I’ve heard that Key West is the third most popular travel destination for New Years Eve celebrations in the USA, only behind New York City and Las Vegas.  Based on the crowds last night, I am a believer!

One of the obvious draws for visitors to Key West is the nice weather while it is cold and snowing up north.  And of course it’s a pretty good time to take some of that built-up vacation over the holidays, before you lose it.  But there is another reason.  Key West is an absolute blast on New Years Eve!

New York is famous for the ball that drops at midnight in Times Square.  Las Vegas, or more affectionately known as “Sin City”, has the appeal of gambling and shows, as well as a terrific fireworks display from the tops of several casinos. But in Key West here are three separate “something falling” celebrations, more bars per square mile that anywhere else, parades and fireworks… something for everyone.

The most popular event is the dropping of the “Conch Shell” from the roof of Sloppy Joe’s Saloon at the corner of Duval and Green Streets.  The numerous bars, as well as the street, are packed starting around 10PM, and you absolutely can not move a half hour before midnight. But this is the place where most tourists are drawn for celebrating the beginning of the new year and it’s a fun show of drunken revelry.

In the center of Old Town on the 800 block of Duval Street, there is the dropping of a red slipper occupied by renowned drag queen Sushi.  The street is packed, as well as the rainbow flag flying bars along the strip, and it is really quite a sight.  CNN has covered the event for several years now.  Everyone has a friendly good time and it’s a definite “must see at least once” event.

My personal favorite is the “Wench Drop” from the mast of a schooner in the Historic Seaport on Key West Bight.  The event is more like a party at The Schooners Wharf Bar, and it’s the bar owner, Avelina, who drops from the mast at midnight dressed in her wench costume.  There are probably more locals at the seaport than at the other two big celebrations, but there is still a big crowd of tourists.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind at any of these events.  First, be a bit patient when trying to get a drink.  Every bartender in town is working hard New Years Eve, but everyone in town is trying to buy a drink.  Second, and very important to our bartenders and servers, please tip appropriately, even it you had to wait 5 or 10 minutes to get your drink.  These people make very little wages and live on their tips.  Many of them work 60 hours a week at more than one job to pay the rent.

Tourism has been the subject of much debate between the local government and residents during 2007.  It was nice to see the crowds having fun, and all reports I heard were that the hotels and guesthouses were near 100% occupancy over the holidays.  So I guess there are still enough people out there who are willing to visit Key West.

Key West may not be for everyone, just like Times Square and Sin City aren’t for everyone. There are a lot of warm weather activities like swimming, fishing, diving and sight seeing.  There are shops, museums and an aquarium.  But for all intents and purposes, Key West is primarily an adult destination.  If you bring your kids, be aware that there are a lot of bars (and drunks and homeless people) and not much for the kids to do after dark or without adult supervision. 

All in all, Key West is a great place to visit, especially over the Christmas and New Years holidays.  If you missed it this year, jot down a note to look into it next year.  And make your reservations well in advance.  Otherwise you may be too late and have to go to Orlando.