FLORIDA KEYS — New offerings awaiting visitors to the Florida Keys & Key West this fall include mermaid and flamingo adventures, a Keyswide sculpture trail and a marine science experience. In addition, Hawks Cay Resort has reopened after a $50 million refurbishment and the Florida Keys’ largest recreational vehicle resort is once again welcoming visitors. Here’s what’s new:
On Duck Key in the Middle Keys, the 60-acre, 177-room Hawks Cay Resort, a AAA Four Diamond Award–rated and Preferred Hotel Group Lifestyle Collection member, reopened Aug. 30 with a $50 million refurbishment, contemporary redesigned lobby and Oasis Cay, an adults-only pool area with grill and bar serving specialty drinks. Characters Captain Hawk, Priscilla the Pirate Queen and Koral the Mermaid offer storytelling at the Coral Cay Pool. New dining venues include Sixty-One Prime and Hawks Cay Marketplace. The resort also offers 250 two- and three-bedroom villas, the Calm Waters Spa, Coral Cay kids’ activities center and Angler and Ale restaurant. New entertainment includes comedy shows and family pool parties. Visit hawkscayresort.com or call 855-395-5539.
In Islamorada, the 37-room boutique oceanfront Hadley House Resort opened Aug. 18 with 21 rooms; another 16 rooms are to reopen in October. Hadley House has undergone “head-to-toe” renovations. Rooms, decorated with light woods and splashes of color, include suites with kitchenettes. An on-site marina has 15 boat slips. Hadley House is located at 82749 Overseas Highway. Its sister property, the 22-room, 5-acre Fisher Inn Resort & Marina, is taking reservations starting Sept. 20 and scheduling a partial opening Oct. 1. It’s located at 84951 Overseas Highway. Both resorts are managed by Dallas-based Aimbridge Hospitality. Visit hadleyhouseresort.com or call 305-664-3681 and fisherinnresort.com or call 305-664-3611.
In the Lower Keys, the 75-acre Sunshine Key RV Resort & Marina, the Florida Keys’ largest recreational vehicle resort, formally reopened to visitors in early September. Located on Ohio Key just past the west end of the Seven Mile Bridge, Sunshine Key celebrated reopening about a quarter of its 399 RV sites as well as new resort amenities. The rest of the sites are to open by Oct. 1, according to resort representatives. Amenities include a renovated marina, access to a Gulf of Mexico swimming area from a new sunset pier, completely new RV site hookups and infrastructure, a refurbished recreation center and upgraded tennis courts. Visit https://rvonthego.com/florida/sunshine-key-rv-resort-marina/ or call 800-852-0348 or 305-872-2217.
In Key Largo, Baker’s Cay Resort, a Curio Collection by Hilton, is to be unveiled by late fall as the Keys’ only Curio property. The 13-acre, 200-room resort is to offer 17,000 square feet of meeting space with executive boardrooms, a grand lawn and two expansive ballrooms. Pet amenities include dog Tiki huts and cooled water bowls. A beachside tequila and taco venue is to include house-made hot sauces crafted from peppers grown on the property. Two swimming pools with a waterfall grotto, a winding nature trail lined with hidden beaches, a boat dock and salon also are on-site. Baker’s Cay Resort is located at 97000 Overseas Highway at mile marker 97 bayside. Visit bakerscayresort.com or call 305-852-5553.
In Key Largo, the adults-only Bungalows Key Largo, a 12-acre 135-unit property billing itself as “luxury inclusive,” is targeting an opening in late fall as the first all-inclusive resort in the Florida Keys. Most rooms are to average about 800 square feet and include private outdoor plunge pools or tubs. The resort features two in-ground pools, five food and beverage outlets that include three restaurants and two bars, 1,000 feet of shoreline, three piers to accommodate boats up to 40 feet long, a “Florida Keys chic” design and 4,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space. Rates include lodging, food and premium beverages, hotel amenities, activities and water toys. The resort is located at 99010 Overseas Highway at mile marker 99 bayside. Visit BungalowsKeyLargo.com or call 866-801-0195.
At the Seven Mile Bridge oceanside, the 24-acre, 199-unit Isla Bella Beach Resort is scheduled to open in early 2019 with a 4,000-square-foot spa, five pools, four food and beverage concepts, and a marina. Located at mile marker 47, the resort is to feature more than 24,000 square feet of meeting and event space. Plans call for coastal Italian- and Neapolitan-style restaurants, The Beach Bar with fresh seafood and cocktails, The Burger Palace with gourmet burgers and sliders, and Manatee Bay Marketplace, a waterfront cafe with shopping. Recreational activities are to include bocce, croquet, oversized chess, complimentary bicycles, on-site watersports and guided fishing expeditions. Visit islabellabeachresort.com or call 844-752-2352
Key Largo’s Ocean sirens, an International Mermaid Swimming Instructors Association mermaid academy, offers classes priced from $150 per person for a full day or $100 for a half-day morning pool experience. Elements of Discover Mermaiding include a mermaid tail fitting and rental, instruction in breathing techniques and swimming with the tail, a safety briefing and information about the history and fantasy of mermaids. Mermaid Beach Experience photo shoots and advanced mermaid classes, teaching participants how to do handstands, bubble blowing or underwater flips, are offered as well. First- and second-level monthly workshops are held in Key West at The Captains Mermaid boutique. A mermaid festival with performers, classes, craftspeople selling mermaid-related products and events is tentatively set for July 5-7, 2019, in Key West. Visit oceansirens.com or keywestmermaidfestival.com or call 404-580-4756.
At the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory, fans of resident pink flamingos Rhett and Scarlett, a 6-year-old male and female breeding pair, can “Flamingle” with them during daily hour-long encounters. The conservatory is believed to be the only butterfly facility in the United States that also houses flamingos. Groups of four to six can get up-close and personal during the exclusive “Flamingle” experience. Human participants sit in a white gazebo overlooking the pond and lushly planted conservatory, while Rhett and Scarlett walk free and interact as they choose. Participants are not allowed to touch the flamingos but are encouraged to communicate and socialize with them. The encounters take place at 4:45 p.m. daily. “Flamingle” costs $35 per person. Children 3 and under are free and must be lap-held by an adult. Visit keywestbutterfly.com or call 305-296-2988, ext. 11.
The new 1,840-square-foot Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Nature Center near mile marker 30.5 is to open in late 2018 showcasing the Keys’ four federally protected refuges. The center is to feature exhibits, space for interactive events and a nature bookstore operated by the nonprofit Florida Keys Wildlife Society. Future expansions are to include a butterfly house and nature trail boardwalk. The Keys’ federally protected areas include the National Key Deer Refuge, protecting the tiny endangered deer found only in the Lower Keys, and the Great White Heron, Key West and Crocodile Lake national wildlife refuges. The center is located at 30587 Overseas Highway. Visit www.fws.gov/refuge/National_Key_Deer_Refuge/ or call 305-872-0774.
A new free Walk Historic Islamorada walking tour guide is available through Florida Stories, at FIStories.org, the Google Play Store or Apple’s App Store. Each of the guide’s 10 stops has a three- to four-minute narrative. Visitors can take a 1-mile journey with stories of early Keys pioneers, Red Cross houses and pirates. The tour begins at Green Turtle Inn and ends at the Pioneer Cemetery at Cheeca Lodge & Spa. “Start with the first people of the Keys, learn tales from pirates and wreckers and see artifacts from the 1733 fleet,” said Brad Bertelli, curator at the Florida Keys History and Discovery Foundation. Bertelli selected the tour stops and wrote the narrative. Walk Historic Islamorada is funded by Keys Discovery Center, the Florida Humanities Council and the Florida Division of State, Department of Cultural Affairs. Visit keysdiscovery.com or call 305-922-2237.
At Dry Tortugas National Park, the National Park Service has completed an extensive $25 million total stabilization project at Fort Jefferson, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, on the remote park’s Garden Key. The work began more than 25 years ago. Built between 1845 and 1876, Fort Jefferson is one of the nation’s largest 19th-century forts and has been lauded by the park service as representing the “highest achievements of 19th-century American military architecture and civil engineering.” The fort is the centerpiece of the national park that lies about 70 miles west of Key West and is accessible only by boat, ferry or seaplane. The project focused on removal of iron Totten shutter components, replacement of shutter components with nonferrous replicates, selective brick replacement and mortar joint repointing. The fort’s six fronts and bastions also were stabilized. Future plans include stabilizing 16 traverse magazines atop the fort and repairing a breached moat wall. Visit nps.gov/drto/index.htm or call 305-242-7700.
In the Lower Keys at Bahia Honda State Park, the 500-acre park’s Loggerhead Beach is scheduled to reopen in late September. Calusa Beach, adjacent to the Bahia Honda Bridge, on the park’s northwest side is open as are two nearby campgrounds — Buttonwood, with 47 available sites and Bayside, with 10 — and the park’s six bayside cabins. The park’s concession also is open with food, snorkel tours, beach gear rentals and souvenirs, boat ramp and marina.The park’s shallow clear waters are popular for swimming and snorkeling. Bahia Honda State Park is located at 36850 Overseas Highway, or mile marker 37. Visit floridastateparks.org/park/Bahia-Honda or call 305-872-2353.
Beginning Oct 4, United Airlines is to increase to year-round (from seasonal) daily nonstop service to Key West from New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport on 70-seat E170 aircraft. During peak travel season, February through May 2019, United is to add a second flight into Key West from Newark. Through mid-December, United is to operate Saturday and Sunday nonstop service between Key West and Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. From mid-December through May 2019, United is to increase its Key West–Chicago frequency to a daily flight. American Airlines is to resume nonstop winter and spring 2019 service from Dallas–Fort Worth into Key West Dec. 24, operating daily flights through April 1, 2019, on 76-passenger, E175 regional jets. The service is being continued due to strong performance with its summer seasonal nonstop service on the same route. Visit united.com or call 800-864-8331, aa.com or call 800-433-7300, or Key West International Airport at eyw.com or call 305-809-5200.
The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary has added two new participants to its Blue Star Fishing Guides program. They are 3rd Alarm Fishing out of Key Largo and Yabba Dabba Doo! Charters out of Islamorada. Blue Star programs for fishing, dive and snorkel operators encourage sustainable recreational fishing, diving and snorkeling practices and help preserve the Keys’ fragile underwater ecosystems. Operators undergo annual evaluations for compliance. “By practicing responsible diving, snorkeling and fishing, visitors can lessen the stress on the Florida Keys’ unique and economically important coral reef ecosystem,” said Sarah Fangman, the sanctuary’s superintendent. Visit sanctuarybluestar.org or call 305-809-4700.
Key Largo’s Coral Restoration Foundation has launched OKCoral, a swipe-based app that enables citizen snorkelers and divers to collect information about reef restoration sites and document coral photos. Ontario-based Kraken Sports is providing underwater training in use of the app during dive programs. “We are partnering with the project to give smartphone users the ability to chip in and help monitor CRF’s amazing efforts by easily uploading photos of transplanted corals taken on their smartphone using our ‘Smart Housing,’” said Doug Taleski, founder of Kraken Sports. “We firmly believe they are making a difference, one coral transplant at a time.” Visit coralrestoration.org or call 305-435-7030.
Fish ‘N Chicks Charters Key West, a new private charter operation for groups of up to five, offers island and sandbar tours, sunset cruises and eco tours aboard an 18-foot Yamaha 150. Four-hour half-day and six-hour full-day tours are offered, as are two-hour sunset cruises. Snorkeling gear, life jackets, ice and water are provided. The tours are captained by Raquel Crummitt, whose family has been in Key West for 40 years. Crummitt enjoys taking visitors to encounter dolphins in the wild and experience tranquil islands off Key West. The charter company is located at 1802 N. Roosevelt Blvd. Visit fishnchickskeywest.com or call 904-420-3090.
The 81-mile-long Florida Keys Sculpture Trail has debuted, and ultimately is to showcase nine large-scale sculptures donated by Key West philanthropists John Padget and Jacob Dekker. Seven of the nine works are installed at locations in Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key and Key West. All were created by artists participating in the prestigious Art Students League of New York’s “Model to Monument” program. Works include “Avis Gloriae et Lavdis” and “Nature Eternal,” created by artist Shelia Berger and installed at Key West International Airport; “Wind Tower,” a collaborative piece by seven of the artists at the site of Grimal Grove on Big Pine Key; “Leaves of Grass” by Markus Rudolph Holtby at The Art Studio in Marathon; “Stand Tall, Stand Loud” by Aaron Bell and “Everyone Breaks” by Tanda Francis at oTHErside Adventure Park on Grassy Key; and “Everything Between” by Sarah Thompson Moore at Islamorada Gardens in Islamorada. Two additional sculptures are soon to be installed: “Fragments” by Shiho Sato at Islamorada’s Morada Way Arts & Cultural District and “Bridge” by James Mikhel Emerson, at Islamorada Gardens. The sculptures’ Keys installation is a collaborative effort involving the Florida Keys Council of the Arts, Monroe County Art in Public Places Committee and Monroe County Board of County Commissioners. Visit keysarts.com or call 305-295-4369.
Keys Food and Spirits
Islamorada Beer Co. has launched Islamorada Distilling, creating on-site spirits branded as Islamorada Distilling gin, vodka and dark barrel-aged and spiced rums. Spirits tastings are offered daily. The 450-square-foot distillery also has a 400-square-foot gift shop and tasting room. Two of five founding partners grew up in Islamorada and attended college together. On a fishing trip in the Bahamas, the partners came up with the idea of a beer to complement the Keys’ boating, fishing and island beach lifestyle. The company is located at 82229 Overseas Highway and spirits are distributed by Eagle Brands in Keys bars and restaurants. Visit islamoradadistilling.com or islamoradabeerco.com or call 305-440-2162.
The Hemingway Rum Co.’s Papa’s Pilar Rum Distillery plans to open a new 2,400-square-foot event center in early 2019. The 8,200-square-foot brick attraction, once a tobacco warehouse, houses the Papa’s Pilar Rum production facility, experience center, tasting room and trading post. It stands at 201 Simonton St. in Key West. A 350-gallon still produces up to 80 gallons of rum daily from molasses, yeast and water. Visitors also can see the on-site bottling of the company’s Papa’s Pilar rum, which takes place about every six weeks. Thirty-minute tours are offered from noon to 4 p.m. weekdays and 1-4 p.m. weekends. Paying tribute to author Ernest “Papa” Hemingway, who lived in Key West during the 1930s, tours are $10 per person and include a $5 coupon toward a bottle of rum. Visit papaspilar.com or call 305-414-8754.
On Big Pine Key, Milagro Restaurant and Bar has opened with a new Spanish-inspired menu, handcrafted pizzas and fresh seafood. Milagro means “miracle” in Spanish. Owner-chef Kevin Montoya and wife Maggie, both with backgrounds in food service and cooking, offer fare such as grilled octopus over Applewood-smoked bacon polenta. Montoya is a former corporate executive chef for Spottswood Cos., executive chef at Casa Marina and other resorts in the Keys, and a four-time winner of the Master Chefs Classic in Key West. Milagro is located at 31044 Avenue A in Big Pine Key. Call 305-440-3534.
Through February 2019 in Islamorada, the Keys History & Discovery Center is featuring “Treasures of NOAA’s Ark,” a traveling history exhibit about the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “Treasures of NOAA’s Ark” showcases artifacts such as 18th-century maps and early scientific instruments, and highlights the federal agency’s legacy of science, service and stewardship. The two-story, 7,500-square-foot Keys Discovery Center is open Wednesday through Sunday at 82100 Overseas Highway on-site at Islander Resort. Visit keysdiscovery.com or call 305-922-2237.
Marine Science Eco Experience, located at various resorts, features education about sea turtles and nesting, importance of coral reefs, marine mammals, sharks, rays and mangroves, and invasive species such as lionfish and green iguanas. “The program unites visitors with our marine environment throughout the Florida Keys,” said founder Sherri Paris, a marine scientist in Key West. The hourlong programs are taught by Keys scientists. Groups can be booked. Participating resorts include Playa Largo and Ocean Pointe Suites in Key Largo; Amara Cay and Cheeca Lodge & Spa in Islamorada; Hyatt Place and Marriott Courtyard in Marathon; and Havana Cabana, Hyatt Centric, Marriott Beachside, Hyatt Windward Pointe, Hyatt Beach House and Hyatt Sunset Harbor, Southernmost Beach Resort and Sheraton Suites in Key West. Visit marinesciencevacation.com or call 305-440-0662.
Key West was recently named number one among the “Most Excellent Cities Overall” to travel to worldwide and the “Most Excellent Cities for Restaurants” by TripAdvisor, a global travel planning and booking site. “It’s a tremendous honor that Key West finished as the top city in the world on the TripAdvisor list,” said Stacey Mitchell, marketing director for the Monroe County Tourist Development Council. “It shows that the Key West tourism industry understands the importance of serving our visitors.” Key West also ranked eighth on TripAdvisor’s list of “Most Excellent Cities for Experiences.” Visit http://ir.tripadvisor.com/news-releases/news-release-details/tripadvisor-announces-most-excellent-places-travel-worldwide.
Higgs Beach in Key West was recognized as one of the world’s 11 best gay beaches in a recent “Gay Cities: Your Gay Travel Guide” article. The guide cited the beach as “a great spot known for snorkeling, volleyball and jet skiing.” City-operated Higgs Beach overlooks the Atlantic Ocean beside historic West Martello Tower, home of the Key West Garden Club. Also at Higgs, beachfront restaurant Salute! serves Italian classic fare with a Keys-Caribbean influence.Visit gaycities.com or call 305-809-3700.
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS