While I’m certain that my experience taking the Key West Express down to Key West for the day was not a typical one, it certainly was exciting.

If you’re not familiar with it, the Key West Express is a transportation service that cuts about two and a half hours off the car travel time to Key West for us Southwest Floridians. You can get on the ship in either Fort Myers Beach or Marco Island and land in Key West 3 ½ to 4 hours later. When you’re ready to come back, either the same day or whenever you want, you do the same thing in reverse.

I took the trip down to the Keys just for the day with my mother, mother-in-law, college-age niece and her friend. The ship leaves Fort Myers pretty early, to ensure you get to Key West by at least lunchtime, so boarding begins at 7 a.m.

There are three levels on the Atlantic Cat Ferry, two of which are inside. We started off our trip on the top level, which is open to the sky, so we could see everything as pulled out of port in Fort Myers at 8 a.m. Later, after we went under the Mantazas Pass Bridge and began to accelerate, we went downstairs out of the wind.

The bottom two levels of the ship have very comfortable seating, and the first level has a galley, where you can get breakfast, lunch, light snacks and all types of beverages. Our ship was packed — I guess people didn’t get the message about summertime being out of season here — but the Key West Express doesn’t oversell their trips, so there was certainly enough seating for everyone, and it was a very smooth ride.

There is certainly something to be said for being able to relax and watch a movie while making the trip to Key West, rather than fighting South Florida traffic on a six-hour car trip to the same place. After we docked in Key West, we were only a few short blocks from Duval Street and all the action, even the marina there is in a convenient location.

We came back the same day, so we began boarding our ship in Key West at about 5 p.m. and had left the dock by 5:30 p.m. Here’s where the trip began to vary from the original plan. About two hours into our voyage back to Fort Myers Beach, our Captain suddenly made a fairly sharp turn.

It turned out that there was a couple whose boat was engulfed in flames, and they and their two dogs were stranded out in the Gulf. The Captain came on the PA system and informed us that he had heard a distress call and because ours was the closest vessel to them, we were turning back to rescue them.

Suffice it to say that all heroes don’t wear capes and because of our Captain’s quick actions, two people and their pups are alive and well today. Key West Express for the win.

Debbie Flessner writes the Live Like a Tourist column for the Sun newspapers. You may contact her at dj@flessner.net.

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