FLORIDA KEYS — The Florida Keys & Key West, with community efforts to sustain precious natural resources through the Connect & Protect initiative, continue to unveil ways to preserve the Keys’ environment and connect visitors who love the outdoors to the island chain’s unmatched beauty.
Efforts to replant and preserve coral along the Florida Reef Tract are ongoing. In addition, two new eco-stay properties, tucked off the beaten path in the Lower Keys and in the Flamingo region of the famed Everglades National Park, are among “What’s New” this fall.
Key Largo–based Coral Restoration Foundation, the world’s largest nonprofit marine-conservation organization dedicated to restoring coral reefs to a healthy state, has reached a milestone through the outplanting of more than 100,000 critically endangered corals. So far this year, more than 23,000 corals — including diverse genotypes of staghorn, elkhorn, and two species of boulder coral — have been outplanted. The foundation’s offshore coral tree nurseries have more than 300 genetic strains across 11 coral species. The nonprofit currently is restoring eight Florida Keys reef sites, stretching from Carysfort Reef in the Upper Keys to Marker 32 off Key West. Visit coralrestoration.org or call 305-453-7030.
On Big Pine Key the new Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Nature Center opened in early September. 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 was established in 1957 to protect and preserve the diminutive Key deer and other Keys wildlife resources. The center’s September hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, with expanded hours expected soon. A grand opening is planned for the winter season. Visit fws.gov/refuge/National_Key_Deer_Refuge/ or call 305-872-0774.
The 12-acre luxury inclusive, adults-only 135-unit Bungalows Key Largo at mile marker 99 bayside is scheduled to reopen Dec. 19, 2019, as the Florida Keys’ only all-inclusive resort. Originally opened in December 2018, the property has been closed for renovation since a portion of it was damaged in an early morning fire May 5. Bungalows average 800 square feet, with private outdoor plunge pools or tubs, and include cruise bicycles. The resort offers three restaurants, a food truck, two on-site bars and two six-seat floating Tiki boats. A full-service Zen Garden Spa features a Himalayan salt room and eucalyptus steam room. All-inclusive rates include lodging, 24-hour golf cart pickup and drop-off, food, premium beverages, water toys and activities such as morning yoga, cooking and mixology classes, sunset happy hours, fish fries and pig roasts. Visit BungalowsKeyLargo.com or call 866-801-0195.
Near Marathon and the Long Key Bridge on Florida Bay, the 10-unit boutique Conch Key Fishing Lodge & Marina, previously the Bayview Inn & Motel, has new owners: former “Deadliest Catch” star Erik James, known as James Brown on the program, and his mother Sandy Stillwell, owner and operator of an inn on Florida’s west coast. Amenities include a saltwater pool, cafe and convenience store, beach with beach chairs, Tiki hut, barbecue grills, kitchens in most rooms, parking for a vehicle and boat trailer for each unit and a dedicated boat slip and dock for each unit. Boats can be rented on-site and guests can meet James at the resort. It’s located at 3 North Conch Ave. on Conch Key, at mile markers 62-63 between Long and Duck keys. Visit conchkeyfishinglodge.com or call 305-289-1525.
On Big Pine Key the four-room boutique-style Deer Run on the Atlantic, a Florida-certified green lodging program bed and breakfast, has reopened in the heart of the National Key Deer Refuge. Utilizing organically sourced bedding, supplies and food, the property is a 100 percent plant-based vegan establishment. Guests can enjoy bicycles, kayaks, a daily plant-based full breakfast, an on-site beach, parking, Wi-Fi and private porches. One room is pet-friendly for companion animals weighing less than 40 pounds. Deer Run on the Atlantic, located at 1997 Long Beach Road on Big Pine, also has an event planner and caterer. Visit deerrunontheatlantic.com or call 305-872-2015.
The Perry Hotel Key West on Stock Island plans to unveil a new waterfront wedding and event space Nov. 1 for groups of 50 to 500. With more than 10,000 square feet, it is to include an event lawn with a raised stage, the hotel’s second waterfront pool and a rum distillery. The property’s third food and beverage outlet, The Barrel House, features a VIP Terrace. The new event space is booked for annual events including the I Love Stock Island Festival, Key West Food & Wine Festival and Shrimp Road Seafood & Craft Beer Festival, as well as for lawn yoga, dive-in movies and pool parties. At the adjacent Stock Island Marina Village, 40 new boat slips are scheduled for completion in February, bringing the total to 264. With the expansions, The Perry Hotel and Stock Island Marina Village offer harbor-view accommodations, three waterfront restaurants, expanded event space, water activities and on-site boarding for yacht excursions to view Key West sunsets. Visit perrykeywest.com/meetings-and-events or call 305-269-1717.
In Key West the 150-room The Reach, A Curio Collection by Hilton, is scheduled to reopen for stays beginning Dec. 1 as Key West’s first Curio Collection resort. The property has been redesigned with a bright and airy lobby, new common outdoor space and the Four Marlins oceanfront restaurant and bar. More than 14,300 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space includes a gazebo that extends over the Atlantic Ocean and an outdoor terrace. Events can accommodate 15 to 300 guests. On-site activities include jet ski tours and snorkeling, coral reef exploration and kayak eco-tours. Located at 1435 Simonton St., The Reach Key West boasts the island’s only natural sand beach. Visit reachresort.com or call 305-296-5000.
In Key West IBIS Bay Beach Resort has unveiled a retro-themed, three-bedroom Mile High Suite on the resort’s east side overlooking Florida Bay. It’s designed to pay tribute to vacation aviation pioneered by Pan American Airways, which launched its first flight from Key West to Havana, Cuba, Oct. 28, 1927. The suite features a fusion of wing-shaped aluminum counters, 1950s-era furniture and a state-of-the-art kitchen. Each bedroom is called a Mile High Club cabin: A, B and C. The suite is priced from $650 per night. Visit ibisbayresort.com or call 305-296-1043.
Everglades National Park’s Flamingo region, located in the Florida Keys,
Is to offer 20 new furnished eco-tents for overnight camping for stays beginning Oct. 1. The 186-square-foot tents, erected on platforms, have a choice of queen or two double beds. Amenities include bed linens, electricity, a sitting area, a nightstand with lamps and storage bins. Rates range from $60 per night. Campgrounds have grills and picnic tables. Also at Flamingo, Concessionaire Guest Services Inc. offers overnight stays for a maximum of four adults and two children on 42-foot houseboats and boat rentals. Flamingo is about a 40-minute drive from the park’s entrance. Visit flamingoeverglades.com or call 855-708-2207.
Boaters on recreational boats entering Florida Bay waters within Everglades National Park must now have a new Boater Education Program permit. Boaters must complete an online education course, which takes about 45 minutes, to obtain the free permit. The Boater Education Program is one of four “cornerstone strategies” in the park’s general management plan. Boaters must also obtain a park pass either online or in person. For details, visit nps.gov/ever/planyourvisit/boating.htm or call 305-242-7700.
Sundance Watersports offers guided SNUBA, combining snorkeling and scuba diving, at Robbie’s of Islamorada — the only SNUBA venue in the Upper Keys. Participants can dive in waters 20 feet beneath the surface without a dive certificate. Tours depart daily at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. with a maximum of six people and go to Islamorada reef locations that include Hen and Chickens, Cheeca Rock and Alligator Lighthouse. The 2.5-hour experience, priced at $142 per person plus tax, includes training and about 30 minutes of SNUBA. Participants must be 8 years old or above and must to be able to swim. Robbie’s is located at mile marker 77.5. Visit robbies.com/snuba-the-reef.htm or call 305-664-9510 or 305-664-8070.
Also in Islamorada, the Atlantic oceanfront Anne’s Beach park at mile marker 73.5 on Lower Matecumbe Key has reopened with a new elevated 1,300-foot-long wooden boardwalk. The pet-friendly beach off the Overseas Highway has new facilities: six pavilions, a restroom and a south parking lot. A new north parking lot is scheduled for completion in early October. The small beach park stretches from Calusa Cove Marina on its northern end to Channel 2 at its southern tip. Visit islamorada.fl.us.
The Key West Art & Historical Society offers free multiplatform, self-guided tours of 121 historic sites showcasing the island city’s cultural history and heritage through the Key West Historic Marker Tours program. Key West has one of the country’s largest historic districts with frame vernacular buildings. Each site on the tour bears a Key West Historic Marker plaque that commemorates its place in the island’s past. Participants can learn about the island’s architecture, Civil War forts, historic parks and the Key West Cemetery among other elements. Historic highlights include famous authors’ homes, connections to wars and revolutions, Henry Flagler’s Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad and the once-thriving cigar-making and shipwreck salvage industries. The Key West Historic Marker Tour’s smartphone app can be accessed at keywest.oncell.com. Enthusiasts also can find a free “Voices in History” phone tour at 305-507-0300 and visit KWHMT.org for detailed information.
Through Oct. 13 the Key West Attractions Association’s Kids Free Florida Keys program offers free admission to attractions, tours and other activities for kids 12 and under. Participating Kids Free attractions and museums in Key West include the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory, Fort East Martello, Conch Tour Train, Key West Aquarium, Old Town Trolley Tours, Key West Lighthouse, Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden, Sails to Rails Museum and the Oldest House Museum and Gardens. Middle and Upper Keys participants include Dolphin Research Center, the Turtle Hospital, Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters and the History of Diving Museum. Other participants range from Key West Food Tours to Amy Slate’s Amoray Dive Center in Key Largo. Restaurant offers are available as well. Visit kidsfreefloridakeys.com to view the offers and download a coupon.
The outdoor Key West Artisan Market kicks off seasonally Sunday, Oct. 20, at Higgs Beach, 100 Atlantic Blvd., and is scheduled every second Sunday through April 19. Local wares include produce and Keys-made treats, textiles, jewelry, wooden items, artworks and crafts. The Key West Writers Guild hosts a local authors nook. Each market has a theme based on island living. Visitors are encouraged to “go green” by bringing bags for their purchases and traveling to the market via bicycle or the Old Town Trolley that stops at the nearby Casa Marina Key West, A Waldorf Astoria Resort. Visit keysartisanmarket.com or call 305-731-3385.
A weekly Truman Waterfront Market offers a variety of locally produced and artisan foodstuffs, wares and more each Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Key West’s Truman Waterfront, located at the end of Southard Street beside the Gulf of Mexico. Attendees typically can find pesticide-free produce grown in South Florida, Florida Keys honey, orchids, native plants, gourmet treats and snacks, art, jewelry, unique gifts and creations from local small businesses. Kids can play in a nearby splash park area. Ample parking and bike racks are available and well-behaved pets are welcome. Visit facebook.com/kwfarmersmarket/ or call 305-731-3385.
Key West Smuggler Co. has opened Key West Smuggler’s Bourbon Whiskey’s 600-square-foot tasting room at 627 Eaton St. in the island city. The whiskey is a light blend that can be mixed in tropical drinks and is distilled in charred oak containers. Owner Jim Martin, a Kentucky native and Key West resident, wanted to “create a tropical variation of a 136-year-old family tradition.” The whiskey is sold in 27 states at more than 300 locations. The company also plans to launch the inaugural Key West Bourbon, Blues and Barbecue Fest in May 2020. The tasting room, which sells branded merchandise, is open 3-9 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays. Visit keywestsmuggler.com or call 305-509-9775.
Islamorada’s free ride service, Freebee Islamorada, operating an on-call free electric vehicle ride service, is scheduled to add two new nine-passenger electric vans in December. The vans are to transport passengers daily among Islamorada’s four islands. When the expanded service begins, a smaller five-passenger vehicle is to be stationed in Upper Matecumbe Key’s visitor district. The Village of Islamorada is subsidizing the service until December 2021. Current service is offered Thursdays and Fridays from 4 p.m. to midnight, Saturdays from noon to midnight, and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Visit ridefreebee.com/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS