Key West: A sunny, entertainment-filled getaway – only three hours from Chicago

Mon. May 21, 2018 12:00 AM
by Ross Forman

There are plenty of entertaining options in the water, on the water and also in the air over the water here in this Florida city that boasts it is the Southernmost Point in the Continental United States.

And almost all visitors take photos at the large concrete replica of a buoy at the corner of South and Whitehead Streets that claims to be the southernmost point in the contiguous 48 states, a popular monument since 1983. It also boasts to be me "90 Miles to Cuba," though that exact number is slightly different.

Key West is just a fun, energy-filled city, a three-hour non-stop United Airlines flight from Chicago, anchored around such activities as a sunset sail on the Schooner America 2.0, parasailing through Sebago Watersports, and helicopter rides through Air Adventures.

So much to do, so much to see ... and plenty of margaritas to drink.

Anthony Sibilly-Juarez wants to deliver a taste of Keys to Chicago in August, hoping more visitors will pick Key West as their tourist destination more often. And hopefully attract more gay men to stay at The Equator Resort, where Sibilly-Juarez is the general manager.

He will be in Chicago for Northalsted Market Days.

"Key West and The Equator Resort really are more than a destination trip; (they are) a state of mind," Sibilly-Juarez said. "We have two major sayings in Key West. The official motto of Key West is, 'One Human Family' and that Key West is where the Weird Go Pro.

"So, if you are looking for an escape from the normal and a place that welcomes everyone like family, visit Key West and The Equator Resort. You will not be disappointed. Hey, I came for six months and it turned into 14 years; that is testament to what an amazing place this is."

Sibilly-Juarez, 37, is originally from the U.S. Virgin Islands and has been living in Key West for 14 years. He has worked at The Equator Resort for two years.

The Equator Resort is a male-only, clothing-optional resort, comprised of five historic properties growing over the past 20 years from the original two properties all of which date back to the late-1800s. The resort was originally a collaboration between a small group of like-minded individuals who wanted to create a safe space for men to relax and enjoy the beauty of Key West, Sibilly-Juarez said.

The Equator Resort has 34 rooms, two pools, two Jacuzzis, and a full-service bar with complimentary happy hour daily. Guests also receive a daily complimentary continental breakfast with baked goods from local artisans. The Equator Resort is located on Fleming Street, once known as the Gay Street for all the male resorts it used to host. The Equator Resort is located only three blocks from world-famous Duval Street, and a 10-minute walk from its gay bars, such as Bourbon St. Pub.

"While the Equator has never had a need for market-specific targeting as we have always had a strong loyal clientele and strong word-of-mouth following, we are beginning to branch out to spread the word at various events," said Sibilly-Juarez who, in early-May, went to Toronto to also promote the resort and the city. The Equator also will have a marketing presence at One Magical Weekend in Orlando.

Visitors to The Equator Resort are wide-ranging, ranging in age from 18 to 80, maybe even a year or two older, and you'll see everything from muscled gym rats to hairy bears, and everything in between. And everyone seems to get along.

"(At) many male-only resorts, people tend to form cliques based on varying factors, (but) this does not happen at the Equator. I have seen so many first-timers come to the resort, unsure if they are going to fit in, only to leave with a hand full of new friends. Being from the Virgin Islands myself I am used to living in a melting pot of cultures and people ... and at the Equator, I feel like I am back home," said Sibilly-Juarez. "At the Equator Resort, our company culture of customer service has always been a walk on the fine line between professionalism and treating our guests like family in our living room. Many companies boast this, many of which I have worked for in the past, yet none truly embrace it. It tends to be something companies say to lure guests.

"But at The Equator Resort, the environment truly is ... who we are. From the way we work with each other to the way we interact with our guests. It is not uncommon to see a team member hanging out with some of our friends (aka guests) after work showing them around town through the eyes of a local. It is not uncommon for a team member to be leaving work in their car and see a guest walking down the street and yell out, 'Get in, girl; I'll give you a ride.'"

Sibilly-Juarez said the outpouring of support for staff following last year's devastating Hurricane Irma was overwhelming. And yes, the resort and the city overall is just fine now from that Mother Nature attack.

Sibilly-Juarez and a few others decided to stay and ride out the storm.

Once the storm was over, The Equator Resort was one of the few locations that had a working telephone – and they immediately opened their doors to anyone who needed to make a call home to let family know they were safe.

"At various times of the day there would be a line out the door trying to use the phone, (and) because of this we were able to make so many new friends and contacts," Sibilly-Juarez said. "We ended up opening our property to many locals, grilled food and had plenty of supplies to go around to those who needed. It was a great opportunity to turn tragedy into a community event, and day after day we had a small community gathering poolside of food, supplies, drinks and board games."

More At The Equator Resort:

Some of its staff are former guests. "They loved the Equator so much that they decided to move here and work with us," said Sibilly-Juarez.

It is the only male-only resort on the island that does not sell day-passes. "We are very private and a guest-only (and guest of guests) resort. Privacy is assured and you will not see random people in the resort. Because of this, we do have a fair amount of celebrity guests that frequent the resort at various times of the year."

Since the resort is comprised of historic buildings turned into a hotel, no two rooms are identical.

January, February and March are traditionally the high-season. Other popular periods include Pride, Fantasy Fest, Bone Islands Bare All Weekends and New Year's.

10 To Do: Here's a look at 10 options in Key West:

1. Blue Q – An all-male, clothing-optional snorkeling trip.

2. Saloon One Bar on Friday Nights – The small bar, at midnight, has some very entertaining contests for visitors to win a variety of prizes and of course a few shots at the bar.

3. Azur Restaurant – A Mediterranean-style restaurant just a few blocks away from The Equator Resort; gay-owned, great food and drinks.

4. Aqua Drag Show – "I have seen many drag shows over the years, in many locations, and Aqua's still is the top on my list. If you want a mix of comedy and Broadway in a nice, air-conditioned lounge atmosphere, this is the place to go." Sibilly-Juarez said.

5. 801 Cabaret Drag Show – For over 25 years the Key West Drag Scene has been led by, Sushi, who has been shown on CNN in her world-famous New Year's Eve dropping of the Ruby Slipper. Some of the other beauties include Marilyn Daniels, Sasha Coxxx and Kylie, among others.

6. Conch Train Tour – A casual trip around Key West.

7. Just Jeff – Singing live at Bourbon St. Pub, from 8-10 p.m., Thursday through Sunday.

8. Margaritaville Key West Resort & Marina – Jimmy Buffett has deep history in Key West, so this Margaritaville is a natural.

9. Key West Aquarium – Perfect way to see and learn about some of the underwater life.

10. Cuba – Yep, might as well travel to the baseball- and cigar-rich country that is about 90 miles away. "A new tour we are offering, bookable through the resort, is a day-trip to Cuba," Sibilly-Juarez said. "Guests can leave in the morning and be back for dinner. The trip includes tour travel visa, airfare, lunch, tour guide and a guided tour of Hemingway House in Cuba."