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Monday, November 28, 2011

Travel: Cedar Key - Historic Or Hysteric

The development of Cedar Key had begun in 1859 in anticipation of the prosperity that completion of the Florida Railroad was expected to bring to the port on the Gulf. I arrived in Florida about 96 years after the fact and though I have lived in this land for some 56 years I had never been to Cedar Key. There had been many trips between Panama City and Tampa plus points south, but never on that 24 mile stretch from U.S. 19/98 over to pencil land (you know, number 2 lead cedar pencils we used to chew on in school).

According to a Wikipedia article, "The old-fashioned fishing village is now a tourist center with several regionally famous seafood restaurants." To bring our week long Thanksgiving staycation to a glorious conclusion, the Belle of Ballast Point and I decided to head up to Cedar Key for a few days to enjoy this "old-fashioned fishing village and it's famous seafood restaurants".

I did my due diligent search on-line for accommodations and stumbled upon the historic Island Hotel. Though I should have known better, I allowed myself to be sucked in by the hotel's description and photos. Will I never learn - what you see on the 'net rarely is what you find in the real world. But we are adventurous, so I booked a room for two nights.

The Island Hotel and Restaurant is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. That should have sent me screaming in the opposite direction since our last visit to a listing in the National Register of Historical Places, The Desert Inn at Yeehaw Junction, resulted in us wondering if we would make it out alive. Really! And, that was before the bikers arrived. As I said, we are adventurous!

We found the hotel with little effort. Cedar Key is not that big. The hotel looked pretty much like it did in the pictures on the Internet. It wasn't until we checked in did we realize why their guest rooms weren't pictured on their web site.

"The Island Hotel has 10 rooms, all of them individual and all having very little in common with any hotel." To say the rooms have little in common with any hotel is a bit of an understatement, but do go on, "To preserve the romantic and traditional ambiance, there are no televisions or telephones in the rooms of the main hotel. Some of the hotel rooms have old fashioned claw-foot tubs (bubble bath provided!), some showers and some tub and showers."

We had one of the rooms with a claw footed tub. It was conveniently located a just few feet away from the bed. This was real handy if one felt the urgent need of a late night cleansing. As there was no other furniture in the room save for an end table or two, this afforded us a choice of reclining on the bed or in the tub.

The bathroom sink in our bedroom added another element of historic or antique charm.

The toilet was next to the sink, but enclosed with scrap lumber and a folding door that was way larger than the entry-way into the water closet. I would have included a photo, but both I and my pocket camera wouldn't both fit in at the same time. The WC was without a light, so your late night urges depended on luck or a hope and a prayer.

Lest I forget, the hotel warned guests that the walls are paper thin. As a consequence, if one of you is a screamer you might want to enjoy your romantic tryst at an establishment with thicker walls. It's just a thought.

For our luxurious and historical room we were being charged $136.25 per night. After the shock of our room and a walk about Cedar Key we made the decision to spend just one night, not two - and one night was a night too many.

While waiting for the bar to open at 5 p.m. we headed down to the waterfront which consisted of a huge parking lot covered with vehicles attached to boat trailers, or vice versa. At the waters edge we discovered the Cedar Key tourist center - a long line of multi-story wooden buildings that I assume were meant to replicate the long lost Cedar Key of old. These buildings housed souvenir shops and a number of restaurants serving enough fried seafood to clog the arteries of an army.

One of the locals suggested that the best of the bunch was Steamers Clam Bar and Grill. We climbed the stairs and wandered in.

Between the two of us we had several medicinal brewskis, the Steamer Salad which resembled a plain old house salad, and the 1 LB bucket of Cedar Key clams.

The bucket and clam shells may have weighed a pound, but there probably wasn't more than a hand-full of those little clams. They were pretty tasty, but it wasn't worth eight bucks a bucket, nor was that house salad worth six bucks. Can you say, "tourist trap"?

Steamers on Urbanspoon

We had intended to take a boat tour up the Suwanee River the next day, but the tour operators said the tide would be too low until December and they would have no captain to pilot the boat until then, either.

The thought of spending a full day in Cedar Key just aimlessly wandering around visiting the plethora of gift shops and antique stores, or drinking ourselves into a mind-numbing stupor didn't much appeal to either of us. We were now really looking forward to heading back to Tampa first thing next morning.

Dinner that night at the Island Hotel Restaurant didn't improve our spirits. While my lamb chops were pretty tasty, the fish served to my bride was way under-cooked, skin side down on too low heat, which gave the fish a slimy texture and a horribly off-putting taste.

Historic Island Hotel on Urbanspoon

We love to travel and experience new places, foods, and cultures. We have traveled around the world and had a hell of a good time. This trip to Cedar Key was not one of those times. I think Cedar Key was probably a paradise before it became a tourist mecca.

Let me end this piece on a positive note. The locals that we met in Cedar Key were very hospitable and friendly. The bar in the hotel was also a plus. The picture of Neptune above the bar had a great deal of history. Some of the water stains were from a really nasty huricane that blew through the area some years ago, and if you look closely you will see little round dots on the picture. Those are bullet holes - presumably left by a patron many, many years ago.

The rest of the pictures were taken in the common areas of the hotel.

And, lastly, a view of the waterfront without the fake fish houses.

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