Back in May, my fiancé and I were all geared up for a trip to St. Martin—until, 24 hours before our flight—Dan realized his passport had expired. After spending a good hour researching expedited passport fees, and realizing there was no way we were leaving the country, I called Jet Blue and priced out fares for all of its beachy destinations—from Long Beach to Fort Lauderdale. Turns out sunny Orlando was the cheapest to fly to (by hundreds of dollars). We reserved a rental car, and the next morning we were off—with no hotel rooms reserved, much less an idea of where we’d end up.
With visions of sand and sea in our heads, we had no reason to stick around Orlando—so I-91 southbound it was. We Pricelined a hotel in Miami, and after a night of carousing in South Beach, we continued on toward the Keys. Having heard fantastic reviews of Moorings Village, an idyllic array of well-appointed houses on a private beach in Islamorada, we gave it a go. The resort was completely booked, but we were lucky enough to hole up for a night in a small cottage usually reserved for friends and family. After lolling on the beach for several hours with nary another guest in sight—we checked out the resort’s legendary full-moon party, held across the street at the open-air restaurant Morada Bay.
Now that we’d sampled the good life, we were ready to get our hands dirty. Robbie’s, a funky seaside marketplace that includes souvenir stands, a restaurant and bar, fish food dispensers to feed the swarming tarpon, and deep sea fishing excursions—was our mecca. After four hours at sea we’d hooked three fish—and several new friends. Back at the dock, our friendly guide filleted the catch and sent us to Marker 88, a restaurant on the water where the chef would gladly batter and fry our bounty. We handed over the plastic sack of flesh; minutes later our server delivered two plates of crispy, buttery snapper—it doesn’t get much fresher.
We spend our final night at The Pelican, a cluster of low-key cottages in Key Largo. After a free breakfast in the morning, we wandered to the dock to savor our last moments as wandering beachcombers—and realized we wouldn’t have changed a thing.
NOTE: It takes 4-6 weeks to renew your passport; 2-3 weeks (and an extra $60) if you request expedited service. If you’re traveling internationally within the next two weeks and still haven’t renewed, schedule an appointment at one of the 18 Regional Passport Agencies across the country. And if you’re really crunched, hire a passport expeditor.
Alison Goran is an assistant editor at Travel + Leisure.