FLORIDA KEYS — The Florida Keys & Key West are welcoming fall with enhanced resorts offering spacious new villa-style accommodations and new “Aqua Lodges” for overnight stays at marinas. In the Middle Keys, a colorful 60-passenger tram is transporting passengers across the Old Seven Mile Bridge to historic Pigeon Key.
Significant upcoming heritage anniversaries also are planned. In early December, Everglades National Park is to celebrate its 75th anniversary at the Flamingo area in mainland Monroe County.
Additionally, Key West celebrations in June 2023 are to mark the 20th anniversary of Gilbert Baker’s creation and unfurling of the island city’s 1.25-mile-long sea-to-sea rainbow flag, billed as the world’s longest rainbow flag.
Among what’s new:
FlixBus, the European intercity mobility company offering bus and rail services in 36 countries, has added two new Keys stops: in Key Largo and on Big Pine Key. In Key Largo, buses stop at 99501 Overseas Highway for southbound trips and at 99551 Overseas Highway for northbound trips. On Big Pine Key southbound trips stop at the U.S. Post Office parking lot at 29959 Overseas Highway, while northbound trips depart from a pullover spot at 30026 Overseas Highway. Visit FlixBus.com, call 855-626-8585 or download the free app from Apple App Store or Google Play.
In the Middle Keys, a new 60-passenger tram, sporting a locomotive front and two 30-passenger coaches, is now transporting visitors along a 2.2-mile span of the historic Old Seven Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key. The bridge, nicknamed "Old Seven," was originally the centerpiece of railroad magnate Henry Flagler's Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad, which debuted in 1912 and connected the Keys with each other and mainland Florida for the first time. Pigeon Key, a 5-acre island nestled beneath the bridge, was once home to about 400 workers constructing the railroad. The new gasoline-powered tram is ADA compliant. At Pigeon Key construction on a $184,000 project, including $166,050 allocated by the Florida Keys tourism council to the Pigeon Key Foundation, is to add ADA-accessible ramps to the tiny island’s historic classroom-meetings facility and museum. Visit pigeonkey.net or call 305-743-5999.
Key West International Airport is beginning construction on its two-year, $100 million Concourse A terminal expansion, with targeted completion in late 2024. The new 48,000-square-foot, second-level concourse is to include a spacious departure and additional baggage areas, seven passenger boarding jet bridges, an expanded security checkpoint to support up to four security lanes and an extended passenger bridge connecting the existing terminal building with the new concourse. Currently, six carriers — Allegiant, American, Delta, Jet Blue, Silver and United — serve the airport with daily nonstop flights. Visit eyw.com or call 305-809-5200.
New “Aqua Lodges” — 38 waterfront two-bedroom, one-bath tiny house–style accommodations — are offered at marinas in Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key and Key West. Each lodge has a full kitchen, flat screen TV and air conditioning and is about 350 square feet, accommodating a maximum four adults and two children. In Islamorada Treasure Harbor Marina has six lodges. In Marathon Coconut Cay RV Park and Marina has 10, with Key Colony Marina offering two. On Big Pine Key there are 13 lodges at the Old Wooden Bridge and Hurricane Hole Marina on Stock Island has seven. The Aqua Lodges can be booked through various booking sites; an 800-reservation line is soon to be available. Visit coconutcayrv.com or call 305-289-1870.
Set on a 15-acre nature sanctuary at 97000 Overseas Highway, Baker's Cay Resort Key Largo, a Curio Collection by Hilton, has unveiled Ooh la la at The Cay, the resort's new wellness salon. Ooh la la products incorporate natural, plant-based, cruelty-free and sustainably sourced and packaged products into hair, body and skincare therapies. The wellness salon provides treatments for hair, nails, lashes and makeup sessions, Hydrafacials and spray tanning. The 200-room property also offers nature-based activities such as outdoor yoga, walking trails and watersports. Visit bakerscayresort.com or call 305-602-7988.
In Islamorada the 27-acre Cheeca Lodge & Spa has unveiled a new stand-alone 10,000-square-foot event center, with 43 new luxury oceanfront suites, each featuring more than 550 square feet, to open this fall. Each suite has floor-to-ceiling glass doors opening to an expansive private lanai with open-air spa tubs. The new Islamorada Ballroom, located just north of the resort’s main lodge, is promoted as the Upper Keys’ largest meeting and event venue. The ballroom can accommodate 1,000 guests for receptions and 788 for banquet-style dinners. Combined with the resort’s 6,300 square feet of meeting and event space, Cheeca Lodge now features more than 16,000 square feet of meeting and event space and a total 244 guest rooms and suites. The Casitas at Cheeca Lodge villas have personalized butler service and feature one- and two-bedroom units from 750 to 2,100 square feet, large furnished porches, full kitchens and washer and dryer. Cheeca Lodge is located at 81801 Overseas Highway. Visit cheeca.com or call 305-664-4651.
Also in Islamorada Chesapeake Beach Resort has unveiled eight new oceanfront villas. An additional five new villas and a boat ramp and dock are to be open during the upcoming winter holiday season. Villa types, each with kitchenette, include an 830-square-foot ocean king villa, a 700-square-foot one-bedroom ocean view, a 650-square-foot two-bedroom, 520-square-foot king and ADA-king efficiencies, and 320-square-foot standard king units. The resort’s lobby, with a newly added gift shop, is fully renovated. The property currently offers 60 units rooms and suites with balconies, two pools, a beach bar and beach venue for weddings, events, family reunions and corporate retreats of up to 100. Kayaks and fishing rods can be rented. Visit chesapeake-resort.com or call 305-664-4662.
The Islamorada Resort Collection — Amara Cay Resort, La Siesta Resort & Villas, Pelican Cove Resort & Marina and Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina — offers newly added watersports with guided jet ski tours and rentals. Spray Watersports at Pelican Cove leads 26-mile guided jet ski tours through mangroves and past state parks, wildlife preserves and Alligator Reef Lighthouse (weather permitting), with a stop at an Islamorada sandbar. Additional boat and powered sandbar catamaran rentals and paddlesports are to be added later this year. The collection offers seven restaurants and bars, five pools, four beaches, four marinas and Islamorada Dive Center. All four properties are oceanfront in Islamorada. Visit islamoradaresortcollection.com
In Layton on Long Key, Lime Tree Bay Resort has added a third oceanfront pool located 10 feet from Florida Bay. New landscaping and lighting enhances the property’s quarter-mile-long beach, where guests can enjoy hammocks and sunset viewing. The upgrades are part of a $10 million renovation over the past five years that includes a new dockside guest building; 10 new 1,600-square-foot three-bedroom, three-bath townhouses with full kitchens, washer-dryers and private boat dockage; upgraded linens and amenities such as daily complimentary breakfast and use of bicycles, paddleboards, kayaks, barbecue grills and twice-weekly beach yoga classes. The 67 rooms and suites have access to hammocks, barbecue grills and seclusion among more than 100 palm trees. The property is located at 68500 Overseas Highway. Visit limetreebayresort.com or call 305-664-4740.
In the Lower Keys on Sugarloaf Key at the 14-acre Sugarloaf Key/Key West KOA Holiday campground, new vacation rental units in two buildings can be reserved for stays starting May 2023. The vacation rentals feature a queen bedroom, living space with sofa bed and private bathroom, kitchen and balconies; four units are wheelchair accessible. Campground amenities include a pool, air-conditioned café, pub with live music, private beach, marina and watersports rentals. It’s at 251 State Road 939 off the Overseas Highway. Visit koa.com/campgrounds/
Noble House Hotels & Resorts has acquired 50% ownership of Key West's Marquesa Hotel, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and its 80-seat Café Marquesa in a partnership with local owners Carol Wightman and Erik and Derek DeBoer. The acquisition is Noble House Hotels & Resort’s third Keys property; it fully manages, owns and operates Ocean Key Resort & Spa in Key West and Little Palm Island Resort & Spa on Little Torch Key. Located at 600 Fleming St., the Marquesa Hotel features 44 rooms in restored Victorian-style properties that include Marquesa 4-1-4, three pools and lush garden settings. Visit marquesa.com or call 305-292-1919.
La Te Da Hotel, a 15-room all-welcome adult-only property at 1125 Duval St. in Key West, has fully renovated its outdoor bar and seating areas. The property features well-appointed guest rooms, a pool, two full-service bars and multiple entertainment venues with live entertainment. Visit lateda.com or call 305-296-6706.
In Key West at Parrot Key Hotel & Villas, a native Florida Keys plants display in the guest lobby showcases the benefits of indigenous plants to Keys ecosystems. Books from Books & Books at The Studios of Key West, artists’ prints of native species and decorative butterfly boxes from the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory are displayed for sale. Located at 2801 N. Roosevelt Blvd., the resort also has added on-site scavenger hunts for kids as an educational experience for learning about Keys ecosystems. Visit parrotkeyhotel.com or call 888-211-0348.
Everglades National Park, the continental United States’ third-largest national park covering 2,400 square miles in South Florida, is scheduled to celebrate its 75th anniversary on Saturday, Dec. 3, at Flamingo in mainland Monroe County — a 50-minute drive from the park’s entrance. The anniversary celebration is to include a ceremony, open house at the new Guy Bradley Visitor Center and tour of the 24-unit Flamingo Lodge & Restaurant scheduled to open in 2023. Camping in the Flamingo campground and furnished eco tents is currently available. The park also is hosting the Everglades Iron Ranger Challenge, highlighting 75 miles for 75 years, where participants can earn a patch and certificate for recording 75 miles of activity. Visit nps.gov/ever, flamingoev
In the Lower Keys on Big Pine Key the new Pine Channel Nature Park at mile marker 29 offers a scenic viewing area with a 9,500-square-foot boardwalk and 11-foot raised deck, bike racks, restrooms, a kayak and canoe launch area, Tiki huts and picnic areas with barbecue grills. Swimming at one’s own risk is allowed. Located at the former Big Pine Swimming Hole, the renovation was funded by the Florida Keys tourism council and the Florida Department of Transportation. The park, at 29550 Overseas Highway, is home to a historic Henry Flagler concrete mile marker more than a century old and believed to be one of only three remaining. Flagler conceived and built the Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad that was launched in 1912, connecting the Keys with each other and mainland Florida for the first time. Visit monroecounty-fl.gov/parks.
The Key West Business Guild is planning a 20th anniversary celebration to commemorate the island city’s famed 1.25-mile-long sea-to-sea rainbow flag, billed as the world’s longest rainbow flag, with events to take place during the guild-produced Pride festivities set for June 7-11, 2023. The flag was sewn in Key West in 2003 by original rainbow flag creator Gilbert Baker to mark the 25th anniversary of his original banner’s debut. Baker spent three months in Key West while he and helpers sewed approximately 17,600 linear yards of fabric weighing more than 3 tons. Visit gaykeywestfl.com/pride/ or call 305-294-4603.
Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium’s third land-based Keys coral nursery has opened at Reefhouse Resort & Marina at 103800 Overseas Highway, expanding the Upper Keys’ resilience-focused coral restoration efforts. Mote — raising brain, star and branching corals both onshore and offshore — outplants coral along the entirety of the Florida Keys reef tract. A separate Mote satellite land-based coral nursery is at Bud 'N Mary's Marina in Islamorada and public tours are available each Tuesday at 2 p.m. Reservations can be made at mote.org/Islamorada. At the Keys’ Mote Marine Laboratory base on Summerland Key, Mote offers public tours Tuesdays at 10 a.m. with reservations. Visit mote.org
In the Middle Keys, Dolphin Research Center is showcasing its two-room, 1,372-square-foot meeting and event space overlooking Florida Bay. The space features the 702-square-foot Key Largo Room and the 672-square-foot Key West Room, each accommodating up to 70 attendees theater-style or 44 for dinner. An airy 380-square-foot outdoor porch has alfresco dining. Other attributes include Wi-Fi capability and full-screen monitors. Interactive dolphin experiences, educational and team-building programs also are offered. Dolphin Research Center is located at 58901 Overseas Highway on Grassy Key. Visit dolphins.org or call 305-289-1121, ext. 241.
In Key West’s Truman Waterfront Park the all-new Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center is to open to the public in November. The state-of-the-art, family-friendly attraction features contemporary new exhibits including one that introduces visitors to Keys mangrove habitats and allows interaction with life-size mangrove branches. Exhibits include a colorful light-filled aquarium showcasing coral restoration, an interactive paddleboard experience and shipwrecks of the Florida Keys Shipwreck Trail. A freestanding main exhibit focuses on the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary through multiple videos and hands-on interactive activities. Visit floridakeys.noaa.gov/eco_
Marathon Mermaid Charters offers new Middle Keys boating excursions on the Marathon Mermaid, a 53-foot custom-designed vessel that offers sunset cruises around the Seven Mile Bridge. Other tours offered include a sandbar experience and reef snorkel tours in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary at the famous Sombrero Reef. The boat also can be booked for private charters. It's located at 1688 Overseas Highway. Visit MarathonMermaid.com or call 305-842-1492.
A new Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary app is now available, providing information about enjoying the sanctuary’s 3,800 square miles of waters surrounding the Keys. The Marine Sanctuary Explorer app describes the sanctuary’s more than 50 marine zones with easy-to-read guidelines about allowed activities. GPS-enabled technology alerts users when approaching the sanctuary’s no-wake and other managed zones and delivers real-time information about rules and regulations. The app is free to download for Apple and Android devices. Visit marinesanctuary.org/explorer/.
In Islamorada the well-known Bob’s Bunz, known for its hamburger-sized cinnamon and sticky buns dubbed the “best Bunz in town,” has a new location at 81001 Overseas Highway. The eatery offers popular grab-to-go treats such as souvenir brown bags with bite-sized Key lime cookies homemade with Key lime white chocolate chips and a hint of coconut. It’s open daily from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Visit bobsbunz.com or call 305-664-8363.
The Old Seven Mile Bridge’s restoration project has been honored as one of three global 2022 Phoenix Awards winners, lauded as a significant sustainable and cultural tourism initiative by the Society of American Travel Writers. The project to rehabilitate and restore the 2.2-mile section of the bridge began in September 2017 and was funded with some $44 million from the Florida Department of Transportation, Monroe County Commission and city of Marathon. The bridge section reopened to the public in January 2022. Another $33 million is earmarked for maintenance during the next 30 years. Visit https://youtu.be/
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS