to a Tennessee B & B. I returned a better mother. After Key West, I returned a better daughter.

Beautiful Place

By the time I returned to Pier House, my room was ready. As the video shows, the property is a tropical hideaway in the #1 location in Key West. The address is literally 1 Duval (Duval being the main artery of town pulsing with restaurants, bars, and shopping all the way to the Southernmost Point in the US. Steps from the front door of the resort is Sunset Pier and Mallory Square where folks from everywhere on the 2 x 4- mile island migrate daily to toast the sunset. Everyone is invited to the party. I met new friends there and on the property. Pier House is the perfect place to retreat or engage as needed.

These 2 photos are courtesy of Pier House Resort and Spa Key West

There was room for a party on my balcony, but I enjoyed relaxing to the rhythm of the Gulf below. The view from my comfortable bed in my one-bedroom suite was stunning. Pier House also has two-bedroom Ocean View Suites and a Presidential Suite, which encompasses the entire top floor of the building overlooking the harbour.

The property has 119 rooms, 23 suites, a private beach, pool and hot tub, an award-winning spa, a beach bar and One Duval on the Gulf of Mexico. Pier House was listed #1 Best Hotel in Key West by Southern Living magazine in 2022, received the Experts’ Choice Award in the 2022 Trip Expert Awards, and was voted Top 13 Resorts in the Florida Keys in the 2021 Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards.

Great People

People who Make Pier House Home

The resort and spa staff took such good care of me I was tempted to never leave. I immediately bonded with Thekla who has been working in the spa for over twenty years. She says Pier House feels like a family. She is from Salzburg, The Sound of Music city I adore and was intrigued about solo travel. I loved hearing about her journey from Austria to the Keys. By the time we were finished, she said she is going to take her first solo trip to her Dream Destination, and I had a podcast episode I’ll share with you soon.

Other staff members who made me feel at home were Roman from The Czech Republic, Joko at the beach bar, Naz and Cristina at One Duval, Marc, bartender at The Chart Room, and Lee, the Concierge who gave me tips to chart my course when I arrived. Turns out, even when I went rogue, he saved the day. Literally.

I saved 2 Bucket List items for last — deep sea fishing and The Hemingway Museum. I planned to call the post, “The Old Lady and the Sea.” Being a do-it-yourself, bargain-hunting kind of girl, I booked a fishing charter online with my go-to tour company. I bought a sunblock shirt at CVS on the corner, a pair of shorts at a $5 shop a local lady volunteered to take me to, and and a pair of wraparound sunglasses. I grew up fishing with my dad on lakes in Kentucky. A Hemingway sort himself, he’d caught a sand shark the one time he fished in Florida. I was soooo excited to finally fish on the high seas.

The Hemingway Museum was amazing. (More on that in another post.) When I stopped by Lee’s desk to ask where to catch the boat for the 2:30 fishing excursion I’d booked, he looked worried. He called the captain. There was no 2:30 trip on Sunday, just one at 8 AM. The captain offered to take me on Monday, but I told him I was leaving the next morning. I wanted to cry.

“Let’s get you on the water,” Lee said kindly.

It was too late to book a fishing charter, but he had many other options. I said a sunset cruise with food, drinks, and live music would be great. I mentioned a rambunctious crew I’d heard on a party boat my first night, but he steered me away. I listened because I’d learned a lesson. Let local pros handle your stay. They truly know best. He broke down several cruises by company, type of ship, food and drink, music, and number of passengers.

Lee’s expertise can also help with parasailing, biking, scuba diving, reef snorkeling, dolphin swimming, jet skiing, rain and trolley rides as well as:

  • Red Barn Theatre
  • Fort Zachary Taylor
  • Harry S. Truman Little White House
  • Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square
  • Mel Fisher Maritime Museum
  • Hogs Breath Saloon
  • Sloppy Joe’s Key West
  • Fort Jefferson and Dry Tortugas National Park
  • Key West Acquarium
  • Ernest Hemingway House

Don’t Miss The Chart Room

Pier House was actually built around this institution. Check out photos of Jimmy Buffet starting his career here and other celebrity sorts. Great drinks and free popcorn, peanuts and hot dogs nightly.

The Key West Effect

Poets, pirates, parrotheads, and painters…bikers, hippies, cowboys, and sailors. Boomers to Zoomers … animals with attitudes … in Key West, fun is had by all.

In reel below, I learned at Island Cigar Factory all about Alvin’s Doggy Speed Dating and wedding. And at the Hemingway Museum, cats spread their paws in boredom knowing tourists are searching for that 6th toe. Pets are welcome at Pier House. For a Pet Fee of you get bowls for food and water, luxury pet bed, flashlight and waste bag holder and Pier House treats.  

Fun Fact: The Hemingway Museum consulted a cat therapist to be sure the growing number of descendants of Snow White, a gift to Hemingway’s son, were doing ok. A couple of the cats were enjoying the bed during my tour of the home. Obviously, all is well.

Happy Sails to You, Key West, Until We Meet Again…

Something about the sun melting into the Gulf of Mexico makes everyone happy. Just a few nice folks I met…

I met Dennis and Teri the first night. They had a rental for a month and had biked to Sunset Pier for the Sundown Celebration. Though retired, they help their daughter by caring for grandchildren. Thanks for the Rum Runner!

I met Jane and Joe on the last night on a sunset cruise celebrating Joe’s 75th birthday. They said they aren’t into partying, but found so much history to enjoy in Key West.

Pretty ladies from California enjoying the cruise, too.

By the time we glided into the port that last day, I was a different person. I’m still smiling. My administrator noticed it at our spring semester kickoff meeting, marking my 80th semester of teaching. Last August, I’d started this 40th year clearly exhausted.

“You seem so calm,” she said.

“I am,” I grinned. “I just got back from Key West.”

Any time you need a break is the right time for Key West, but also check out special events, like The Key Lime Festival,Parrot Heads in Paradise, and Fantasy Fest here. Stay tuned for a post on Key West literary events and homes of two guys I stalk —Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams.

Travel is the Ticket to the Life You Want in 2023

Travel is the Ticket to the Life You Want in 2023

Planning new adventures can cure post-holiday blues and cabin fever. Intentional travel can provide what you need and value most for a happier, healthier new year.

Vowing to make travel a priority this year is more than a resolution. It’s the means for fulfilling goals and desires. Time away improves mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Paradoxically, journeys are essential for leading us home to the people we’d like to be.

Your heart knows the way. Run in that direction.

— Rumi

Time away gives space and perspective to…

  • bond with family and friends
  • meet kindred spirits
  • learn something new
  • rest, reset, or reinvent your life
  • scout where you want to spend a gap year or retire
  • be amazed at how big and beautiful the world is

In fact, just PLANNING and anticipating a travel experience makes us happier than a material purchase and the mood lift lasts longer. Travel benefits us before, during, and after the trip by:

  • making us more “mentally resilient”
  • enhancing creativity
  • relieving stress
  • enhancing work productivity
  • providing a new lens to reevaluate ourselves and our home culture
  • motivating us to continue something we enjoyed on vacation once we’re home (i.e.) language, cooking, Latin dancing classes or Meetups

When I started this blog, my focus was to encourage moms to take time outs. Mentors taught me the foreign concept of self-care when I became a single parent. They urged me to take a walk, eat on a pretty patio, or go to a movie when the kids were at their dad’s. I eventually took annual solo trips to a Tennessee B and B and volunteered with strangers in New York City, Ireland, and Italy. Teaching literature is fun, but even better is leading students on educational tours because Saint Augustine was right: “The world is a book and those who don’t travel read only one page.”

Moving 4400 miles away to survive the empty nest is not for everyone. It was counter-intuitive for a Stage 5 Clinger Mom like me. For years I showed my students Dead Poets Society and sent them off to college with Carpe Diem! Find Kindred Spirits! Fulfill Dreams! After two years in an empty house, I knew that I needed to seize the day before the day ceased. I needed rest, a new purpose, and to see the world with childlike wonder. I needed to live by faith, let go of fear, and begin again. Thank God I did.

When I started writing my book about living abroad, I called it my “No-Mom-Left-Behind Memoir.” I encouraged women to use the empty nest as an opportunity to do what their children were doing — spread their wings. I didn’t realize the window between caring for my children and caring for a parent was already closing. The mom who couldn’t be left behind became my mother rather than me. Since then, I’ve talked with so many empty nesters who I’ve met in passing, reconnected with at a class reunion, and interviewed for Second Harvest Food Bank at food pantries. MANY are caring for partners, parents, in-laws, and grandkids.

Someone in the world develops dementia every 3 seconds. According to the Alzheimer’s Association: “More than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. By 2050, this number is projected to rise to nearly 13 million. 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. It kills more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.”

According to a new study by AARP, 46% of caregivers are between the ages of 18 and 49. That same study suggests that the average age of a person receiving care is roughly 69. Thus, a mother who gives birth at 29, which is above the average age in the U.S., would likely need some sort of care by the time her child turns 40. Research also shows more women are affected by dementia than men. Worldwide, women with dementia outnumber men 2 to 1. While we live longer than men on the average, dementia is caused by diseases of the brain rather than age alone. 50% of women develop dementia. Travel Therapy has been proven to benefit caregivers and those with dementia, too.

Fulfilling deferred dreams after we retire may not be an option.

My mother, a former Recreational Director at an assisted living facility, often says how thankful she is for the travels she did while working. Most of those trips were with her residents. When I told her I’d been offered a teaching job abroad in 2014, she hugged me and said: “We only go around this way once.”

The Bottom Line

We don’t know how much time we have here. The same is true of places we want to see. In 2021 and 2022 I featured Sarasota, Anna Maria Island, Captiva and Sanibel Islands, and Fort Myers as Top US Destinations. The first two were threatened and the last three pummeled by Hurricane Ian this year. Last summer a trip to The Kentucky Wildlands was cancelled due to catastrophic flooding. In March 2020 my trip to Sicily was snuffed out days before departure. Climate change and a global pandemic have taught me that life as we know it can grind to a halt or mutate at any time.

In light of the Ukrainian War and other humanitarian crises happening now, spending money or time on travel, entertainment, or other luxuries can feel selfish. When I first supported volunteers with travel funds and raised support for service trips I’ve done, I’d wonder… Wouldn’t that money be better spent if sent to program directors who would give it directly to the people in need? Now I know that getting involved up- close- and- personal builds ongoing relationships, raises awareness of needs, multiplies resources exponentially, and makes us more empathic global citizens.

Travel is an investment. It’s the best form of education I know. Thanks to international teaching, leading students on service and educational trips abroad, and travel writing, I’ve had experiences that I could have never imagined or afforded on my own. I’ve met people on the road serving with the Peace Corps and other non-profit organizations, working remotely for US and European companies, running tour companies, managing hotels, and waiting tables who are adding value to others’ lives while loving their own.

I love the story of the single mom who started the “coffee can revolution” that Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, shared. There are many resources online for funding travel and living abroad. I’m now enjoying Kate Jordan’s How to Quit Your Job and Travel the World. Even though much has changed since 2015 when it was published, she still gives inspiration and practical tips for finding work abroad for an extended travel or expat experience.

My children are grown now, but we continue making memories traveling. Our favorite holiday gifts weren’t wrapped in boxes under a tree. We still speak of that Christmas in London and Marrakesh. And the holiday trip to New Orleans. This Christmas my daughter, Taylor, and I received the most exciting gift ever. My son, Cole, surprised us with tickets for a March getaway to California. We’ll return to Santa Monica, our favorite summer vacation spot ever, and drive to Palm Springs. Next week my sister will join me on a blogging trip to Key West, and in June, the dream of leading a writing retreat in Morocco is finally happening. We have a couple of spots left if you’re interested.

So where do you need to go this year? What do you want to do, learn, see, or be?

Lonely Planet’s Ideas for Learning Something New

I love Road Scholar, a non-profit travel adventure company. They offer financial assistance from donors to folks over 50 with need. If you or someone you know is a caregiver or educator wanting to get away, see below. They also have trips that don’t charge more for singles as well as online adventure scholarships. Road Scholar is my kind of people!

Grants for Caregivers at Road’s Scholar

No Solo Traveler Fees at Road’s Scholar

Educator Scholarships

Have you booked a trip already? Where are you going? Know of other travel learning experiences you’d like to share in the comments?