Florida Keys,
21
March
2024
|
20:29 PM
Europe/Amsterdam

Spring 2024 in the Florida Keys & Key West Ushers in Refurbished Resorts, Sustainability Activities

Springtime in the Florida Keys & Key West features weather that’s ideally suited for every type of outdoor activity.

Throughout the Keys, resorts are undergoing refurbishments and upgrades to enhance visitors’ experiences and stays. In addition, the island chain offers sustainability activities focused on and in the waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, with opportunities including participation in coral and mangrove restoration.

Meanwhile, increased seat capacity on carriers flying into Key West International Airport is helping to make the Keys more easily accessible than ever for visitors traveling to the island chain from major U.S. cities.

Among what’s new:

Keys Airlift

Key West International Airport (EYW) is projecting an increase in airline seat capacity of more than 20% during the first quarter of 2024, with airlines averaging 33 daily flights. Six carriers currently serve EYW — Allegiant, American, Delta, JetBlue, United and Silver. The airport is currently constructing a new 48,000-square-foot Concourse A expansion set for completion now in early 2026 and is also adding an eighth gate. Planned new airport venues include a First Call Beach Bar at baggage claim, Chili’s restaurant, Farm 2 Air Market and Southern Point bar. Also at EYW, Signature Aviation has unveiled a new private 4,500-square-foot aviation terminal with covered parking facilities, second-story patio with panoramic views and pilot’s lounge, work areas and coffee café. Visit eyw.com or call 305-809-5200.

Keys Accommodations

The beachfront Islander Resort Islamorada, undergoing a multi-phased renovation, recently unveiled refurbished guest rooms, amenities and new resort activities. Highlights include fully renovated bungalows featuring oceanside rooms and suites with updated furniture and interiors and a calm color palette of creams, whites, soft pinks and light blues. Refreshed interiors complement each room's private patio and lush, manicured foliage. The resort’s renovated Bayside Villas at Islander Resort, at 81450 Overseas Highway, offer townhome-style accommodations redone in the same aesthetic with refurbished kitchens. Bayside Villas offer a private marina, bayfront pool and access to all resort amenities. Islander Resort’s activities now include yoga, shell jewelry making, Beach Movie Night on Fridays, live music, Moonrise Bonfires on Saturdays, complimentary loungers and rentable beach cabanas. Guests also can enjoy the resort's saltwater pool, freshwater pool and hot tub. Additional renovations are soon to include upgrades to three on-site dining options: Tides Beachside Bar & Grill, offering lunch, dinner and cocktails with poolside and beachside service; Elements Restaurant, serving breakfast; and the Oasis oceanfront food truck with fresh seafood. A new beachside dining pavilion and redesigned menus at each venue are to be added at 82100 Overseas Highway. Visit islanderfloridakeys.com or call 305-664-2031.

Islamorada Resort Collection is to offer 379 guestrooms,12 dining outlets, 80,000 square feet of meeting space and a world-class fishing fleet when its newest resort in Islamorada is unveiled this summer with 214 rooms. Culinary experiences are to include an island-style pizza restaurant, a new signature restaurant featuring wood-fired fare and an outdoor venue with Central American cuisine; two retail shops; a water taxi for guests and a full-service marina; and renovated Tiki Bar. The Collection currently includes the 110-room Amara Cay Resort and the 55-unit La Siesta Resort & Villas. Activities are to include offshore and backcountry fishing and ocean adventures by Spray Watersports, with a 26-mile jet ski tour of backcountry mangroves and wildlife preserves. Visit islamoradaresortcollection.com or call 866-806-0730. 

On Duck Key, Hawks Cay Resort has launched a pup-friendly “Vacay Pup” program with a planner concierge; menu items such as roasted pig ears, a “quarter hounder” burger and “dog beer;” and doggie activities, including a new Pup Paradise Park with artificial turf and native shade trees, for guests with furry friends. "Becoming pet-friendly is a significant enhancement for both new and returning guests," said Tiffiany Holmes, resort director. Guests can register pets at check-in and get a Pup Pass bandana. Amenity packages feature a “pup nap time” door sign, in-room dog bowl, relief bags, VIP (Very Important Pups) play ball and dog beds on request. Dogs must be leashed at all times; nightly fees apply. The resort is located at 61 Hawks Cay Blvd. Visit hawkscay.com or call 888-395-5539.

The 125-unit Faro Blanco Resort & Yacht Club, located at Marathon's iconic 1950s lighthouse, is undergoing conversion as the Faro Blanco Resort & Yacht Club, Curio Collection by Hilton. The conversion is scheduled for completion this summer. On the resort’s third floor, premium king and queen rooms are now renovated with new furniture with light wood tones, natural textures and Keys-inspired tropical art. All guest rooms are to undergo renovations in upcoming months. The property is to include over 40,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, one- and two-story bungalows, a new multilevel pool deck with bar and infinity pool, two-story poolside cabanas and an all-new spa and fitness center. Adjacent to the resort, located at 1996 Overseas Highway, is the 74-slip Faro Blanco Marina. Visit faroblancoresort.com or call 305-743-1234.

On Sugarloaf Key in the Lower Keys, the 44-unit, all-suite Sugarloaf Key Hotel at the Sugarloaf Key/Key West KOA Resort is now open. Guests can enjoy KOA resort amenities including boat rentals, poolside pub and café, scheduled weekly activities and events such as trivia nights and live music, ice cream and s’mores socials. Well-appointed hotel suites can accommodate up to six guests and include private outdoor decks overlooking the property, kitchens with dishwasher and full-size washer and dryer, and separate living room and bedroom. Unveiled in December 2023, the new hotel is located at 251 State Road 939. Visit sugarloafkeyhotel.com or call 305-745-3549.

In Key West, the newly independent Key West Historic Inns — a portfolio of five historic boutique properties in the Old Town district — is now under new management with Pivot, the lifestyle operating vertical division of Davidson Hospitality Group. The five inns include Ella's Cottages, Fitch Lodge, Lighthouse Hotel, Ridley House and Winslow's Bungalows. The Davidson portfolio also includes Islamorada Resort Collection in Islamorada and Baker's Cay Resort in Key Largo. Visit keywesthistoricinns.com or call 305-294-3333.

The Key West Marriott Beachside Resort has been rebranded as the 222-room Beachside Resort & Residences by Spottswood Companies, based in Key West. Its management company Brightwild, which connects guests to local culture, offers guest experiences, managers and city guides to customize visitor experiences like those enjoyed by residents. “Over the years, our journey with legacy brands like Marriott, Hyatt and IGH has shown us that the transition to a model like Brightwild is precisely what Beachside Resort needs to ensure that we remain one of the best resorts in Key West,” said Robert Spottswood Jr., president of Spottswood Companies and co-founder of Brightwild. Spottswood Companies opened Beachside Resort, located at 3841 N. Roosevelt Blvd., in 2007. Visit beachsidekeywest.com or call 305-295-8100.

Key West’s Southernmost Beach Resort has unveiled its newly renovated guest houses, four restored 19th-century Victorian homes for adult-only accommodations. The guest houses — Avalon, Dewey, Duval Gardens and La Mer — blend intimate charms of bed-and-breakfast properties with a modern resort's amenities and services. Fostering a sense of community, they include shared spaces such as the beachfront Dewey Deck and the new Parlour Bar at Avalon, offering an array of hand-crafted cocktails and local beers and an extensive wine list. Guests have access to amenities including three pools, bars, a spa, private Atlantic Ocean beach and the Southernmost Beach Cafe. Southernmost Beach Resort, located at 1319 Duval St., offers live entertainment, group yoga classes, and programming including cocktail tastings and trivia activities. Visit southernmostbeachresort.com or call 800-354-4455.

Keys Water Adventures

In Key West, Steve and Doris Colgate’s Offshore Sailing School is offering three-day Learn to Sail and weeklong Catamaran Live Aboard Cruising courses for US Sailing certification. The renowned sailing school packages its courses with a resort stay at Beachside Resort & Residences in Key West. Courses are also offered without accommodations. Sailing lessons and bareboat cruising courses are taught aboard a Colgate 26 sailboat or a Lagoon 40 Catamaran, utilized for six days with the cruising certification courses. In honor of the company’s 60th anniversary, course pricing starts at $1,964 per person, excluding accommodations; with sailing lessons priced at $125 per person per hour with a two-hour minimum. Olympian and America’s Cup competitor Steve Colgate founded the company in 1964. Visit OffshoreSailing.com, email info@OffshoreSailing.com or call 888-385-6177. 

Yankee Freedom, the National Park Service ferry concessionaire that takes visitors to the remote Dry Tortugas National Park 70 miles west of Key West, has ordered a larger high-speed catamaran to replace its vessel currently in operation. The new all-aluminum Yankee Freedom IV is to carry 175 passengers daily and measure 112.5 feet long and 31.6 feet at the beam. The new boat is to offer main-cabin seating for 130 passengers as well as tables, a snack bar and an audio-visual passenger information center. The aft deck is to feature a covered open-air area with shower area, stowage for kayaks and camping gear, four passenger heads, and a two-level platform and handrails installed on the open bow deck for passenger viewing. Top speed will be more than 28 knots; delivery is scheduled in 2025. Visit drytortugas.com or call 800-634-0939.

Keys Sustainability

Key Largo’s Coral Restoration Foundation recently welcomed three additional Keys dive operators to its public dive program. In Key Largo, Pirate Cove Watersports and Conch Republic have joined as participants, while Southpoint Divers has been added in Key West. The dive program is open to both certified divers and snorkelers, who work to clean, maintain, monitor and plant corals in underwater nurseries. Upcoming events are scheduled. Visit coralrestoration.org/dive-programs or call 305-453-7030.

In  the Lower Keys on Summerland Key, the Plant a Million Corals Foundation and the Key West-based Coastlove are partners in a collaboration to grow mangroves at the foundation’s Summerland Farms, located at 23801 Overseas Highway. Visitors and residents can tour the facility and mangrove nursery where mangrove propagules are potted and raised for planting programs. Mangroves and coral reefs are effective natural protections against tropical storms and serve as buffers for waves and storm surge. Visit plantamillioncorals.org or call 772-216-0391.   

Mote Marine Laboratory, with its Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research & Restoration located on Summerland Key, has unveiled an Adopt-A-Coral program in the Keys. Mote also operates coral nurseries in Key Largo and Islamorada, and has permanent exhibits at Islamorada’s Florida Keys History & Discovery Center and the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center in Key West. Digital E-Pal coral adoptions are $30 and come with a digital adoption certificate and photo of the “adoptee” with fact sheet. Adoption donations help Mote scientists breed corals with higher resilience to increasing heat, test various disease treatments and plant new corals onto damaged reefs. Visit mote.org/adopt/animal/adopt-a-coral or call 305-395-2757.

Keys Attractions

In Key Largo, Kona Kai Gallery at the 14-unit Kona Kai Resort has unveiled its latest gallery collection, “Almost Sexy,” by Islamorada abstract artist Beth Kaminstein, regarded for her work in ceramics, clay and drawing. Kaminstein, a well-known Keys studio artist, has worked and lived in New York City and Florence, Italy. The resort, with boutique cottage-style units, is located at 97802 Overseas Highway. Visit konakairesort.com or call 305-852-7200.

The structural restoration of Key West’s Elizabeth Bishop House, where the famed United States poet laureate lived and wrote during the 1930s and 1940s, is nearing completion and expected to open in early 2025. Bishop purchased the 19th-century eyebrow house in 1938. Plans for the on-site Elizabeth Bishop Garden — to include plants from a list drawn from botanical and garden references in Bishop’s letters, poems, paintings and sketches — include public visitor tours in 2025. An accessible garden pathway is to lead visitors through permanent exhibits illuminating Bishop’s life and work and to a small seating area for reflection and reading. A rear yard presentation area will seat about 50. The property, a registered Literary Landmark and the new home of the Key West Literary Seminar, is located at 624 White St. Visit kwls.org or call 305-293-9291.

Key West’s Aquaplex, located in the heart of the island city’s LGBTQ entertainment district, recently debuted its Birdcage Cabaret with Christopher Peterson show starring the Key West-based female impersonator. Peterson is known for performing his EYECONS show at Key West venues and in other cities. His Birdcage performances blend traditional impersonations of famous divas with elaborate new elements and feature a rotating cast of Aquanettes, the complex’s signature drag queens. Located at 504 Angela St. just off Duval Street, The Birdcage can seat 80 to 100 guests. The new 90-minute cabaret show is staged Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Visit aquakeywest.com/the-birdcage-cabaret or call 305-916-1255.

Keys Dining

In Islamorada, the all-new 3,700-square-foot Papa Joe’s Waterfront — known for its signature sunset views of both the Atlantic Ocean and Florida Bay on Upper Matecumbe Key — serves “elevated casual fare” such as calamari, tuna nacho and “conch puppy” appetizers; hamburgers and fresh fish sandwiches for lunch; and fish and steak plates for dinner. Stretching over Florida Bay, the venue seats 130 indoors and 32 on the outdoor patio and features a large open Tiki bar. Originally built in 1938, Papa Joe’s was a Florida Keys institution until it was demolished in 2011. “The Keys were built on history and it’s nice to be able to rebuild history,” said owner Charles Hertel, a former Keys fishing guide. Papa Joe’s is located at 79786 Overseas Highway. Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday (closed Wednesday) and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Plans include a new apparel business. Visit PapaJoesWaterfront.com or call 305-433-4662.

In Islamorada at Bud N’ Mary’s Fishing Marina, the new PR Café, open for breakfast and lunch daily, is operated by Erik Rodriguez, the executive chef at Islamorada’s Ziggie & Mad Dog’s restaurant. PR Café’s breakfast offerings include meat, egg and cheese options on croissants, bagels and English muffins. Sandwiches and take-away lunches, with weekly specials, are available for diners and fishing charters departing daily out of the complex’s adjacent marina. Open daily from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., the 20-seat café has inside and outdoor seating and is located at 79851 Overseas Highway. Call 305-664-0166.

Keys Accolades

The City of Key West has won the Historic Florida Keys Foundation’s Award of Excellence for rehabilitation of the Key West Aquarium, the island’s first attraction, at 1 Whitehead St. The recent renovation of the aquarium building’s front exterior is a redesign resembling the original open-air aquarium that opened its doors in the 1930s. Visit keywestaquarium.com. In other Historic Florida Keys Foundation awards, the Key West Lighthouse, located at 938 Whitehead St. and operated by the Key West Art & Historical Society, won for preservation, for upgrades and repairs made to the 66-foot, 1848 tower that protects a Fresnel lens at its top. Visit kwahs.org/museums. Both attractions have earned a Historic Preservation Star.

For the 12th time, the City of Key West has been named a Tree City USA by the Arbor Day Foundation. “The trees being planted and cared for by Key West are ensuring that generations to come will enjoy a better quality of life,” said Dan Lambe, Arbor Day Foundation’s chief executive.

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