|FLORIDA KEYS — With sunny skies and balmy temperatures, spring in the Florida Keys & Key West heralds new and enhanced offerings in land and water attractions, historic experiences and even wedding opportunities. Explore the highlights here.
Key Largo’s newest dive operator, Sail Fish Scuba at MM 103, offers divers comfort, pampering and companionship with guided scuba and snorkel tours that follow the motto “You’re never alone in the water.”
Sail Fish Scuba offers fully guided morning, afternoon and sunset scuba and snorkel tours. Staff adds to participants’ comfort by handling all equipment and leading them through group descents and ascents.
All snorkel and dive tours with Sail Fish Scuba include an escort by a professional underwater photographer. Each tour participant goes home with a photo disk containing approximately 100 photos from his or her dive trip.
Sail Fish Scuba also offers scuba instruction, fishing charters and dive equipment rentals.
For further information, visit www.sailfishscuba.com or call 305-453-3446.
Visitors to the Upper Keys can travel above the water at high speeds aboard Lady Hawke hovercraft operated by Hover Tour.
Launched from a bayside beach next to the Caribbean Club, near MM 104, the new Key Largo attraction takes passengers on tours of Blackwater Sound and Lake Surprise.
Cruising at a speed of about 32 knots, hovercrafts provide an eco-friendly joyride on a cushion of air above the surface — with no real contact with the water or land and no harmful impact on marine animals.
Lady Hawke uses several shallow-water routes around Key Largo. Passengers can see Florida Bay waters from a unique perspective, getting up close to mangrove forests, exotic birds, the occasional porpoise and other marine life including manatees and alligators.
The hovercraft seats up to 20 passengers in an air-conditioned cabin. Offerings range from a 15-minute “curiosity tour” to two-hour tours involving beach picnics, water volleyball, snorkeling and more. Private charters can be booked as well.
Lady Hawke is available for rides and charters every day, weather permitting.
Visit www.Hover-Tour.com or call 305-904-3833 for reservations and information.
A new private charter yacht is setting sail from the southernmost city of Key West. L’Esprit Libre II, or Free Spirit II, is now available for a full range of private charter services including two-hour sunset cruises, half-day adventure excursions, weeklong leisure trips and more.
All yacht charters aboard L’Esprit Libre II are all-inclusive and feature meals, beverages, snorkeling and fishing equipment. The yacht accommodates single parties of up to six guests.
The vessel is skippered by Captain Thom Harris, a U.S. Coast Guard captain/master, PADI rescue diver, trained French Provençal chef and notary public capable of performing marriage services.
For further information and charter inquiries, visit www.lespritlibre.org or call 410-919-8270.
Keys Historic Attractions
Although the Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad centennial celebration ended Jan. 23, Keys visitors can explore permanent sites, exhibits and landmarks related to the railroad. Conceived by Henry Flagler and lauded upon its completion as the world’s most unique, the railroad connected the Florida Keys with each other and mainland Florida for the first time in 1912.
At the Key West Museum of Art & History at the Custom House, 281 Front St. in Key West, a permanent exhibit titled “Flagler’s Speedway to Sunshine” showcases the railroad’s construction, heyday and 1935 demise. For details, visit www.kwahs.com or call 305-295-6616.
The five-acre island of Pigeon Key, nestled beneath the Old Seven Mile Bridge, housed more than 400 workers who built Flagler’s railroad in the early 1900s. Many of Pigeon Key’s original railroad buildings and houses dating to 1909 still stand, and daily historical tours are offered of the island’s museum that chronicles the construction. For more information, visit www.pigeonkey.net or call 305-743-5999.
At the Historic Key West Seaport, the Flagler Station Over-Sea Railway Historeum takes guests back to the day in 1912 when the first train arrived at the island city. The museum is open daily at the corner of Caroline and Margaret streets. For information, visit www.flaglerstation.net or call 305-293-8716.
Travelers on the Florida Keys Overseas Highway also can recall the railroad through a recently created outdoor art mural in Key Largo, covering the southwest exterior wall of a building at 95360 U.S. Highway 1 near mile marker 95 bayside.
A new Key West museum is set to open in April depicting the natural and historic resources of Dry Tortugas National Park and historic Fort Jefferson. The museum also will spotlight the culturally rich history of the Key West Bight, the natural deep-water harbor on the island’s Gulf of Mexico side.
Dry Tortugas National Park, lying approximately 70 miles west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico, is made up of seven tiny coral-and-sand islands. It includes Fort Jefferson, begun in 1846, one of the largest brick structures in the Western Hemisphere. During the Civil War, Fort Jefferson served as a Union military prison for captured deserters and others.
Museum highlights include a 14-by-16-foot model of the historic fort, a photomural depicting the history of the Key West Bight, an exhibit featuring a life-size replica of the fort’s most famous prisoner, Dr. Samuel Mudd, and a hands-on children’s exhibit showcasing the natural resources of the park.
The museum will be open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and is free to the public.
The iconic vessel from John Huston’s 1951 film “The African Queen,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, will soon cruise the Key Largo waters again.
Named for the classic film, African Queen recently underwent a major restoration costing more than $60,000. Work included repairing cosmetic as well as mechanical details, making the boat once again fit to carry passengers.
Registered as a national historic site, African Queen was built in 1912 and has been around the world twice. Since 1983, it has been “homeported” at a dock at the Holiday Inn Key Largo, MM 100.
After an April 12 launch party featuring Steven Bogart, the son of film star Humphrey Bogart, African Queen will run daily two-hour canal cruises in Key Largo waters and dinner cruises on selected nights. In addition, it will be available for charters for private events.
For cruise reservations and other African Queen information, call 305-451-8080. Information also is to be available soon at www.calypsosailing.com.
Divers and those curious about the underwater world can immerse themselves in the history of man’s quest to explore beneath the sea at the new Bauer Diving History Research Library, located at Islamorada’s History of Diving Museum at MM 83.
The new library is named for the museum’s founders, Drs. Joe and Sally Bauer. Like the items in the museum, its contents are part of the Bauers’ extensive collection of extraordinary dive artifacts amassed over the past 40 years.
The Bauer Library holds one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of books relating to undersea exploration. It includes more than 2,500 rare books, prints, woodcuts, catalogs and photographs illustrating diving history, treasure hunting, submarine warfare, natural history and other aspects of underwater exploration. The oldest book in the collection dates back to 1535.
The museum’s exhibits encompass 4,000 years of diving history. Highlights include an exhibit of dive helmets from around the world, and one dedicated to Upper Keys treasure hunter Art “Silver Bar” McKee.
The History of Diving Museum is open to the public daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. In addition, it hosts informative free seminars on the third Wednesday night of each month.
For further information, visit www.divingmuseum.org or call 305-664-9737.
Couples can swallow the anchor — the pirate term for getting married — in a pirate-themed wedding, or get hitched in any fashion, with the help of Key West’s newest wedding emporium, Pirate Weddings of Key West.
Pirate-themed weddings are a specialty and packages begin at $300. Couples can choose assistance with any aspect of the occasion from venue rental and wedding planning services to photography, officiant services, costumes, food and more.
Typical pirate weddings are performed in the sand or aboard a chartered sailboat or yacht. The staff at Pirate Weddings of Key West also can assist with traditional weddings and those with nonpirate themes.
Pirate Weddings’ retail shop, located at 213 Simonton St., can dress mates from head to toe in pirate-related gear including pirate hats, mermaid costumes, jewelry, swords, corsets, wench costumes and more.
For more information visit www.PirateWeddingsofKeyWest.com or call 305-414-8049.
Florida Keys visitor information: www.fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS (1-800-352-5397)
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