Meetings in the Florida Keys are Unconventionally Unforgettable

FLORIDA KEYS - Though they might have a subtropical island atmosphere, the Florida Keys & Key West off the southern tip of the Florida mainland are easily accessible for meetings and groups.

"We're finding that smaller meetings and incentive groups, typically ranging from about 35 to 80 attendees, are eager to experience our all-new properties throughout the Keys from Key Largo to Key West," said Jack Meier, destination sales manager for the Keys' Monroe County Tourist Development Council.

Events throughout the 125-mile-long island chain can be creatively customized to include experiential, immersive, innovative and unconventional activities that merge work with play and unforgettable memories.

"Planners can be assured that what's new down here blends seamlessly with the Keys' popular established offerings and old-island flavor," Meier said. "Where else can small meetings or groups experience such a wide array of eco-activities, offshore island fishing, sustainable seafood and fascinating history and culture?"

Among new offerings:

Keys Transportation

For private jet clients, 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 to open by summer as a full-service fixed-base operator. The facility is to include a 5,808-foot-long runway to accommodate most private jets including a Gulfstream G650, a pilot lounge, flight planning area, snack bar and exterior elevator to access a second-floor passenger lounge and outdoor viewing decks.The Marathon airport is a general aviation facility with no commercial passenger service. Visit or call 305-743-1995.

Key West International Airport, serving visitors traveling to the Florida Keys from 13 U.S. cities, is implementing $28 million in upgrades. Enhancements include additional seating, a new family restroom and a pet relief station; modernizing baggage conveyors and renovating restrooms and U.S. Customs and Border Protection space. Additional improvements include a runway length and taxiway extension to 5,075 feet, an overflow aircraft parking ramp, a new elevated maintenance storage facility, reconfiguration of the fuel truck delivery area and a new access road to fixed-base and general aviation operations. Visit or call 305-809-5200.

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. Meanwhile, American's second daily nonstop flight on a 128-seat Airbus A319 into Key West from Dallas–Fort Worth International Airport is to continue through April 1. American also flies to Key West from Philadelphia International Airport and from New York City's LaGuardia Airport. Visit American Airlines at or call 800-433-7300, or visit Key West International Airport at

Keys Accommodations

The 12-acre luxury inclusive, adults-only 135-unit Bungalows Key Largo at mile marker 99 bayside is the Florida Keys' only all-inclusive resort for guests 21 and older. The resort is available for group buyouts for activities such as retreats and can accommodate groups up to 30. Bungalows average 900 square feet and include two Huffy cruiser bikes, a bougainvillea-draped veranda, oversized alfresco soaking tub and garden shower. The resort offers three restaurants, 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 or call 866-801-0195.

Baker's Cay Resort Key Largo, Curio Collection by Hilton, has unveiled a Dock to Dish tour to showcase its local seafood initiative. Guests can take a voyage with Sea Monkey Charters with options to explore deep water, backcountry or nighttime lobster netting to pursue the most abundant and sustainable catch of the day. A resort chef then guides guests through cooking methods used and includes fresh herbs handpicked from the resort's rooftop garden. Visit or call 305-852-5553.

In Islamorada, the 24-acre, 114-room Islander Resort at mile marker 82.1 oceanside has installed 1,948 solar panels - the largest solar installation in the Florida Keys - on 15 of its buildings as a partner. Cottage-style units feature sleek, contemporary décor with screened lanais and upscale in-room amenities. The Islander Conference Center includes state-of-the-art facilities and overlooks the property's oceanfront Great Lawn. Watersports, massage and wellness services, two pools, a hot tub and a family splash pad are among resort offerings. Dining includes Elements Lounge & Restaurant and the casual poolside Tides Beachside Bar & Grill. Visit or call 305-664-2031.

In Islamorada, the 214-room, 27-acre oceanfront Cheeca Lodge & Spa has added a third pool and second open-air Tiki bar, offering more than 4,600 total square feet of versatile space and a Tahitian-style Spa Island with six outdoor venues. The Bougainvillea Ballroom, the property's largest meeting space, has 12-foot ceilings and 2,100 square feet for up to 150 attendees. Its 1,900-square-foot Sunrise Ballroom and Oceanfront Terrace on the lodge's second floor hosts meetings for up to 110. Groups can enjoy a sunrise breakfast on a 39-foot motor catamaran or a custom event on nearby Indian Key. Cheeca Lodge is located at 81801 Overseas Highway. Visit or call 866-348-7053 or 305-712-7166.

The 60-acre Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key incorporates 20,000 square feet of waterfront meeting space with two ballrooms. Its 5,733-square-foot Dolphin Ballroom can accommodate up to 480. The resort features an additional 28,000 square feet of open-air venues throughout the property. Team-building activities include welcome receptions, sunrise yoga, swimming with a pod of resident bottlenose dolphins, pool parties, sunset cruises, fishing excursions, boat charters and farewell brunches. The Preferred Hotel Group Lifestyle Collection and AAA Four Diamond Award–rated resort offers 177 hotel guest rooms and 250 two- and three-bedroom villas. Dining venues include Angler and Ale, the waterfront marina restaurant, Sixty-one Prime and the new Hawks Cay Marketplace. The Oasis Cay adults-only area also offers a grill and bar serving specialty drinks. Visit or call 855-395-5539.

Marathon's 24-acre, all-new 199-unit Isla Bella Beach Resort, located at the Seven Mile Bridge oceanside at mile marker 47, is the Florida Keys' newest AAA Four Diamond property. The resort offers 24,000 square feet of event space including a 4,000-square-foot Hibiscus Center for meetings of 25 to 300, covered patio areas, three banquet rooms, five pools, four food and beverage concepts, a 1,000-square-foot fitness center, a full-service marina and a sunset pier. Two custom MOKE beach cruisers can be creatively incorporated into events. A 4,000-square-foot spa has five treatment rooms, a spa lounge and a couples' massage room. Dining venues include Il Postino, an oceanfront Neapolitan-style Italian restaurant; The Beach Bar; The Burger Palace and Manatee Bay Marketplace, a waterfront cafe with shopping. Bocce, hammocks, oversized chess, fire pits, complimentary bicycles, watersports and guided fishing expeditions are on-site. Visit or call 844-885-4706.

In the Lower Keys, the 5.5-acre Little Palm Island Resort & Spa, part of the Noble House Hotels & Resorts collection and located just off Little Torch Key, is scheduled to reopen March 1 with 15 redesigned thatched-roof bungalows, some with outdoor copper soaking tubs and private outdoor showers. There are 30 total suites and 2,480 square feet of meeting and event space with ocean views. Flexible space includes the 1,080-square-foot Sunset Terrace, 450-square-foot Sunrise Terrace and 950-square-foot Great Room for small, incentive or corporate executive retreats. The Dining Room is to offer full moon dinners and wine maker events. A fully restored Monkey Hut lounge and Palapa Bar also will be unveiled. The resort's spa is to feature a two-story atrium with carved architectural details and handcrafted tile fountain. Private cabanas have been added to the oceanfront pool area. The resort is open to adults 18 and older. Access to the ultraluxury resort is at 28500 Overseas Highway. Visit or call 800-343-8567.

The Kimpton Key West collection, scheduled to be unveiled in February, is to include five boutique properties located in Old Town Key West. The collection, located steps from Duval Street, will feature a total of 219 rooms with contemporary and colorful island decor. Kimpton Key West will feature outdoor venues for welcome receptions, intimate dinner parties and farewell brunches for outside catering. For team-building activities, Kimpton can organize activities with local partners for private sunset cruises, cigar rolling, brewery tours or scavenger hunts. Each property is within walking distance of Key West nightlife, dining, shopping and museums. Visit or call 877-219-4500.

The Perry Hotel Key West, located at 7001 Shrimp Road on Stock Island, showcases new event space for groups of 50 to 500. With more than 10,000 square feet, the expanded space includes an event lawn with a raised stage, a second waterfront pool and a rum distillery. The property's third food and beverage outlet, The Barrel House, features a VIP Terrace. At the adjacent Stock Island Marina Village, an additional 40 new boat slips bring the total to 264. With the expansions, The Perry Hotel and Stock Island Marina Village offer harbor-view accommodations, three waterfront restaurants, new event space, water activities and on-site boarding for sunset yacht excursions. Visit or call 305-269-1717.

On Stock Island, the 20-acre Oceans Edge Key West Hotel & Marina recently completed a multimillion-dollar renovation. The property features 175 suites and rooms, each offering waterfront balconies and ranging from 382 to 575 square feet. Oceans Edge offers outdoor event space overlooking the on-site marina, with 111 wet and 52 dry slips, which can be utilized for meal functions, receptions and weddings. The Yellowfin Bar and Grill, with dock-to-dish dining and state-of-the-art retractable walls, also has group space. Oceans Edge is located at 5950 Peninsular Ave. Visit or call 305-809-8242.

The 216-room Marriott Key West Beachside offers Key West's largest ballroom at 5,673 square feet, and a new outdoor event patio for 140 has been added. With nearly 10,000 square feet of meeting space, the property incorporates seven breakout rooms. A 16-slip dock and pier accommodate boats for fishing and excursions and those with a maximum 40-foot length and 13-foot beam. The property also accommodates in-house audiovisual requirements for meetings. Marriott Key West Beachside is located at 3841 N. Roosevelt Blvd. Visit or call 305-296-8100.

The 150-room The Reach Key West, Curio Collection by Hilton, is Key West's first Curio Collection resort and is located at 1435 Simonton St. The Reach can accommodate up to 300 with over 4,000 square feet of indoor event space and an additional 18,000 square feet of outdoor event space including a gazebo over the Atlantic Ocean. The resort features an Escape Room Experience in partnership with Key West Room Escape. A new Four Marlins Restaurant with waterfront views is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Outdoor amenities include a pool and a bocce ball court. A state-of-the-art fitness center has Peloton spin bikes. On-site vendors at the resort are sand sculptor Marianne van den Broek, offering sand sculpting workshops for groups, and Barefoot Billy's, with a range of jet ski and coral reef exploration tours. Visit or call 305-296-5000.

Keys Attractions and Experiences

On Summerland Key, Mote Marine Laboratory's Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research and Restoration (IC2R3) can customize group tours and coral restoration activities for divers. The Lower Keys center has complimentary public tours, geared toward those interested in learning about the science behind coral restoration, from 10-11 a.m. each Tuesday. Reservations are encouraged but not required. Mote also offers a new "Reef Revival" program, enabling novice and expert divers to experience hands-on reef restoration in partnership with Captain Hook's Marina and Dive Center with locations in Marathon, Big Pine Key and Key West. Mote has planted over 75,000 coral fragments along about 130 acres of Florida's coral reef. The center also is identifying, growing and restoring coral genetic varieties resilient to disease and climate change impact threats. The center is located at 24244 Overseas Highway. Visit or call 305-745-2729.

In Key West, the Audubon House & Tropical Gardens has unveiled an interactive, educational and "Instagrammable" Audubon Experience in a room of brightly colored artwork 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 new generation of visitors to explore and learn about Key West's vibrant history. Visit, @AudubonHouseKeyWest or #LiveYourWildLife. Call 305-294-2116.

At the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory, known as the United States' only butterfly facility housing flamingos, evening "Twilight Tours" are available for groups. Avid lovers of pink flamingos, meanwhile, can "Flamingle" with Rhett and Scarlett, an 8-year-old male and female breeding pair. Groups up to six can get up close and personal with the flamingos, although the pair does not socialize during evening group events. Flamingle participants are not allowed to touch the flamingos but can communicate with them, sitting in a white gazebo overlooking the lushly planted conservatory's pond while Rhett and Scarlett strut freely, interacting as they choose. Encounters take place at 4:45 p.m. daily. Visit or call 305-296-2988, ext. 11.

The Hemingway Rum Co. Distillery in Key West hosts private groups of up to 275 people and plans to unveil a new 2,400-square-foot event center late this spring. The 8,200-square-foot attraction also is to kick off evening "Papa's Cocktail Classes" in February with a distillery tour, tasting, class and glass. Classes are to be offered on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Once a tobacco warehouse, the venue houses the Papa's Pilar Rum production facility, experience center, tasting room and trading post. A 350-gallon still produces up to 80 gallons of rum daily from molasses, yeast and water. Thirty-minute tours are offered from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily at the facility, located at 201 Simonton St. Visit or call 305-414-8754.

Why bar hop in Key West when you can hop on a bar with your group? Cruisin' Tikis Key West offers Tiki bar–style cruises run by Coast Guard–trained captains on six-passenger boats with a cruising speed of 4-6 mph. Guests can bring their own adult beverages; bottled water, sodas and a cooler with ice are provided. Tours include sunset, Garrison Bight, seaport, bar stop, eco and sandbar fun cruises. Cruises depart from Stock Island's Hurricane Hole, 5100 Overseas Highway, or in Key West from Mellow Ventures, 1605 N. Roosevelt Blvd. or Schooner Wharf's dock, 202 William St. Visit or call 833-845-4759.

Key West First Legal Rum Distillery offers complimentary mojito-making classes with private room rentals for groups of five to 20. Also, free classes are Monday through Friday at 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 4:30 p.m. Distillery owner Paul Menta teaches guests the secrets of an authentic mojito, billed as "the best mojito north of Havana, Cuba." With reservations, friends and groups can also blend and label a celebratory bottle of rum. Locally crafted treats include rum Key lime and rum coconut Key lime pies and rum cakes. Soon to be launched are three new rum-champagne spirits: Rum Key West Sparking, Key West Mermaid Spirit and Key West Mermaid Ratafia. The distillery is located at 105 Simonton St. Visit or call 305-294-1441.

Key West Food Tours offers a new The Hemingway Experience tour for groups of eight to 30. 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 or call 305-570-2010.

Up the Keys Eco Tours has created two new tours, a "volun-tour" and a yoga tour, enabling groups to experience the Keys' unique environment for a day. The operator has teamed up with the nonprofit volunteer "Conch Republic Marine Army" and Big Pine Kayak Adventures for a guided tour and kayak excursion. Visitors can learn about the Lower Keys' history, culture, ecology and Key deer, plant mangrove seedlings and pick up debris. Guided tours leave Key West with door-to-door service in air-conditioned 15-passenger vans. Up The Keys also has added a Yoga Excursion featuring instruction at an off-the-beaten-path location with a certified yoga instructor, hotel pickup and yoga mat for a minimum of six guests. Visit or or call 305-587-5575.

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