The Conch Train Tour, Key West - Orlando / Florida Guide
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Although we had visited Key West several times, it was not until our third visit that we decided to take the Conch Train Tour. Of course they are not real trains, but they are fun to see, with their little black engines chugging through the streets of Key West, pulling colourful canopied carriages full of visitors, behind them. Having arrived on a cruise ship, our time was limited, so the Conch train provided the ideal way to see as much as we could of this island paradise.
Since 1958, these trains have been taking visitors around the island, their ‘engineers’ giving an expert commentary on all the fascinating things to see. Tours start at 9.00 am, and continue until 4.00 pm. They last approximately 90 minutes and are an interesting way to find out about the history of this colourful island. Trains can be picked up from several locations, including Front Street, Flagler Station or Mallory Square, but we boarded our train in the bustling square, and sat back to enjoy the views. It is certainly a most relaxing way to enjoy the sunshine and learn something of the history of the place.
The train winds its way slowly through the busy streets of Key West, taking you past the Key West Aquarium, the Shipwreck Historeum and Museum, Flagler Station and Sloppy Joe’s Bar. We were interested to see the beautiful and unique wooden houses that abound in this tropical city. Many famous people have lived in Key West, including the authors John James Audubon and Ernest Hemmingway, as well as President Harry S Truman, and we were taken past their houses. Throughout the journey the driver gave us a commentary which included anecdotes and humorous stories. President Truman occupied the Little White House on many occasions, and loved the atmosphere of Key West.
As we drove out towards Atlantic Boulevard we passed the southernmost point of the USA. However, by the time we reached Roosevelt Boulevard, the sky began to change from bright blue to a threatening grey, as thunderstorms gathered on the horizon. Fortunately, our train pulled into the boarding location, and the driver went inside and returned with plastic capes for us to wear. Thankfully, he was just in time as the heavens opened, and with the sides of the train open to the elements they proved invaluable. However, nothing could spoil our trip and we were soon on our way, rain or no rain! We passed several hotels, and the main airport, before turning back along Flagler Avenue and past the small cemetery that serves the island.
As suddenly as it appeared, the rain stopped, and the sunshine emerged. We were able to discard our rain capes and sit back and enjoy the tropical heat of Key West. All too soon we were pulling into Mallory Square, at the end of our journey through time. We thoroughly enjoyed our trip on this small train and found it to be an excellent way of finding out about Key West and its history. From the days of the Indians, whose whitened bones apparently gave Key West the name ‘Bone Island,’ to the wreckers and pirates who made their fortunes at the expense of those whose ships floundered on the treacherous coral reefs offshore, the Conch Train ‘engineers’ will bring it all to life.
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