More about Conch Key Cottages
A taste of the Florida Keys
The Islamorada Fish Company is at a bunch of Bass Pro Shops across the country that recreates the experience of eating at an oceanfront restaurant in south Florida. While the seafood isn't as fresh or locally caught in the other locations and you can't watch the fishing boats come in with the day's haul, they do their best to capture the spirit of the Keys even if it's mid-autumn in Virginia with a brisk wind outside. On a return trip in the summer, a friend and I got a chance to enjoy the patio on a mild evening. Conch (Key West native) and Caribbean music was played to set the tone. A 30-foot (9 m.) vaulted ceiling, trophy saltwater mounts, hand-painted murals and pictures, add to the relaxing aquatic atmosphere their 12000 gallon saltwater aquarium provides. The menu offers a wide range of appetisers and seafood with a few things for people who are keen to stick to food from dry land. Unfortunately, my first time there, the service was lacklustre. We almost had to organise a search party for Tiffany our waitress. This restaurant gets high marks for its atmosphere, the food was quite good, but the wait staff really needs to be more attentive. I had 8 coconut shrimp in a spicy orange marmalade sauce served together with fries. Because I'm not keen on coleslaw, I asked if I could have double the fries. At most other restaurants, locally owned or chains, they had no problem with that request. This waitress gave me the company line that they could leave out the coleslaw but not double the fries. I find it hard to believe that a restaurant with the kind of reputation this restaurant has would be so rigid on side dishes. The coconut shrimp, the dipping sauce, and the fries had a good flavour, but they didn't arrive hot. It was evident they cooled while waiting for pickup by our waitress. The portions were such that I didn't leave hungry. I went back a few months later and had the venison stuffed mushrooms. The service was much better the second time. On the third visit, I had the salmon and pasta dish with garlic bread. The waiter messed up Peter's order, but he made it right by giving us free dessert. Because the waiter rectified his mistake, I gave him what I was originally going to give him in his tip. So that first experience or poor service was appeared to be isolated.
I could have taken the small sand ants. They were understandable, considering the island environment. I was not thrilled about the cockroaches, of which I killed an average of four a day. We stayed in the Cowrie - one of the "efficiency" apartments that had been described to us as having a "living room" with a seperate bedroom. I do not consider a pullout sofabed stuck in a small kitchen to be a living room. When the bed was pulled out, you could barely get around it to get to the door, and you could not open the refrigerator. It was way too small for 2 adults and 2 children. The morning after our first night there, I noticed that something had eaten into our as-yet unwrapped loaf of bread on the counter. When we took the bread to the front office, the guy there denied that he ever had a problem with roaches or mice. (Yet there was a can of roach spray under our kitchen sink - not a good sign). He gave us two large traps to use. He just happened to have them on hand, and he happened to know that tootsie rolls make good bait. We set the traps up and that very night (2nd night we were there), a trap went off and the thing ran around the kitchen crying in pain. We got up, thinking it was dead, but it had escaped the trap. After our third night, we awoke to discover a dead RAT in one of the traps. It was quite large. We took it to the front office. Their reaction was "huh, look at that." No apologies - nothing. We should have left then, but we figured there was only one rodent, and that it had been taken care of. No such luck. On our fourth night there, we were still awake, with lights on, when the one remaining trap went off. Another dead rat. It was 11:00 at night and we were out of traps, with more rats sure to show up. We had to use a bath towel to stuff the hole in the bottom front wall of the "efficiency" and turn an endtable upside down to act as a barrier to keep the towel in place. I still cannot believe that my children had to sleep in a place full of rats. We were horrified. The next morning we paid the front office a visit. They could not have been ruder. They yelled, told us to get out, and basically threw us off the property. There were no apologies for us having to deal with rats, no offers to help us find a new place, no thank you's for killing their rats for them. The guy told us that if we weren't out of the place by 10:00 (45 minutes away) he'd have to charge us an extra day. Luckily we had stayed up half the night finding another place and packing up, so we were prepared. When we dropped off the key in the front office (at the deadline of 10:00 am) we complained to the lady - "Maggie" - about the rude treatment we had received. Her response was "look, I've got work to do." Through it all we bent over backwards to remain calm and not lose our tempers when we had every right to. Staying at the Conch Key Cottages turned our vacation into a nightmare. We stayed there from April 10 - 14, 2006, and it was four nights too long.
Low key, family getaway
We stayed at Conch Key for a week in March and thoroughly enjoyed its low key, family friendly ambiance. We, too, were a bit concerned based upon some of the negative comments here, but our fears proved unfounded. Upon arrival we were very pleased with the cleanliness of our cottages (we stayed in Horse Conch, one of the raised cottages, and our in- laws in Queen Conch on the beach). This is not a fancy resort - but with small children, that's not what we were looking for. We chose to pay a bit extra for complete maid service on two days during our week - totally worth it, and the cleaning staff was extremely pleasant and accommodating. The pool was a big hit with the family, as was the beach, although I concur it is more of a lounging/kayaking/sunbathing destination as opposed to a swimming beach. A very big plus is the setback from busy Route 1, and the resulting quiet atmosphere at night, in addition to the "pedestrian only" limitation in most of the property, which made us feel very safe having small children. Undeniably, there are some maintenance issues that should be addressed, including a kitchen oven that didn't seem to work well, and a dishwasher drawer needing some attention. They have also had some trouble with raccoons that they were still addressing during our stay, and we experienced a bad smell in the kitchen that seemed to come and go; we never found the source. None of this was beyond what we would have expected for a low key family cottage rental, but some extra attention to maintenance will be needed soon. The grounds were lovely and gardens well-maintained. Check out was NOT an issue - all we had to do was make sure our dishes were clean and put our linens in the laundry basket. Not a big deal. All in all, a very enjoyable stay, and just what we were looking for in our first Keys experience. We would definitely go back, and may go again next year if there are no significant changes to the property.
We had a little anxiety before we arrived due to some of the negative comments here, but they were all washed away by the gently lapping wavelets on the beach, and the sight of the beautiful gardens and sound of the breezes in the trees calmed and renewed us.
This little island is off on its own -- unless you can plan well and be mostly self-contained, you will find yourself heading the 15 or 20 minutes into Marathon every time you need anything. However, this is a fine easy drive if you want to go out for dinner, and Marathon has plenty of supermarkets, drug stores, etc. Key Fisheries Marina and Restaurant is a great dockside fish market and rustic eatery at the western end of 35th Street. Key West is about an hour and a half of painless scenic cruising to the south.
But it's perfect here for a quiet lazy break. We rented a little efficiency and it was clean and comfortable, with a fully equipped kitchen (including a blender for your daquiris or pina coladas!) Don't expect 5 stars; there are plenty of $1,000 a night resorts in the Keys if that's what you're looking for, but Conch Key is fine for the price.
The staff was friendly and informative, but then we didn't go running to them every 5 minutes with complaints, either. Administrative issues like 3 nights stay being required during the high season -- that's kind of standard, isn't it? They appear to have relaxed the cleaning requirements somewhat -- just do your dishes and put your towels in the laundry basket -- that's not too much to ask. As far as maintenance goes, they may have been forced to spruce things up a bit since the fall '05 storm damage, and the plants seem to have recovered just fine. We were never there with the old owners, so we don't have anything to compare to, but if it was that much better then, it must have truly been a paradise! One warning, they may have some construction planned, which could be intrusive and noisy, so you might want to ask about that.
The "beach" was more of a "water access" -- not really for swimming, but fine for kayaking, wading, bird watching, or lying on a chaise. People who have trouble running aground in kayaks should pay a little more attention to the tides. The pool was clean and refreshing. (See photos.) Sombrero Beach in Marathon is a good deep water beach nearby if you want the ocean swimming experience.
Overall, a great little place. I wouldn't hesitate -- enjoy your stay.
My wife and I stayed in the "Queen" directly on the beach from Dec.23rd thru 30th.Having stayed there in years past we were dissapointed.This is not the time of year to stay for couples who desire peace and quiet.Famlies abound and rule.The small beach area (which is directly in front of the Queen)was crowded noisy.We had to go to management to keep kids from swinging on the hammock.We realize Wilma had gone through just a month or so earlier,but the condition of the cottage was not and is not the result of mother nature.Only two forks in the kitchen which was lacking in care,the cushions on the couch were stained and old.The entire inside was in need of a "HONEST" cleaning.As I said we have stayed there in the past but after this stay,it will be our last. P.S.We did learn while we were there that the resort had been sold a year or so ago.What a shame to let it go downhill like that.Bring back Ron & Wayne.
Never Even Got There - Rude Service
I called to make reservations for one night in March (high season). Phone was answered by a pleasant woman who took my reservation for one night. She took my credit card and said I would be getting an email with my reservation confirmation. Within half an hour, she called me back and said that she couldn't book my reservation because a there is a minimum 3 night stay requirement (I was not informed about this). She said this was her first day on the job and didn't know the policy. The manager made her call me back to cancel my reservation. I decided to call the manager back to express my concern. He answered my call and could only talk about the policy, talking over me when I tried to express my view. He eventually hung up on me and would not pickup the phone when I called back. I am dissapointed because I remember pleasant stays there in the past, but as other people have said, never again. I wonder what the current (new) owner thinks about this? Oh, well..., off to the internet to find a new best place.
Loved The Baby Conch
My wife and I stayed in The Baby Conch, which is studio cottage, the last week of Jan.2006. The cottage was clean, warm and welcoming. The Queen size bed was comfortable as were wicker chairs. We ate our breakfast every morning on the screen porch off the back of the cottage. The private spa on the back deck was great to sit and soak in after a day Kayaking or just exploring the Keys.The pool was warm and clear. The small beach was a great place to launch the Kayak for a up close and personal look at the water and its inhabitants. The staff was friendly and helpfull in helping us find our way around the Keys.We have rented cottage around the world and this one rates 5 stars in our book. Great sunset at the boat dock.
Did not like this place at all
Though this is touted as a "back to the past" kind of place, and it could be, the current managers have done nothing to keep things up to date. The place is in an advanced state of disrepair and, though it is charming and isolated, the services do not warrant the prices, such as the service is. Additionally, the manager on site did not attend to our needs, nor seemed to know what we required. Money is best spent in other places.