FLORIDA KEYS — The Florida Keys & Key West continue to spotlight the destination’s eco-oriented “Connect & Protect” initiative to encourage awareness of sustainable, memorable activities for visitors.
In addition, notable new offerings include two resorts in the family-oriented Middle Keys and Key West’s intriguing Sails to Rails museum.
Here’s what’s new as the Keys ease into summer:
In the Lower Keys, new daily interpretive trolley tours of Bahia Honda State Park, offered by Friends of Bahia Honda State Park, describe the natural ecosystem and history of the park. Tours are scheduled at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. The seven-passenger Sandspur Trolley tour begins at the park’s Sand and Sea Nature Center and travels to Sandspur Beach, scheduled to reopen in 2020. Suggested donations of $5 per person go to the Friends of Bahia Honda and are used for beautification and restoration of the 524-acre park. Visit floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/Bahia-Honda-state-park or call 305-872-9807.
Key West Hydrobikes offers hourly rentals or tours from four Key West locations: Simonton Beach next to LagerHeads Beach Bar & Watersports, Marriott Beachside Hotel, and Casa Marina Resort and The Reach Resort, both Waldorf Astoria properties. Cyclists on the stable, pedal-powered nonmotorized water bikes can cross Key West Harbor to the back side of Wisteria Island to dismount and snorkel in the island’s uncrowded waters. Tours, guided and nonguided, include Castaway Island and Mallory Glow. Average cruising speed is about 4 to 6 mph. Tours depart from LagerHeads, located at 0 Simonton St. Visit keywesthydrobikes.com or call 800-935-6927.
Two new Key West walking tours, the Bahama Village and the Southernmost Historical tours, were recently launched by a local fifth-generation “Conch,” or native-born resident, Monroe “Hemingway” Holloway. The Bahama Village Tour, offered at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., showcases the historic neighborhood, architecture, community ties to the Bahamas and includes a sampling of Bahamian conch salad. The hourlong Southernmost Historical Tour, offered at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., strolls through “Gatoville,” a former Key West Cuban cigar makers’ community. It also includes history about Cuban links to Key West and a sampling of Cuban food at Ana’s Cuban and Conch Cafe. Priced at $25 per person plus tax, tours begin at the corner of Truman and Whitehead streets. Visit travelthekeys.com or call 305-741-1805.
The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary has added three participants to its Blue Star Fishing Guides program: A Fishing Guide of Islamorada, Flying Fish Charters of Key West and Sail Fish Scuba of Key Largo. Blue Star programs for fishing, dive and snorkel operators encourage sustainable recreational fishing, diving and snorkeling practices to preserve the Keys’ underwater ecosystems. Operators undergo annual compliance evaluations. The Blue Star program currently has 24 dive and 11 fishing charter operator members. Visit sanctuarybluestar.org or call 305-809-4700.
On Big Pine Key, the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Nature Center is scheduled to open by late June. With more than 1,800 square feet of exhibition space, it showcases the Keys’ four national wildlife refuges: National Key Deer, Great White Heron, Key West and Crocodile Lake. It’s located at 30587 Overseas Highway near mile marker 30.5. The National Key Deer Refuge, established in 1957 to protect and preserve the diminutive Key deer and other Keys wildlife resources, celebrated its 60th anniversary in December 2017. Visit fws.gov/refuge/National_Key_Deer_Refuge/ or call 305-872-0774.
In Key Largo, the adults-only, all-inclusive Bungalows Key Largo, a 12-acre 135-unit resort, is scheduled to accept reservations beginning Dec. 20. The resort originally opened in December 2018 but sustained damage May 5 from an early morning fire. Its Beach Club building, with its Zen Garden Spa, fitness Tiki area and restaurants, was impacted. There were no injuries but the resort remains closed during rebuilding. Bungalows Key Largo features 1,000 feet of shoreline, 800-square-foot bungalows and 4,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space. Visit BungalowsKeyLargo.com or call 866-801-0195.
In the Middle Keys, the oceanfront all-suite Grassy Flats Resort & Beach Club has opened with 15 units on Grassy Key at mile marker 58. The property, with private verandas and full kitchens, plans to be fully open by summer 2020 with a total of 33 units that include two- and three-bedroom suites and a four-bedroom guest house. The eco-friendly resort promotes sustainability through multiple initiatives including housekeeping and landscaping practices and a ban on single-use plastics. It’s located at 58182 Overseas Highway. Visit grassyflats.com or call 305-998-4590.
The Keys’ newest large resort is Marathon’s 24-acre, 199-unit Isla Bella Beach Resort, located at the Seven Mile Bridge oceanside at mile marker 47. It has five pools, four food and beverage concepts, a marina and more than 24,000 square feet of meeting and event space. Its 4,000-square-foot Spa at Isla Bella is to open in early June with five treatment rooms, couples’ massage room, steam in each locker room and a station with tea service, infused water and fresh fruit. The spa is attached to a 1,000-square-foot state-of-the-art fitness center. Dining venues include Il Postino, a Neapolitan-style restaurant; The Beach Bar; The Burger Palace; and Manatee Bay Marketplace, a waterfront cafe with shopping that’s also open to the public. Bocce, croquet, oversized chess, complimentary bicycles, on-site watersports and guided fishing expeditions are among resort activities. Visit islabellabeachresort.com or call 305-481-9451.
The Perry Hotel Key West on Stock Island is adding a new waterfront wedding venue and event space geared toward events for 50 to 500 guests, with raised stage and on-site catering. Also in development, a new on-site 1,340-square-foot distillery is scheduled to open Nov. 1, featuring a local distilling partner with authentic Key West Rum and bottling tours. Total venue capacity to include the distillery, a 2,980-square-foot pool deck and 1,630-square-foot pool bar, a 3,200-square-foot event lawn with standing capacity for up to 500 and a 545-square-foot VIP Terrace Lounge. Visit perrykeywest.com/meetings-and-events or call 305-269-1717.
In Key West, two of The Keys Collection hotels, The Gates Hotel Key West and 24 North Hotel, have partnered with Key West–based Kino Sandals for a “One-Hour Sandal Delivery” program for guests. Kino Sandals have been hand-cut and assembled by hand in a traditional sandal factory since 1966. “For any visitor traveling to Key West, Kino’s is part of the itinerary and the attire,” said Alan Brand, vice president of operations at The Keys Collection. The service, with Kino’s classic thong-style sandals for children and adults priced at $20.43 per pair, is offered daily at the hotels between 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. The two hotels are located along Key West’s North Roosevelt Boulevard near the entrance to the island. Visit thekeyscollection.com or call 305-400-4117.
In Islamorada, the Atlantic oceanfront Anne’s Beach, located at mile marker 73.5 on Lower Matecumbe Key, is to reopen this summer with a new 1,280-foot-long elevated wooden boardwalk. The pet-friendly beach, operated by the city of Islamorada just off the Overseas Highway, has six new pavilions, new restrooms and rebuilt north and south parking lots. The small beach park stretches from Calusa Cove Marina on its northern end to Channel 2 at its southern tip. Visit islamorada.fl.us.
An exhibit scheduled to open in June at Islamorada’s History of Diving Museum dives into the evolution of the rebreather. This type of scuba apparatus, first conceived in the 1600s, recycles a diver’s breathing gas, allowing for longer dives with no bubbles in the water. The technology’s development has moved it out of the water and rebreathers are now used by firefighters, astronauts, mine workers and those in other professions. The apparatus has had a significant impact on history, from World War II espionage to modern day aquanaut training. The museum is located at mile marker 83. Visit divingmuseum.org or call 305-664-9737.
Also in Islamorada, a new permanent exhibit to highlight the ecological and economic significance of the Florida Keys flats fishery is to be added to Keys History & Discovery Center, located on-site at the oceanside Islander Resort at mile marker 82. The exhibition is funded through the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust in Coral Gables, Florida, and the Florida Keys History and Discovery Foundation, and is scheduled for completion in December. The educational exhibit will feature the importance of sport fishery and habitats. The center is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. Visit keysdiscovery.com or call 305-922-2237.
Want to learn to wakeboard, kiteboard or foilboard? In the Middle Keys, OTHErside Adventure Park & Keys Cable on Grassy Key is the Keys’ only venue teaching wakeboarding using cables on a wakeboard lake outfitted with a new double-sided ramp. The park also has a new upgraded kite boat and outdoor murals promoting sustainability, and more than 70 solar panels have been added. Additional activities include lessons in kiteboarding, wake skating, stand-up paddle boarding and foilboarding, a technique modeled after tow-in surfing. A new axe-throwing activity also is offered. An earth-inspired pop-up apparel shop sells waterwear such as swimwear and board shorts made of recycled plastic bottles. Visit KeysCable.com or othersideboardsports.com or call 305-853-9728.
Key West’s newest attraction is the Sails to Rails Museum at Flagler Station in the Key West Historic Seaport. Guests can follow an interactive timeline of Key West history to learn about the industries of sponging, turtle harvesting, shipwreck salvage (also called wrecking) and cigar making. The state-of-the-art museum features hands-on exhibits, intriguing video presentations, unique artifacts and the only scale model of Fort Jefferson, centerpiece of Dry Tortugas National Park. Visitors can learn about Henry Flagler, the visionary who conceived the Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad; the original paymaster’s railway car from the Florida East Coast Railway; and the Maggie Atwell House. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 4-12. Located at 901 Caroline St., Sails to Rails is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit historictours.com/keywest/?t=6.
A new summer fest, the inaugural Key West Mermaid Festival is to launch Friday, July 5, with a free “Meet the Mermaids” event from noon to 6 p.m. at the Havana Cabana at Key West Hotel. On Saturday, July 6, a ticketed “Breakfast with Mermaids” at Southernmost Beach Resort’s Sand Bar is to be held from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. An eco-friendly Mermaid Fest Parade begins at 11 a.m. that day, rolling down Duval Street to the Truman Waterfront. Other events include “Salty Saturday,” an “Ocean Blue Party,” and a “Sunday Funday” event with mermaids Sunday, July 7. Visit keywestmermaidfestival.com/2019 or call 305-204-4226.
The city of Key West’s weekend program, “Mall on Duval,” has been extended to run through July 27, 2019. The program transforms the 500, 600 and 700 blocks of Duval Street, from Fleming to Petronia streets, into a pedestrian-only promenade from 5 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday nights. Visitors and residents can experience seven live music venues, outdoor seated dining, street performers and shopping and browsing at 37 retail stores, 12 specialty shops and 13 galleries. Visit mallonduval.com.
Passengers flying into Key West International Airport aboard Silver Airways may be flying on a new hot pink Silver Airways ATR-600 aircraft named “Mile Marker Zero,” recently unveiled on an inaugural flight from Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport to Key West. Currently, Silver flies nonstop to Key West from Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Tampa and through connections from destinations throughout Florida. Silver Airways’ fleet, with several new ATR-600 series aircraft, is promoted as having the widest cabin in the regional aircraft market. The 46-seat plane has a 2-2 seat configuration with up to a 32-inch pitch for expanded legroom, spacious full-size overhead bins for carry-on bags, full-size lavatories and environmentally friendly LED-lit cabins. Visit silverairways.com or call 800-401-9100.
In the Lower Keys, the 31-room Sugarloaf Lodge in Sugarloaf Shores has opened its new restaurant, South of the Seven, specializing in seafood and steaks, sandwiches and salads. It’s open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. with reservations. Sugarloaf Lodge, tucked along the Overseas Highway in the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge, is located at mile marker 17 gulfside and has been owned by a local family for nearly four decades. The family-style motel has a pool, marina and bait shop, and popular locals’ Tiki bar overlooking Sugarloaf Sound. It’s located at 17075 Overseas Highway. Visit southoftheseven.com or call 305-741-7115.
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS