The Florida Keys continue marking their bicentennial milestone throughout 2023, with museum exhibits and festivities commemorating the 125-mile-long island chain’s vibrant two-century heritage.
Among what’s new:
Airline seat capacity is increasing on flights between several major cities and Key West International Airport (EYW), which is currently undergoing a major Concourse A expansion to be completed by summer 2025. JetBlue Airways is to resume nonstop service Oct. 29 to EYW from Boston Logan International Airport on 140-seat Airbus A220-300 aircraft, with nonstop daily service scheduled in January. Nov. 5, American Airlines is to add a second daily nonstop flight to EYW from Washington D.C.’s Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on a 76-seat Embraer 175. Also Nov. 5, Delta Air Lines is to resume its nonstop winter seasonal flight to EYW from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport on a 70-seat Embraer 170. Beginning Nov. 28, United Airlines is to operate two daily nonstop flights to EYW from Newark Liberty International Airport: one on a Boeing 737-700 and one on a 70-seat Embraer 170. Additionally, Dec. 21 United is to begin operating daily nonstop flights to EYW on 126-seat Boeing 737-700 aircraft from Chicago O’Hare, Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental, and Washington D.C.’s Dulles international airports, replacing its 70-seat Embraer 170 aircraft on those three routes. Visit eyw.com or call 305-809-5200.
At Everglades National Park, the all-new 24-unit Flamingo Lodge, including studios and one- and two-bedroom suites with kitchenettes and balconies overlooking Florida Bay, is slated to open Nov. 1 for guests. Rates range from $259 to $399 per night, plus tax, through May 2024 with a 14-day maximum stay. An adjacent stand-alone restaurant is slated to open along with the lodge. The park's fully renovated pink Guy Bradley Visitor Center — with interactive nature and art exhibits and expansive views overlooking Florida Bay — is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. A Florida National Parks Association bookstore is in the center with books and Everglades souvenirs. The 2,400-square-mile park is the continental United States' third-largest national park. Visit flamingoeverglades.com/flamingo-lodge-restaurant or call 855-708-2207.
In Islamorada, Casa Morada Resort, a member of Enthusiast Hotel Collection, has partnered with the renowned Cornell Lab of Ornithology to enable bird enthusiasts to become familiar with indigenous bird species in the Upper Keys. Properties in the Enthusiast Hotel Collection connect guests who are birdwatchers with local birding experts and birding ecosystems. Guests can study migration patterns and nesting rituals, observe birds on educational walks, and learn about efforts to protect vulnerable species. The Enthusiast Hotel Collection features "experiential hospitality for enthusiastic travelers who are seeking adventures in off-the-beaten-path destinations and prefer to stay at hotels that have a story to tell.” Casa Morada, located at 136 Madeira Road, welcomes guests 16 and older. Visit casamorada.com or call 305-664-0044.
Marathon’s 125-unit Faro Blanco Resort, with a historic 1950s lighthouse, is undergoing renovations and a conversion to become Faro Blanco Resort, a Curio Collection by Hilton, in late 2023. The enhanced property is to include 1,200 square feet of meeting space with expansive windows and outdoor event space, cabanas and a new multi-level deck with bar. There’s an adjoining 74-slip marina. Visit faroblancoresort.com or 305-743-1234.
In the Lower Keys, the 7-acre waterfront Sun Outdoors Sugarloaf Key is slated to open in October on Summerland Key. As the Keys’ fourth Sun Outdoors RV resort, it features 73 full hookup 20-, 30-, and 50-amp RV sites with patio, complimentary Wi-Fi and outdoor picnic table; a heated pool, boardwalk and peninsula Tiki bar with firepit. An additional 19 on-site “glamping” bungalows are available. The newest Lower Keys resort is located at 3000 Johnson Road gulfside on Summerland Key. Sister property Sun Outdoors Islamorada recently opened its 12-acre Upper Keys resort with 82 full hookup RV sites with outdoor kitchens, patio furniture, 47 boat slips at three marinas, pool and private poolside cabanas, kayak and watersport offerings, clubhouse, workout center, Tiki hut and second-story ocean-view lounge. Visit sunoutdoors.com/florida/sun-outdoors-sugarloaf-key or call 305-745-1079.
The legendary 311-room Casa Marina Key West, Curio Collection by Hilton, is to unveil its grand renovation this fall. Guests can expect vibrant décor, enhanced food and beverage venues, and a new 5,000-square-foot oceanfront event lawn added to its existing 11,000 square feet of indoor event space. Fully renovated piers can be utilized for watersports, and activities include scavenger hunts, jet-ski tours and snorkeling trips on a luxury catamaran. All guest rooms — including 63 suites, many with large oceanfront balconies and patios — are renovated. Event space includes the 3,100-square-foot historic Flagler's Ballroom, a 2,600-square-foot Grand Ballroom and versatile 5,000-square-foot Keys Ballroom. Nine event spaces accommodate from 10 to 500 people. Visit casamarinaresort.com or call 305-296-3535.
In Key West, the two-bedroom penthouse suite at Ocean Key Resort & Spa is redesigned as the Flamingo Royale Suite, with 1,200 square feet, dynamic colors, bold wallpaper and tropical accents. The suite, accommodating up to four, offers a spacious lounging area, two king bedrooms and two full bathrooms with a spa tub, a claw foot tub and separate showers. An oceanfront balcony spanning the full length of the suite showcases sweeping views of the ocean and historic Key West Harbor. Visit oceankey.com or call 305-809-8072.
In Islamorada, The Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder (DPMMR) rescue group is developing The Protect Center Whale & Dolphin Hospital, located at 82748 Overseas Highway bayside, as South Florida's only working and teaching veterinary hospital to treat injured whales, bottlenose dolphins and other marine mammals. The new facility is to include a 40-foot-diameter pool for long-term marine mammal rehabilitation, an educational classroom and a 3,000-square-foot marine wildlife conservation-themed museum, targeted to open in early 2024. Currently, the Protect Center’s Sustain Gift Shop is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. An affiliated experiential learning facility, The Connect Center, is located at 31 Corrine Place in Key Largo. DPMMR has responded to more than 700 injured, sick and stranded marine mammals in the Keys. Visit connecttoprotect.org/hospital or call 305-453-4321.
At Robbie's Marina in Islamorada, the new Transparensea glass-bottom boat is available for day and night tours of reefs such as Alligator Reef, Caloosa Rocks and Cheeca Rocks. The 46-foot Newton, built in 2023, can carry 49-passengers and has 16 glass-viewing windows and Lumitec underwater lights for night tours. Shaded and open-air, Transparensea is promoted as Florida's only stabilized glass-bottom boat with Seakeeper, which aids boat stabilization. Daily tours are scheduled at noon, 3 p.m. and 20 minutes after sunset. Visit glassbottomtour.com or call 305-214-5277.
In Marathon, the Pigeon Key Visitor Center and an all-new, custom-designed Pigeon Key Express train, launched in August, offer daily tours departing from the Pigeon Key Gift Shop at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. The colorful train, with a locomotive front and two 30-passenger coaches, travels along a 2.2-mile restored span of the Old Seven Mile Bridge. Lying beneath “Old Seven,” the tiny island of Pigeon Key was a camp for workers building the bridge in the early 1900s and features restored buildings and a museum. Guided tours of Pigeon Key begin at the yellow picnic tables on the south side of the bridge tender’s building by the umbrellas. Visitors can swim, snorkel, fish and shop at an on-island gift shop. The train depot is at 1090 Overseas Highway bayside. Train tours can be booked online 14 days in advance. Visit pigeonkey.net or call 305-743-5999.
In Marathon, the 63.5-acre Crane Point Museum & Nature Trails is to unveil an all-new home for the Marathon Wild Bird Center — with new educational bird enclosures and a new hospital and a rehabilitation facility for treatment of sick and injured rescued wild birds — in October. The facility is to house more than 40 non-releasable birds and continue to treat about 750 birds annually. Crane Point also features the Crane House, built in 1954 and now fully renovated for events; a museum, lagoon, plant nursery and several nature trails. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places and located at mile marker 50.5, Crane Point is the site of prehistoric Native American artifacts and an early Bahamian village. The attraction, located at the site of Marathon's first train depot, is home to the Adderley House, a structure built in 1904, originally owned by a Bahamian sponge fisherman and noted as the second-oldest house in the Keys outside of Key West. Visit cranepoint.net or call 305-743-9100 or 305-743-3900.
At Key West’s Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, the new “1622: Wealthy World” exhibit showcases never-before-displayed artifacts from the Nuestra Señora de Atocha and Santa Margarita shipwrecks, two galleons from Spain’s 1622 fleet that sank off Key West. The museum is believed to contain the richest single collection of 17th-century maritime and shipwreck antiquities in the Western Hemisphere. Telling the shipwrecks’ story in the context of their time, the exhibit features objects including huge cannons and rare hand weapons, cooking implements and ceramic food and water storage jars, tools of the ships’ surgeon and carpenter, passengers’ belongings, a priceless emerald cross, gold and silver coins and 24 silver bars that weigh about 70 pounds apiece. The Atocha and Margarita, carrying riches from Spain’s New World colonies, were among 28 vessels shipwrecked during a 1622 hurricane. Both galleons’ wrecksites were discovered off Key West in the 1980s by salvager Mel Fisher and crew. Located at 200 Greene St., the museum opens at 10 a.m. daily and the last visitors are admitted at 4 p.m. Guided behind-the-scenes tours of the artifact conservation lab can be booked at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. weekdays. Visit melfisher.org or call 305-294-2633.
The Key West Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters Museum has reopened after restoration work to the lighthouse tower, originally opened in 1848. Adjacent to the tower, a fully restored oil storage shed is to become part of the museum’s display space. Plans include positioning three replica 100-gallon oil butts in the oil house, to give visitors an understanding of how difficult the lighthouse keeper’s job was to keep the light fueled at night and during storms. Visitors can walk up the lighthouse’s 88 steps for sweeping panoramic views of the island city. Ninety-minute sunset experiences — offering private use of the lighthouse for groups ranging from two to eight — and a marriage proposal package are offered, priced from $375 for groups of two to four. The historic landmark, operated by the Key West Art & Historical Society and owned by Monroe County, is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 938 Whitehead St. Visit kwahs.org/lighthouse or call 305-294-0012.
The historic Key West Firehouse, celebrating its 10th year as a museum, offers new exhibits, a Dalmatian scavenger hunt, a gift shop and a retired firefighters' lounge. Key West, known for one of the country's largest districts of historic wooden buildings, experienced the Great Fire of 1886 but city firefighters have preserved the historic Old Town district for 137 years since. Small groups can rent the facility for rates priced from $250 and ghost tours of the 1907 firehouse can be booked on Friday nights. Located at 1024 Grinnell St., Key West's “hottest” historic attraction is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Visit keywestfire.com or call 305-617-6744.
In Key West, Fleming Street boutique owners are kicking off monthly First Fridays on Fleming with “sip and shop” activities. Upcoming First Friday events — set for 6-9 p.m. Oct. 6, Nov. 3, Dec. 1 and throughout 2024 — highlight Fleming Street’s 500 block, showcasing boutiques, galleries and eateries with jewelry trunk shows, art openings, plein air painting, book signings, tastings and libations. Participants in the 500 block and elsewhere on Fleming include The Roost cocktail bar, Key West Local Luxe Jewelry, Luna Boutique, Thirsty Mermaid, Key West Island Books, Sean P. Dwyer Studio, Assortment Inc Menswear, Amanda Johnson Gallery, Sea Store Antiques, Clemente's Trolley Pizzeria, Island Antiques, Sunny Eggs Bakery, Jean Pierre Klifa, Duck & Dolphin Antiques, Key West Yoga Sanctuary, Salt Gallery and Williams Hall. Visit FabFlemingKW.com or call 305-304-9001.
In Key Largo, Bike the Florida Keys, a new Upper Keys e-bike company, rents Lectric XP Step-Thru 2.0 bikes with a top speed of 28 mph and range of up to 45 miles. The company has free deliveries in Key Largo, Tavernier and Islamorada. The e-bikes feature front suspension, safety lights, puncture-resistant fat tires and trip and battery intelligence through LCD technology. Half-day rentals, from 8 a.m. to noon and 1-5 p.m., are priced from $40 per person per bike. Full-day rentals, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., are priced from $65. Bikes have a range of 25 to 45 miles and are equipped with basket, water-resistant bag and helmet. Guided half-day tours can be booked. Riders must be 16 to ride. Visit biketheflkeys.com or call 305-783-6066.
In Key West, Key Lime Bike Tours features a new two-hour, four-mile guided Sunset Bicycle Tour past historic sights of Mallory Square, the Custom House, Mile Marker 0, Truman Waterfront Park, Hemingway Home, Southernmost Point, The Mansion by the Sea and popular bars for a mix of education, sightseeing and entertainment. Brightly lit beach cruisers have coaster brakes, baskets and comfort seats, and the tours include bottled water and drink coupons. Tours meet at 122 Ann St. 15 minutes prior to tour time. Visit keylimebiketours.com or call 305-340-7834.
A new Key West marina, Happy Landings Marina, is to open this fall for 75 vessels up to 40 feet in length. The marina is to feature gated 24-hour access, dock and concierge services, a fish-cleaning station, ice machine and parking. Thirty boat lifts are initially planned with capability to hoist boats up to 20,000 pounds. Future plans include up to 38 additional boat lifts, an office, clubhouse with climate-controlled locker storage, and two rental apartments in late 2024. It's at 2407 N. Roosevelt Blvd. Visit happylandingsmarina.com or call 305-518-1189.
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS
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