FLORIDA KEYS — This winter the Florida Keys continue to spotlight sustainability and responsible tourism as new resorts open, new low-impact tours and experiences are created and a new app is unveiled to promote safe driving and highlight eco-attractions.
Here’s what’s new:
On Big Pine Key the 2-acre fruit farm Grimal Grove, billed as the first breadfruit grove in the continental United States, is scheduled to open Jan. 11 as an agritourism venue, breadfruit research site and educational park. Breadfruit is a starchy cantaloupe-sized fruit widely used in the tropics. According to Patrick Garvey, the grove’s owner, breadfruit can be used like a potato, bread and even as a custard when ripe. Common uses are breadfruit chips, fries or other dishes that use potato as a base. Grimal Grove, to be open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and by appointment, is located at 258 Cunningham Lane at mile marker 30.5. Visit grimalgrove.com or call 305-923-6663.
Also on Big Pine Key, the new Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Nature Center is holding its official grand opening Feb. 15 to showcase more than 1,800 square feet of exhibition space highlighting the Keys’ four national wildlife refuges: the National Key Deer, Great White Heron, Key West and Crocodile Lake refuges. Located at 30587 Overseas Highway near mile marker 30.5, the center is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday and also includes an on-site Florida Keys Nature Store. Visit fws.gov/refuge/National_Key_Deer_Refuge/ or call 305-872-0774.
On Feb. 15 American Airlines is to launch new seasonal nonstop weekly service on Saturdays between Key West International Airport and Massachusetts’ Boston Logan International Airport on 76-passenger Embraer E175 regional jets, with seating for 64 main cabin and 12 first-class passengers. The service, American’s first into the Florida Keys from Boston, is to run through May 2, 2020. Meanwhile, from Dec. 18 through April 1 American Airlines is to add a second daily nonstop flight on a 128-seat Airbus A319 into Key West from Dallas–Fort Worth International Airport. American also flies to Key West from Philadelphia International Airport, and has scheduled an increase in daily service beginning Dec. 18. American also is to offer Saturday service from New York’s LaGuardia Airport beginning Dec. 21. Visit American Airlines at aa.com or call 800-433-7300, or visit Key West International Airport at eyw.com.
The luxury adults-only 12-acre Bungalows Key Largo — the first and only all-inclusive resort in the Florida Keys — reopens Dec. 19 after notable renovations. Located at mile marker 99 bayside, the boutique waterfront resort features 135 private bungalows, each with its own bougainvillea-draped veranda, oversized soaking tub, outdoor garden shower and two Huffy beach cruisers. The resort offers three dining experiences: Fish Tales, Bogie & Bacall’s and Sea Senor; Larry Largo’s food truck; two on-site bars and two six-seat floating Tiki boats. Amenities include two pools, two Jacuzzi tubs, 1,000 feet of shoreline with beach cabanas, the full-service Zen Garden Spa with a Himalayan salt room and a eucalyptus steam room, a fitness Tiki hut with Peloton equipment and Duffy electric, watersports, and sailing and catamaran boats. All-inclusive rates include lodging, 24-hour golf cart pickup and drop-off, meals, premium beverages, water toys and activities such as morning yoga, cooking and mixology classes, sunset happy hours, fish fries and pig roasts. Packages are offered through April. Visit BungalowsKeyLargo.com or call 866-801-0195.
Baker’s Cay Resort Key Largo, Curio Collection by Hilton, has unveiled a Dock to Dishtour to showcase its local seafood initiative. The program allows a guest “to become the fisher which is something that the vast majority of American travelers have never experienced,” said Sean Barrett, Montauk, New York–based co-founder of Dock to Dish. Guests can take a charter with Sea Monkey Charters to explore deep water, the backcountry or nighttime lobster netting to pursue the most abundant, sustainable catch of the day. Resort Executive Chef Andy Papson then guides guests through cooking methods used and includes fresh herbs handpicked from the resort’s rooftop garden. The experience is priced from $750 for two people. Visit bakerscay.com/activities or call 305-852-5553.
In the Lower Keys the 5.5-acre Little Palm Island Resort & Spa, A Noble House Resort, is scheduled to reopen April 1, 2020, with 15 redesigned thatched-roof bungalow suites, some with outdoor copper soaking tubs and private outdoor showers. The Dining Room, with indoor and outdoor dining and sweeping ocean views, is to offer breakfast, lunch and dinner, Sunday brunch, full moon dinners and wine maker events. A fully restored Monkey Hut lounge and Palapa Bar also are to be unveiled. The resort’s spa is to feature a two-story atrium with carved architectural details and handcrafted tile fountain. Private cabanas are to enhance the oceanfront pool area. A private island resort located three miles off Little Torch Key, the property is open to adults 18 and older. Access to the ultraluxury resort is at 28500 Overseas Highway. Visit littlepalmisland.com or call 800-343-8567.
In Key West, the 101-room Hampton Inn Key West, located at 3755 S. Roosevelt Blvd. and formerly the Best Western Key Ambassador, has completed a 14-month renovation that includes adding a new fitness center, upgrading the popular Cheekie Hut bar and grill, updating the swimming pool, renovating the lobby and resurfacing the parking lot. Guests get signature Hampton Inn amenities, including complimentary hot breakfast, On the Run breakfast bags, complimentary WiFi and shuttle to Key West International Airport, beaches and downtown. Visit hamptonkeywest.hamptonbyhilton.com or call 305-296-3500.
The 150-room The Reach Key West, Curio Collection by Hilton is open as Key West’s first Curio Collection resort. Rooms each have a balcony and feature teak wood–toned furniture, blue hues and curved bathroom vanities. Events can accommodate up to 300 people with over 4,000 square feet of indoor event space and an additional 18,000 square feet of outdoor event space including the gazebo over the Atlantic Ocean. The resort features an Escape Room Experience in partnership with Key West Room Escape. The new Four Marlins Restaurant with waterfront views is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Outdoor amenities include a pool and bocce ball court, while a state-of-the-art fitness center features Peloton spin bikes. On-site vendors are Barefoot Billy’s, with a range of jet ski and coral reef exploration tours, and sand sculptor Marianne van den Broek offering sand sculpting workshops. The Reach Key West is located at 1435 Simonton St. Visit reachresort.com or call 305-296-5000.
The Key West Literary Seminar has acquired the Key West home at 625 White St. owned by Pulitzer Prize–winning American poet Elizabeth Bishop from 1938 to 1946 and designated a National Literary Landmark in 1993. “The Bishop house is a vital site that shaped the work of one of the 20th century’s most esteemed writers,” said Arlo Haskell, executive director of the Key West Literary Seminar, which is dedicated to promoting the island’s literary heritage. The property is to become headquarters for the organization, which plans to begin restoration in 2020 and host a Bishop birthday celebration each February. The inaugural celebration, set for Feb. 7-9, is to include the 109th anniversary of Bishop’s Feb. 8 birth. Its scheduled highlight is the first public viewing of the home where she was inspired to write many of the poems for her pivotal first book, “North & South.” Visit kwls.org or call 305-293-9291.
In Key West, the Audubon House & Tropical Gardens has unveiled an interactive, educational and “Instagrammable” Audubon Experience in a room of brightly colored artwork stretching from floor to ceiling and paying homage to artist John James Audubon, who visited Key West in 1832. Walls are covered in hand-painted wallpaper displaying colorful flowers and tropical birds. Miami preservationists Mitchell Wolfson and wife Frances purchased and restored the Audubon House, built between 1846 and 1849, saving it from demolition, and opened it in 1960. The newly designed room was created to encourage a young generation of visitors to explore and learn about Key West’s vibrant history. Visit audubonhouse.com or call 305-294-2116.
A new digital tool created and launched by the Monroe County Tourist Development Council encourages safe driving and sightseeing along the famed Florida Keys Overseas Highway (U.S. Highway 1). The Florida Keys & Key West Travel App now offers two driving tours, southbound from Key Largo to Key West and northbound from Key West to Key Largo. The app is triggered by geographic location, giving drivers advance notice of upcoming scenic, iconic or historical points throughout the Keys such as the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center, Robbie’s Marina, National Key Deer Refuge and Bahia Honda and John Pennekamp Coral Reef state parks. To raise awareness of the destination’s “Connect & Protect” initiative, the app features a section on Keys sustainability to encourage low-impact exploration and foster awareness of voluntourism, ecotourism and green travel experiences available in the island chain. Visitors can download the free app at the Apple Store and Google Play. Visit https://fla-keys.com/app.
Key West Food Tours now offers The Hemingway Experience tour for groups of eight to 30 people. The 3.5-hour tour covers a mile of walking and retraces author Ernest Hemingway’s steps around Old Town with two food tastings, two cocktails (including a Papa Doble daiquiri) and a Papa’s Pilar rum sampling. The tour includes guided entrance into the legendary author’s former home, now the Hemingway Home & Museum, Hemingway Rum Co. distillery to sample Papa’s Pilar Rum, El Meson de Pepe to sample Cuban food, Old Town Bakery to sample Key lime pie, and Sloppy Joe’s Bar. Hemingway lived and wrote in Key West during the 1930s. Visit keywestfoodtours.com or call 305-570-2010.
The Key West Art & Historical Society’s Key West Historic Marker Tours program offers new maps highlighting 125 self-guided historic sites and a roster of themed walking tours that include Black Heritage, Cuban/Bahamian Heritage, Maritime Heritage, Historic Church, Military Heritage, Architectural Heritage, Museum and Cigar Factory Heritage trails, the seven Curry Mansions, Civil War Forts and the Key West Cemetery Tour. The old Monroe County Jail, at the corner of Fleming and Whitehead streets in Key West, has been added to the Historic Marker Tours program showcasing the island city’s cultural history and heritage sites. The jail, built in the 1890s, is to undergo a restoration beginning in early 2020, with summer 2021 targeted as its opening date as a museum. The tours’ smartphone app can be accessed at keywest.oncell.com. Maps are available at City Hall or at a society-operated museum. Visit KWHMT.org or call 305-507-0300.
On Stock Island, a new Stock Island Arts District has launched Second Saturday Art Strolls through April, scheduled 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with eclectic shops and working studios marked by bright pink “Arts District” banners. The district includes Collections Key West at Safe Harbor Marina, 6810 Front St.; Green Pineapple, 7001 Shrimp Road at The Perry Hotel Key West; the 16 artist studios of Stock Yard Studios and Soul House, a furniture, gift and accessories boutique, both at 6700 4th Ave.; The Studios at Stock Island Marina Village and Ship’s Store at 7005 Shrimp Road; and Washed Up Studios at 6475 2nd St. In addition, a 5,000-square-foot The Art Shack compound, at 6404 Front St., is open daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., with shipping container workshops housing six resident artists, a gallery showcasing 19 local artists in various disciplines and island-style food at The Jerk food truck. Visit ILoveStockIsland.org or call 305-731-3385.
The Key West Art Center — Key West’s oldest art gallery — located at 301 Front St., celebrates its 60th anniversary in mid-January. The historic wooden building housing the center was built in the 1850s as a grocery store, damaged in a fire in 1886 and rebuilt. The building is believed to be the first federal Public Works Administration Art Project in the 1930s under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, according to center staff. A new “Sip and Create” series of creative classes, taught by experienced art instructors, includes various types of jewelry-making such as a resin bracelet–making class, basket weaving to make a pine needle basket or painting a buoy. Materials are provided. Visit keywestartcenter.com or call 305-294-1241.
In Marathon, Banana Bay Resort & Marina hosts a new monthly event held 1-6 p.m. on the last Sunday of each month to showcase Keys arts, crafts, jewelry and food. The Banana Bay Bazaar is held at The Pointe, its bayside sunset bar. Attractions include free parking, local music, food trucks, drinks and local wares. The Banana Bay Bazaar is located at mile marker 45.9 bayside, or 4590 Overseas Highway. Visit bhotelsandresorts.com/banana-bay/bazaar or call 305-743-3500.
Key West boutique owners in “The Fabulous 500 Block of Fleming Street” have kicked off a monthly First Fridays on Fleming 6-9 p.m. block party to encourage local buying. First Fridays on Fleming showcase boutiques, galleries and eateries in the 500 block of Fleming Street with events such as jewelry trunk shows, art openings, book signings, tastings and libations. Participants include The Roost Bar and Liquor Store, La Rubia Authentic Panama Hats, Key West Island Books, Key West Local Luxe Jewelry, Amanda Johnson Fine Art, Sea Store Antiques, Assortments Menswear, Island Antiques, Duck & Dolphin Antiques, Clemente’s Trolley Pizzaria, La Petite Grignote French Bakery, Thirsty Mermaid Seafood and Jean Pierre Klifa Resort Wear. First Fridays are scheduled Jan. 3, Feb. 7, March 6 and April 3. Visit ShopLocalKeyWest.com or call 305-304-9001.
In Marathon, a new 3,000-square-foot, two-story Marathon Jet Center, located at 8800 Overseas Highway on the west side of Florida Keys Marathon International Airport, is scheduled for completion as a full-service fixed base operator during the first quarter of 2020. With a 5,808-foot-long runway to accommodate most private jets including a Gulfstream G650, the center is to have a pilot lounge, flight planning area, snack bar and exterior elevator to access a second-floor passenger lounge and outdoor viewing decks. The Middle Keys airport is a general aviation facility with no commercial passenger service. Visit Marathonjetcenter.com or call 305-743-1995.
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS