FLORIDA KEYS — Florida Keys visitors now can share their vacation memories and learn photo techniques from experts on a new Florida Keys Photo Adventure website that showcases the island chain.
Website features include an extensive collection of photographs of Keys architecture, environment, animal and marine creatures, culture, quirks, sunsets, underwater beauty, local color and more.
Participants can submit their images to be displayed in online galleries and learn from professional Keys-based shooters who share how-to photo tips, their favorite Keys locations and best times of day for photo opportunities.
Visitors also can embark on a Photo Quest, a self-drive itinerary that includes several popular sites for photography in each Keys region.
For more information, visit www.fla-keys.com/photoadventure.
Several Key Largo hotels are offering reduced-rate accommodations for visitors who want to join round-the-clock efforts to rehabilitate two surviving pilot whales convalescing at the Florida Keys–based Marine Mammal Conservancy.
The “voluntourism” initiative is being aided with specially priced $69 (plus tax) per night rooms for visitors who sign up as volunteers. When the traveler completes at least one four-hour shift, MMC representatives will award the traveler a voucher. The voucher is good for the traveler’s stay for up to five days, Sunday night through Thursday night, and must be presented to the hotel to receive the special rate.
Volunteers help with everything from actually being in the water to support the whales (must be 18 or older), to land-based tasks such as answering phones. Shore duties can be performed by teens under 18.
The whales were transferred to MMC in a semitrailer several days after they survived a May 5 stranding off the Lower Keys.
For a list of accommodations and details, visit www.fla-keys.com/volunteer.
A Florida Keys vacation also can be a green vacation. Largo Lodge, located at mile marker (MM) 101 in Key Largo, is the upper Keys’ first lodging property to become part of the Green Living & Energy Education green business certification program.
Largo Lodge offers a sustainable haven and tropical environment on Florida Bay with access to a beach, a wild bird watching area, dock and kayaks. Largo Lodge minimizes water use with drip irrigation and mist emitters for the lush landscaping, designed to shade rooms and reduce energy use for cooling.
The property features nine units that range from single rooms with bath to suites with kitchenettes, sitting room and screened porch.
GLEE’s Green Business Program helps Keys businesses take steps to “green” their operations and build a commercial sustainability network in the Florida Keys.
For more information about green travel in the Florida Keys, visit www.fla-keys.com/greentravel.
Islamorada’s Holiday Isle Beach Resort and Marina, located at MM 84 oceanside, has begun a $10.5 million renovation to create a lushly landscaped, modern tropical resort on its oceanfront 12.5 acres.
The iconic property’s traditional clientele — fishermen, divers and hip young party-goers — can expect 129 of the current 143 rooms to receive makeovers. Nearly half of the room upgrades are scheduled to be complete in September 2011 and the remainder in November 2011. Rooms are to feature flat-screen TVs and Wi-Fi.
The vacant Sport Fish Grill, the resort’s main restaurant facility, is to become the first Shula Burger. Named for legendary Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula, it is slated for a September 2011 opening and will serve breakfast as well as other fare.
Representatives say new owners Starwood Capital expect to create a “beach resort chic” design, while maintaining the property’s easygoing vibe that dates back to its debut in 1951.
Holiday Isle’s famed Tiki Bar with its hand-carved wood floor is expected to remain, along with the resort’s claim to have invented the frozen rum runner cocktail.
For more information visit www.holidayisle.com.
Florida Keys Sailing Academy has opened in Islamorada, with captain and instructor Edana Long at the helm. There novice sailors and serious students can receive fun-filled training aboard the Cour Volant, a 2002 Jeanneau SO40 built in France.
The academy offers basic through advanced cruising lessons, live-aboard cruises and charters in the waters off the upper Keys. The facility also appeals to Keys visitors with an array of day trips including sailing, sunset and supper with gourmet fare of local and fresh Florida ingredients for Caribbean-inspired dishes.
In addition, the school offers sailing classes for “maiden” voyagers — classes taught by women for women.
After sailing lessons, students can take kayak tours, snorkel the Keys’ reefs, fish and stand-up paddle, exploring the island chain’s natural treasures by visiting various state parks and natural areas and absorbing the region’s history and ecology.
For information, visit www.learntosailfloridakeys.com.
Hall’s Dive Center & International Career Institute recently moved to a new location at 5050 Overseas Highway in Marathon. The new location features a spacious area for equipment retail, repair and rental as well as an expanded full-service classroom for the vocational diving school.
Since 1978, Hall’s has provided regularly chartered dive and snorkel trips to Marathon’s shipwrecks and signature coral reefs, as well as student training from entry level through instructor certification where participants learn how to conduct classes, retail sales and management skills, boatmanship and dive safety, dive equipment repair and specialty diving such as technical and rebreather certifications and underwater videography and photography.
Graduates are placed in dive industry jobs worldwide, including cruise ships, live-aboard vessels, dive resorts, schools and shops.
In the near future, Hall’s expects to install a full-sized swimming pool for training behind the shop. For dive training or charter information, call 1-800-331-HALL (4255) or visit www.hallsdiving.com.
Marathon’s Dolphin Research Center, a nonprofit marine mammal research and education facility at MM 59 on Grassy Key, recently premiered a new in-water program called Sea Lion Splash.
Participating guests stand on a submerged platform for an eye-to-eye and hand-to-flipper introduction to a California sea lion. During a nearly 25-minute session in the water, guests give backrubs, receive a kiss and share other hands-on interactions along with an educational lesson about the physiology, behavior and training of these furry marine mammals.
Sea Lion Splash is offered daily on a walk-in basis for $80 per person in addition to general admission to Dolphin Research Center.
The program is open to people age 5 and older. Children under 8 years old must be accompanied in the water by a participating adult. The ability to speak and understand English is required.
For information, visit www.dolphins.org.
Big Pine Key’s Strike Zone Charters, well known for dive and snorkel excursions to venues including Looe Key Reef and the 210-foot Adolphus Busch shipwreck, is expanding and increasing emphasis on its island excursion and picnic offering for families.
The multifaceted tours are offered at 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. daily aboard Strike Zone’s 40-foot glass-bottom catamaran, and children as young as toddlers can participate with their families.
Attractions include snorkeling in shallow protected waters, opportunities to view aquatic birds, spotting stingrays and sometimes dolphin in the wild, a sample of light-tackle fishing and entertaining narration about the Keys’ history and unique environment.
Participants learn how the individual Florida Keys got their names, the history of the railroad that first connected the island chain with the mainland and interesting facts about the Keys’ birds, wildlife and marine life.
The excursion’s highlight is Strike Zone’s popular fish cookout on an uninhabited island surrounded by shallow water ideal for wading. For kids who don’t eat fish, the captain/chef grills hotdogs fashioned into octopus shapes.
Excursions include snorkel gear, fishing equipment, soft drinks and the fish cookout. Trips depart from Strike Zone’s headquarters at MM 29.5 bayside, and cost $55 per person ($27.50 for children ages 3 to 6).
For reservations and more information, visit www.strikezonecharter.com or call 305-872-9863.
Travelers to the Florida Keys now can make the trip by seaplane following the debut of Tropic Ocean Airways. The seaplane charter company offers both flight shuttle service between Miami and Key West, and Key West–based seaplane adventure tours. Passengers are transported in a Cessna 206 Amphibian seaplane.
Seaplane charter flights between Key West and Miami take approximately an hour and fares start at $199 each way. The company flies between the Miami Seaplane Base and Key West International Airport. In addition, passengers can be transported to and from any waterfront resort in the Keys.
Seaplane adventure excursions are fully customizable and range from half-hour aerial tours of Key West to half-day adventure charters featuring activities such as lunch on a private island and flying to reefs or wrecks for diving or snorkeling.
Tropic Ocean Airways operates as a carbon-neutral company by purchasing carbon emissions offsets to fund clean energy projects. Seaplanes are equipped with high-tech engine monitors that help keep fuel consumption low.
For more information, visit www.flytropic.com or call 800-767-0897.
Visitors looking for a high-velocity recreational watersport can strap in to the new JetLev R200 water-powered jet pack for an exhilarating levitation-like flight. According to JetPack Adventures’ Erik Adams, the Florida Keys are the first venue in the United States where vacationers can have a jet pack experience.
Individuals learn to take off, fly, hover and land and receive a safety briefing, then experience flying with the jet pack under the guidance and observation of a certified instructor.
Students sit on a unicycle-like seat with the pack harnessed to them, wearing a helmet and a personal flotation device, while a helmet radio keeps them in constant contact with the instructor. Two jets lift students and provide forward momentum.
Adams and JetPack Adventures now offer flights with the JetLev R200 at the Galleon Resort & Marina, 617 Front St. in Key West. Cost is $249 per person for a 1.5-hour introductory experience that includes 20 to 30 minutes of actual flight time. Reservations are advised.
For more information, visit www.jetpackadventures.com.
Sundance Watersports, located inside Hawks Cay Resort at 61 Hawks Cay Blvd. on Duck Key, is to offer a similar solo JetLev flight experience beginning in mid-summer. Cost is to be $349 per person.
For information about Sundance Watersports’ flight excursions, call 305-743-0145.
Captain Jack Sparrow and his fictional shipmates are eclipsed by authentic pirates that roamed the Caribbean in “Pirates: Menace & Mayhem,” an exhibition that recently opened at Key West’s Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, 200 Greene St. in Key West.
The exhibit incorporates never-before-seen pirate artifacts recovered from an 18th-century pirate ship, other shipwreck artifacts ranging from treasure coins to 17th-century weapons, documents, illustrations, computer interactives and multimedia components.
Museum attendees can visit a buccaneer pub, hear the stirring saga of Blackbeard’s last fight, meet swashbuckling female pirates and discover the differences between real-life “brethren of the coast” and their counterparts in fiction and film.
The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum also features exhibits of artifacts and treasures from the Spanish galleons Nuestra Señora de Atocha and Santa Margarita, wrecked off the Florida Keys in a 1622 hurricane, and the English merchant slave ship Henrietta Marie — believed to be the world’s largest source of tangible objects from the early maritime slave trade.
The exhibit runs through June 2012, and the museum is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For more information, visit www.melfisher.org.
Three Key West health practitioners recently united to form Key West Wellness Retreats, providing rejuvenation and relaxation experiences in tropical Key West gardens and other unique venues. Offerings include three-day programs for people seeking renewing vacation experiences and customized single-day courses for conference and incentive groups.
Elements of the three-day program include integrative nutrition with a detox cooking class, medicinal aromatherapy for wellness and healing, intuitive meditation with essential oils, an organic wine tasting and daily yoga on the beach. Participants also discover unusual and off-the-beaten-path locations and attractions.
An autumn retreat is scheduled Nov. 10-13, 2011. In 2012, retreats are scheduled Jan. 12-15, May 10-13 and Nov. 8-11.
Single-day group programs blend entertaining and informative sessions on culinary nutrition, aromatherapy, meditation and yoga. Programs can be customized based on the group’s interests and goals.
For more information, e-mail program co-founder Donna Shields at email@example.com.
Pearl’s Rainbow, an all-welcome Key West guesthouse that formerly welcomed exclusively women, is undergoing a name change in celebration of its expanded clientele. The award-winning 525 United St. property is now called Pearl’s Key West.
Known for its lively inclusive atmosphere and accommodating friendliness, Pearl’s consists of 38 rooms and suites in five unique Keys-style buildings including a historic former cigar factory.
Attractions include two swimming pools, two hot tubs, on-site massage, free Wi-Fi, concierge service and tropical landscaping with areas for both seclusion and camaraderie among guests.
Pearl’s restaurant, aptly named The Strand, offers full gourmet breakfasts for guests. Also on site is Pearl’s Patio Bar, where libations and casual food are paired with an eclectic menu of live entertainment and events — many connected with Key West’s community calendar of festivals and holidays.
For more information and reservations, visit www.pearlskeywest.com or call 800-749-6696 or 305-292-1450.
For more Florida Keys & Key West travel information, explore the destination’s website at www.fla-keys.com or call1-800-FLA-KEYS (800-352-5397) toll-free in the U.S. and Canada. Keys social media sites include facebook.com/floridakeysandkeywest, twitter.com/thefloridakeys and youtube.com/floridakeystv.