10:43 AM

A Warm Welcome Back to Meetings in the Florida Keys & Key West


Group meetings and events throughout the Keys, the 125-mile-long chain of Florida's southernmost islands, offer unconventional on-the-water activities that seamlessly blend work with play, unforgettable memories and extended stays.

FLORIDA KEYS - Group meetings and events throughout the Keys, the 125-mile-long chain of Florida's southernmost islands, offer unconventional on-the-water activities that seamlessly blend work with play, unforgettable memories and extended stays.

"In the Florida Keys and Key West, it's all about finding the right fit for your group," said Jack Meier, group sales manager for the Keys' Monroe County Tourist Development Council. "The Keys are a world away from a typical meeting experience at a mega-metro convention center.

"Our outdoor wide-open spaces, many of them waterfront, offer a unique advantage," Meier said. "Nature is our nurturing and renewing backdrop for upcoming Keys meetings, which typically range from about 15 to 100 attendees.

"Creatively styled outdoor venues continue to be unveiled as we all look forward to reconnecting and renewing business opportunities with colleagues and friends," Meier added.

There's a variety of new nonstop options for convenient flights to Key West International Airport, which is experiencing the highest seat growth among Florida airports.

In June, six airlines - Allegiant, American, Delta, Silver, JetBlue and United - are operating 24 routes into Key West International Airport, which also experienced a record high passenger count earlier this year. More than 215,000 seats, a record high, are scheduled in June.

Currently, there are no vaccine passport or mask mandates throughout the state of Florida, although local governments may require masks in government buildings.

Meeting attendees are advised to pack facial masks or coverings. Keys businesses can require facial coverings at establishments such as lodging facilities, indoor attractions and museums, restaurants, grocery stores, retail shops, pharmacies, beauty salons, health spas and other venues.

For additional information about Keys health and safety protocols, visit fla-keys.com.

Keys Airlift

Key West International Airport is undergoing an approximately $80 million expansion, targeted for completion in October 2024, with a new concourse to include a new security checkpoint, gates, holding room for departing passengers, concessions, baggage claim and glass-enclosed jet bridge or jetways to connect planes and the facility. A coronavirus-fighting robot - one of the few in the country in use at an airport and providing nonchemical disinfection - emits high-intensive ultraviolet-C wavelength light that kills harmful pathogens in the air and on surfaces. The robot can disinfect the Key West airport's interior in about 2.5 hours. Visit eyw.com or call 305-809-5200.

Allegiant Air is adding twice-weekly nonstop service to Key West International Airport on Airbus A319 aircraft from three cities: beginning June 2 from Nashville International Airport on Wednesdays and Saturdays; on June 3 from Pittsburgh International Airport on Thursdays and Sundays; and on June 9 from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport Wednesdays and Saturdays. Visit allegiantair.com or call 702-505-8888.

JetBlue has year-round, low-fare service to Key West from New York City's John F. Kennedy and Boston Logan international airports scheduled Thursdays, Fridays, Sundays and Mondays on Embraer 190 aircraft with 100 passenger seats, including 16 "even more space" seats. Flights include unlimited complimentary snacks and soft drinks. Visit jetblue.com or call 800-538-2583.

United Airlines offers daily nonstop service between Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport and Key West through Sept. 7. United's 70-passenger Embraer E175 aircraft has 12 first-class, 16 economy-plus and 42 standard economy seats. United also has daily nonstop service from Chicago O'Hare, New Jersey's Newark Liberty and greater Washington, D.C.'s Dulles international airports. Visit united.com or call 800-864-8331.

Keys Accommodations

In northern Key Largo, the private Ocean Reef Club has 30,000 total square feet of meeting space, including a 7,500-square-foot ballroom and state-of-the-art cooking school. Usually reserved only for members, Ocean Reef includes a 145-room inn, Buccaneer Island recreational beach and pool area, two 18-hole golf courses, full-service 175-slip marina and private airport. Visit meetingsatoceanreef.com or call 800-741-7333.

The 214-room, 27-acre oceanfront Cheeca Lodge & Spa in Islamorada has acquired The Casitas at Cheeca Lodge, with personalized butler service, one- and two-bedroom units from 750 to 2,100 square feet. The 10 villas offer resort or ocean view, large furnished porches, full kitchens, bathrooms with rain showers and large soaking tubs, and washer and dryer. Guests have access to all the resort's signature amenities and exclusive access to the Casita area's private beach, pool and tennis courts. The iconic resort also has added a third pool and second open-air Tiki bar. Groups can enjoy a sunrise breakfast on a 39-foot motor catamaran or a custom event on nearby Indian Key. With more than 4,600 total square feet of versatile space, the resort has six outdoor venues and indoor venues for up to 110. It's located at 81801 Overseas Highway. Visit cheeca.com or call 844-489-9664 or 305-664-4651.

Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key features multiple outdoor venues with more than 100 square miles of meeting space for fishing, diving, kayaking, dolphin experiences and other activities. The 60-acre resort, the Keys' most expansive, offers 20,000 square feet of waterfront meeting space with two ballrooms and space for outdoor events and team-building activities, receptions and pool parties. The Preferred Hotel Group Lifestyle Collection and AAA Four Diamond Award–rated resort offers 177 hotel guest rooms and 250 two- and three-bedroom townhome-style villas, six dining venues including the casual waterfront Angler and Ale marina restaurant, Sixty-One Prime, a fine dining chop house; and its new Hawks Cay Marketplace. The property is located at mile marker 61 oceanside on the Overseas Highway. Visit hawkscayresort.com or call 855-395-5539.

In Marathon, the 16-acre waterfront Faro Blanco Resort & Yacht Club, with 125 rooms and a 74-slip marina accommodating vessels up to 120 feet, has been acquired by EOS Investors LLC, which also owns nearby sister resort Isla Bella Beach Resort. Amenities include more than 11,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space, the 199-seat Lighthouse Grill with waterfront views, two swimming pools, bar, market, fitness center and on-site watersports and fishing charters. The landmark Faro Blanco Lighthouse has guided guests to the property since the 1950s. Visit faroblancoresort.com or call 305-743-1234.

The 184-room Barbary Beach House Key West, located across a boulevard from half-mile-long Smathers Beach, opened in summer 2020 with more than 4,000 square feet of meeting space, including five indoor and outdoor venues. Amenities include a 1,500-square-foot event palapa (an open-air space under a thatched roof crafted from dried palm leaves) named The Shanty for up to 80; a Garden Courtyard for 50 with standing tables and lounge seating; a lagoon-style pool, hammocks, bicycles, complimentary shuttle service to downtown, a full-service restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating and pool bar, Hobie Cat sailboats, paddleboards and kayaks. An on-property coordinator assists with events. At 2001 S. Roosevelt Blvd., a mile from Key West International Airport, the property is owned by DiamondRock Hospitality Co. Visit
BarbaryBeachHouseKeyWest.com or call 855-335-1072.

The 222-room Marriott Key West Beachside, with 129 one-, two- and three-bedroom suites, offers Key West's largest ballroom at 5,673 square feet, in-house audiovisual equipment and an outdoor event patio for 140. With nearly 10,000 square feet of meeting space, the property incorporates seven breakout rooms. A 16-slip dock and pier can accommodate boats for fishing and excursions up to a maximum 40-foot length and 13-foot beam. It's located at 3841 N. Roosevelt Blvd. Visit keywestmarriott.com or call 305-296-8100.

The 150-room The Reach Key West, Curio Collection by Hilton has 18,000 square feet of outdoor event space and over 4,000 square feet of indoor event space. Oceanfront venues include a gazebo that juts over the Atlantic Ocean, which can be set up as a boardroom, and the 3,024-square-foot Palms Lawn in its center courtyard. All-inclusive group packages include the on-site Four Marlins Oceanfront Dining restaurant. Sand sculptor Marianne van den Broek offers group sand-sculpting workshops, and Barefoot Billy's has jet ski and coral reef exploration tours. The resort features Hilton's EventReady with CleanStay program. It's located at 1435 Simonton St. Visit reachresort.com or call 305-296-5000.

Celebrating its centennial throughout 2021, the legendary 311-room Casa Marina Key West, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, has hosted generations of business tycoons, artists and dignitaries. With more than 11,000 square feet of event space, including the 3,080-square-foot historic Flagler's Ballroom, the resort boasts the largest meeting space in Key West. All-inclusive group packages include the outdoor Sun Sun Beach Bar & Grill. New hybrid meetings through Encore, an event services company, offer both virtual and in-person options for meetings and groups. The resort features Hilton EventReady with CleanStay program. It's located at 1500 Reynolds St. Visit casamarinaresort.com or call 305-296-3535.

The rebranded 178-room Opal Key Resort & Marina, part of the Opal Collection Hotels & Resorts and formerly known as Margaritaville Key West Resort & Marina, is located in the heart of downtown Key West, adjacent to Mallory Square at 245 Front St. The resort is home to a full-service 37-slip marina with watersports, outdoor and indoor dining options, waterside shops and live entertainment. Visit opalcollection.com or call 305-294-4000.

The Marker Key West Harbor Resort had a recent $3 million renovation that includes an on-property waterfront Harbor House with upgraded one- and two-bedroom suites, ranging from 1,000 to 1,400 square feet, at the downtown Old Town resort. A fitness center features Hydrow rower machines and Peloton bikes. An updated 655-square-foot meeting room features 11-foot ceilings and can accommodate up to 72 attendees. Visit themarkerkeywest.com or call 855-485-9291.

Hemingway Experiences

In Key West, the Lighthouse Hotel, a Kimpton Key West property at 902 Whitehead St. across from the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, offers "A Hemingway Affair" for private parties of up to 10. The Hemingway Suite, with a view of the author's former home, can be reserved for a custom-menu culinary experience created by Great Events Catering, cocktail hour with butler-passed hors d'oeuvres, and multicourse, chef-prepared in-suite meal. Contact megan.coccitto@kimptonkeywest.com or call 305-294-8067.

Key West's 8,200-square-foot Hemingway Rum Co. Distillery at 201 Simonton St. plans to open a 2,400-square-foot center for hosting events this summer. It offers private "Papa's Cocktail Classes" with a tour, tasting, mixology class and cocktail glass for a maximum of 10 participants on Tuesdays through Sundays 5-6:30 p.m. Formerly a tobacco warehouse, the venue houses the Papa's Pilar Rum production facility, an experience center, tasting room and trading post. A 350-gallon still produces up to 80 gallons of rum daily from molasses, yeast and water. Reservations are required for the experience. Visit papaspilar.com or call 305-414-8754.

Keys Attractions

In Key Largo, Keys' Meads, the Florida Keys' only meadery, has a new 2,500-square-foot location offering tours, a tasting sampling room and retail space selling made-in-the-Keys mead - a fermented alcoholic beverage crafted from honey. Traditional meads from the family operation are made from Keys honey, water and yeast, and come in dry, semidry or sweet versions. A Meads Club offers shipments. Keys' Meads, established in 2017, is now located at 99411 Overseas Highway, mile marker 99.4, and is open daily. Visit keysmeads.com or call 305-204-4596.

I.Care, the Keys' newest coral reef restoration organization - partnering with Mote Marine Laboratory on Summerland Key - offers coral dive and transplant activities for certified divers through operators Key Dives, Islamorada Dive Center and Conch Republic Divers. Through a partnership with I.Care, there's a new Mote Marine Laboratory land-based coral nursery at Bud N' Mary's in Islamorada. I.Care's mission is to transplant brain, star and branching corals - raised both onshore and offshore by Mote - to reefs off Islamorada. Visit icareaboutcoral.org or call 305-664-2211.

Adventure lovers can enjoy The Lagoon on Grassy Key, a 49-acre action-sports eco-park in the Middle Keys. The facility is a consolidation of the former Keys Cable Wakeboard Park with ownership under Matt Sexton, owner of Grassy Flats Resort & Beach Club. The Lagoon offers kiteboarding, wakeboarding, foil-boarding, sailing, paddleboarding and kayaking. It also specializes as a local concierge, matching clients with expert guides for spear fishing, fly-fishing, charter fishing, free diving and experiential activities with hands-on instruction. On-site are the new 2,000-square-foot Bongos Café & Tropical Beer Garden and Lagoon Saloon, a giant wind, surf and lifestyle pro shop. It's located at 59300 Overseas Highway. Visit RidetheLagoon.com or call 305-414-8245.

Ever ridden in a presidential limo? In Key West, the Harry S. Truman Little White House, Florida's only presidential museum, has acquired one of Truman's presidential limousines used during his 1945-53 presidency and a ride is included on the museum's new White Glove Tour. The midcentury, mint-condition Lincoln Cosmopolitan is a limo with 32,000 odometer miles. The tour, just over two hours, is offered Monday through Friday at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., priced from $500 plus tax for up to six people, and includes a visit to the new Key West Harry S. Truman Foundation Suite adjacent to the museum. Suite galleries feature newly unveiled artwork, photos and artifacts. Visitors can don white gloves to hold presidential memorabilia, then ride in the limo around Old Town Key West. Visit trumanlittlewhitehouse.com or call 305-294-9911.

Key West Art & Historical Society offers a Key West Lighthouse Sunset Experience for groups of up to eight, with 90 minutes of exclusive access to the lighthouse, keeper's quarters and grounds. The lighthouse, opened in 1848, has an 88-step spiral staircase to reach the top. The grounds and keeper's quarters museum are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Each experience includes a complimentary bottle of wine or prosecco and artisanal meats, cheeses or sweets (vegan and vegetarian options are available) from a local wine shop. Bookings are required at least 24 hours in advance. Contact mgieda@kwahs.org.

In Key West, an outdoor space fronting the historic Fort East Martello Museum, managed by the Key West Art & Historical Society, is scheduled to open this summer for outdoor events for up to 3,500. The former East Martello Park, the space is now reconfigured for outdoor events, educational programs, concerts and weddings. It's located near Key West International Airport at 3501 S. Roosevelt Blvd. Visit kwahs.org or call 305-296-3913.

Also at Fort East Martello Museum, Sloan's Ghost Fort Adventures showcases Robert the Doll - sometimes called the world's most haunted doll - and takes guests through the Civil War–era fort to "visit" Robert, given to Key West youngster Robert Gene Otto in 1904. The evening tours are created by local author and paranormal innovator David Sloan, chronicler of the eerie doll's history, in partnership with the Key West Art & Historical Society, which operates the museum. Tickets are $40 per person; private tours for small groups can be booked. The museum is located at 3501 S. Roosevelt Blvd. Visit ghostfort.com or email keywest.ghostfort@gmail.com.

Key West First Legal Rum Distillery offers daily complimentary tours and samples of 11 different rum flavors. Distillery owner Paul Menta teaches secrets of an authentic mojito billed as "the best mojito north of Havana, Cuba." Classes are Fridays and Saturdays and can be booked online. Locally crafted treats include homemade rum, cakes and Key lime rum pies by the slice or whole. Recently launched are three rum-champagne spirits: Key West Sparking Rum, Key West Mermaid Spirit and Key West Mermaid Ratafia. The distillery is located at 105 Simonton St. Visit keywestlegalrum.com or call 305-294-1441.

The Studios of Key West has a new Hugh's View rooftop terrace atop its three-story art deco-style building at 533 Eaton St. Hugh's View features a stage, sound system, grass-like turf surface, benches, two bar stations and flower-lined perimeter. The rooftop terrace can accommodate about 100 or seat up to 40. Visit tskw.org or call 305-296-0458.

The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory - known for its tropical gardens, hundreds of free-flying butterflies and a wide variety of small tropical birds - is home to local celebrity flamingos Rhett and Scarlett. "Flamingle" encounters enable guests, seated in a picturesque gazebo overlooking the conservatory's pond, to enjoy interacting with Rhett and Scarlett as the pair roams freely. "Flamingle" encounters are held at 4:45 p.m. daily. In addition, visitors interested in experiencing the roosting behavior of butterflies can tour the conservatory just before sunset to witness their twilight "dance." Visit keywestbutterfly.com or call 305-296-2988.

Up the Keys Eco Tours offers "Welcome to Key West" and "Haunted History" private walking tours for groups of up to 10. Participants can learn the history and culture of Key West on the 1.5-hour "Welcome to Key West" morning stroll in the heart of Old Town. The "Haunted History" walking tour features a stroll by five haunted mansions and inside stop at two haunted bars. Complimentary digital photos are included. Visit upthekeys.com or call 305-587-5575.

Keys Boating

The African Queen steamboat, listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, starred in John Huston's iconic 1951 film "The African Queen" with Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Today it travels Key Largo's Port Largo Canal on scenic 1.5-hour cruises. Now fully restored, the vessel was built in 1912 in Lytham, England, to shuttle cargo, missionaries and hunting parties in Africa. Daily cruises depart from Marina Del Mar at mile marker 100. Separately, the 80-foot yacht Calypso Gypsy, designed and built for charters, is available for day or overnight excursions for groups of more than six. The yacht can also accommodate up to 42 passengers for private events and snorkeling trips. Visit africanqueenflkeys.com or calypsosailing.com, or call 305-451-8080.

In the Lower Keys, Mote Marine Laboratory's Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research and Restoration (IC2R3), based on Summerland Key, and Captain Hook's Dive Center on Big Pine Key have unveiled the "Mote on the Boat" reef experience with leading coral science experts. On Tuesdays, a Mote scientist joins a Captain Hook's Looe Key Snorkel and Dive trip to discuss coral restoration and conservation efforts. Looe Key, located within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, is one of "Seven Iconic Reefs" - the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's coral restoration project, billed as the world's largest. Virtual public tours of Mote's facility are scheduled at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays with reservations, and private on-site group tours can be arranged. Visit mote.org or call 305-745-2729. For "Mote on the Boat" trips, contact Captain Hook's at 305-872-9863.

In Key West, Fury Water Adventures has custom "Seas the Day" private charters on high-performance catamarans that are ideal for groups. A 65-foot catamaran can accommodate up to 125. Customizable charters range from 1.5 hours and amenities can include excursions of choice such as dolphin watch, snorkeling or sunset sails. Beer, wine, champagne, sodas and water are included. Add-on options include rum punch, margaritas, catering and sand bar toys such as ping pong balls, frisbees and volleyball and football equipment. Enhanced safety measures are implemented. Visit furykeywest.com or call 877-561-8825.

Florida Keys meetings information: fla-keys.com/meeting-planners/
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS
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