What's New for Meetings, Incentives in the Florida Keys

FLORIDA KEYS -The Florida Keys & Key West welcome meetings for groups seeking engaging outdoor celebrations, activities and attractions with wide-open spaces throughout the easily accessible 125-mile-long chain of southernmost islands.

"The year 2022 is especially memorable for visitors to the Keys, marked by several historic highlights: the reopening of our iconic Old Seven Mile Bridge, Key West's 200th anniversary of its first settlement in 1822 and Everglades National Park's upcoming 75th anniversary in December," said Jack Meier, group sales manager for the Keys' Monroe County Tourist Development Council. 

"Celebratory activities and group events can all be enjoyed throughout our scenic, wide-open islands of the Florida Keys," Meier added.

The Keys are an ideal island destination offering unique bonding experiences for meetings with 15 to 100 attendees.

Flying into the Florida Keys is an option from major U.S. cities. Six airlines - Allegiant, American, Delta, JetBlue, Silver and United - operate more than 20 nonstop U.S. routes to Key West International Airport, making the destination easily accessible throughout the U.S.

Of interest to planners booking meetings and incentive groups:

Keys Transportation

Key West International Airport (EYW) is to break ground this year on a new $80 million terminal, targeted for completion in October 2024. A new concourse is to include enhanced security checkpoint, concessions and baggage claim areas; a spacious departure area; and glass-enclosed jet bridges that connect planes to the facility and feature virtual walk-throughs of Key West. Nonstop flights to Key West are available from airports in Asheville, North Carolina (AVL), Atlanta (ATL), Boston (BOS), Charlotte (CLT), Chicago (ORD), Cincinnati (CVG), Dallas (DFW), Houston (IAH), Indianapolis (IND), Nashville (BNA), Newark (EWR), New York City (LGA) and (JFK), Philadelphia (PHL), Washington, D.C. (DCA), and Washington-Dulles (IAD). In Florida, nonstop flights are offered from Fort Lauderdale (FLL), Miami (MIA), Orlando (MCO), Sanford (SFB), Tampa (TPA), and St. Petersburg (PIE). Face coverings remain mandated at EYW. Visit eyw.com or call 305-809-5200.

FlixBus, a European company with bus and rail services in 36 countries, offers a convenient car-free option, six days per week, for travel to the Keys from Miami and Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood international airports. The 56-passenger, single-level motorcoaches are equipped with free Wi-Fi, an on-board entertainment portal, power outlets, reclining seats with spacious legroom, luggage space and a restroom. Passengers can travel from the two airports to the Keys with stops at Islamorada, Marathon and Key West. Stops at Key Largo and Big Pine Key also are planned. Visit flixbus.com or the company's app, available free at the Apple App Store or Google Play. 

Keys Milestones

At Marathon in the Middle Keys, the 2.2-mile section of the Old Seven Mile Bridge that parallels the famed Florida Keys Overseas Highway reopened Jan. 12 after an approximately $44 million renovation that began in 2017. The landmark structure is the gateway to historic Pigeon Key, a tiny island nestled beneath it, and a "linear park" offering pedestrian recreation and prime sunset viewing. A new 60-passenger tram to Pigeon Key is expected to be operational this spring. Restoration work included new pedestrian and bicycle handrails and other structural improvements and enhancements. Parking is available for 35 vehicles, although vehicular traffic on the bridge is not allowed. "Old Seven" was built as part of railroad magnate Henry Flagler's Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad that was completed in January 1912. The newer Seven Mile Bridge (actually 6.79 miles long) stretching parallel to the historic span, is to celebrate its 40th birthday in May and is one of the world's longest segmental bridges. 

In Key West, residents and businesses are commemorating the 200th anniversary of the island's first permanent settlement in 1822. Community celebrations included "Commemorating 200 Years of Settlement" events slated March 19-30, encompassing the bicentennial of the date March 25, 1822, when Lt. Matthew C. Perry erected the American flag at Key West. Activities included the creation of a cancellation stamp; dedication of a time capsule placed beneath the American flag at Mallory Square and to be opened in 50 years; a 90-minute documentary, talks, events and films about Key West history; celebrations of baseball, one of Key West's most-loved sports; a history–themed VIP party; and a March 26 Heritage Festival with stage performances, festivities and eco-friendly silent drone fireworks. Visit keywest200th.com.

The Custom House Museum, operated by the Key West Art & Historical Society, is featuring "Key West 200," an exhibit running through Dec. 11 that celebrates the 200th anniversary of the first permanent settlement of Key West in 1822. The exhibit highlights Key West's people, culture and community. Artifacts include sponge-fishing equipment, cigar roller tables and tools, 19th-century homewares, clothing, artwork and photographs, Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad memorabilia, Ernest Hemingway's boxing gloves, Native American tools, Key West Hand Print brand dresses and U.S. Navy ship models. Key West 200 chronicles history by decade and showcases glimpses of Key West life through development, immigration, industries, culture and education. The exhibit can be viewed across the Custom House Museum's two full galleries and foyer at 281 Front St. Visit kwahs.org or call 305-295-6616.

Keys Activities

The African Queen steamboat, listed on 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 90-minute cruises. Now fully restored, the vessel was built in 1912 at Lytham, England, to shuttle cargo, missionaries and hunting parties in Africa. Daily cruises depart from Marina Del Mar at mile marker 100. Visit africanqueenflkeys.com or call 305-451-8080.

In Key Largo, Keys' Meads, the Florida Keys' only meadery, has a 2,500-square-foot location offering tours, a tasting 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. Newly crafted spirits, made from distilled mead, can be used in cocktails. Its Mead Club and online store offer shipments to most states. Keys' Meads, established in 2017, is located at 99411 Overseas Highway, mile marker 99.4, and open daily. Visit keysmeads.com or call 305-204-4596.

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

Adventure lovers can experience The Lagoon on Grassy Key, a 50-acre action-sports eco-park at mile marker 59 that is home to Keys Cable Park, Bongos Beer Garden and the Lagoon Saloon. At Keys Cable Park, specializing in wakeboarding, groups can opt for private half- or full-day rentals with additional activities including stand-up paddle boarding, efoil (electric hydrofoil) surfing and kayaking. The entire park can be booked for private groups and outdoor events for up to 250 attendees. Bongos, a locals' favorite venue with live music and a popular weekend brunch, can accommodate groups in its 2,000-square-foot beer garden or on the lagoon's beach. The Lagoon Saloon, living up to its motto, "Swim, Sail, Swill, Surf," sells the latest in wind, surf, skate and lifestyle clothing and accessories and offers two kegs on tap at the register. The park is located at 59300 Overseas Highway. Visit RidetheLagoon.com or call 305-414-8245.

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 or call 305-295-6616.

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. During "Flamingle" encounters, daily from 4:30 to 5:45 p.m., guests seated in a picturesque gazebo overlooking the conservatory's pond can enjoy interacting with Rhett and Scarlett as the pair roams freely. Prescheduled groups can tour between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m., and prescheduled twilight tours enable visitors to explore the conservatory just before sunset to experience a butterfly twilight "dance." Visit keywestbutterfly.com or call 305-296-2988.

Salute to the Sol Yoga offers customized party and group event yoga in Key West. Known for virtual, private and Sunday yoga classes on the event lawn at The Perry Hotel & Marina Key West, Salute to the Sol's team of certified personal instructors delivers customized vinyasa sessions for all levels. The addition of group yoga for wedding weekend, bachelor or bachelorette party, corporate or team-building events rounds out Salute to the Sol's services, which are available to book and offered at a variety of locations. Visit salutetothesol.com/ or call 407-496-5868.

Keys Tours

On Big Pine Key, the 2-acre fruit farm Grimal Grove - billed as the first and only breadfruit grove in the continental United States - offers 90-minute guided tropical fruit excursions showcasing species of subtropical and tropical fruits, trees and plants. "Our new fruit hunting excursions allow visitors to have a fun, fanciful and unique culinary experience," said Patrick Garvey, owner-director of Grimal Grove. "I started the tours to integrate Keys culture and adventure with the growing of food." Participants can sample sweet and sour exotic fruits including breadfruit and learn the story of 1950s-era hermit Adolf Grimal, a recluse who designed Old Grimal Estate at 258 Cunningham Lane. Visit grimalgrove.com or call or text 305-923-6663 to book a tour.

Ever ridden in a presidential limo? The Harry S. Truman Little White House in Key West, Florida's only presidential museum, has acquired one of Truman's presidential limousines and a ride is included on the museum's White Glove Tour. The mid-century, mint-condition Lincoln Cosmopolitan stretch limo, with about 33,000 odometer miles, was originally based in New York City for use by President Truman. 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. Several of the suite's galleries feature recently unveiled artwork, photos and artifacts. Visitors can don white gloves to hold presidential memorabilia, then ride in the limo around Old Town Key West. Visittrumanlittlewhitehouse.com or call 305-294-9911.

The 90-minute Old Town Literary Walking Tour takes participants past sites and landmarks recalling world-renowned writers' presence in Key West, illustrating the island city's significance in the literary world. The tour features former homes and haunts of writers including Tennessee Williams, Shel Silverstein, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Frost and others. Group tours on Fridays and Sundays are offered for two to 12 people; private tours are offered on request. Visit kwls.org or call 305-293-9291.

At Key West's Fort East Martello Museum, Sloan's Ghost Fort Adventures has group tours for up to 30, featuring Robert the Doll, dubbed the "world's most haunted doll." Tours take 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 David Sloan, chronicler of the eerie doll's history, in partnership with museum operator Key West Art & Historical Society. Tickets are $45; VIP tickets, which include an additional hour of "ghost hunting," are $85 per person. It's at 3501 S. Roosevelt Blvd. Visit ghostfort.com or email keywest.ghostfort@gmail.com.

Keys Hemingway Happenings

Key West's 8,200-square-foot Hemingway Rum Company Papa's Pilar Distillery, located at 201 Simonton St., has unveiled its new Hemingway's Library, a 2,400-square-foot tasting bar and center for hosting events and rum tastings. The new venue is available for private group cocktail classes, with cost based on group size and amenities. Formerly a tobacco warehouse, the distillery 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 weekly from molasses, yeast and water. Visitors can book distillery tours and cocktail classes Tuesdays through Sundays at various times. Reservations are required for classes. Visit papaspilar.com or call 305-414-8754.

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 Food Tours offers its Hemingway/Southernmost Food & Cultural Tour, tracing famed author Ernest Hemingway's libations and lifestyle during the 1930s when he lived in Key West's Old Town district. The four-hour tour for groups of eight to 16 participants covers 1.6 miles and stops at five locations. Among its attractions are four food tastings including Key lime pie, three cocktails and a guided tour of the landmark Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum where the literary legend lived and wrote. Samplings include Caribbean- and Cuban-influenced food highlighting Key West's rich heritage and culture. The all-inclusive tour is priced from $150 per person. Visit keywestfoodtours.com or call 305-570-2010.

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