Florida Keys,
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What's New in the Florida Keys & Key West: Environmental Offerings, Accommodations and a Bicentennial Celebration

FLORIDA KEYS - The Florida Keys & Key West are celebrating a bicentennial, or 200th anniversary, with heritage activities throughout Monroe County. Events commemorate the Florida Territorial Legislature's July 3, 1823, establishment of the county, which contains the entire Florida Keys.

The bicentennial is being celebrated throughout 2023, with museum exhibits, art showcases and festivals commemorating the milestone and the 125-mile-long island chain's vibrant two-century heritage.

Bicentennial celebrations are to be patriotically showcased July 3 - 200 years to the day after Monroe County's establishment. The occasion is to be commemorated with the creation and serving of the world's largest Key lime pie - projected to measure 13.14 feet in diameter with a traditional whipped cream topping and graham-cracker crust.

Following its creation during evening festivities at Big Pine Community Park, the gargantuan version of the Florida Keys' signature dessert is to be certified in a resolution by Monroe County commissioners.

Also noteworthy in the Florida Keys this summer are a number of new and enhanced elements. Among what's new:

Keys Accommodations

At Everglades National Park, the all-new Flamingo Lodge & Restaurant is slated to open early this fall, featuring 24 units with kitchenettes including studios and one- and two-bedroom suites fronting Florida Bay. The park's fully renovated pink Guy Bradley Visitor Center - with interactive exhibits, a gift shop and expansive views overlooking Florida Bay - also is scheduled to open in fall 2023. The park is the continental United States' third-largest national park at 2,400 square miles. The lodge and visitor center are located in Monroe County's Flamingo area, a 50-minute drive from the park's entrance in Homestead, Florida. Visit nps.gov/ever or flamingoeverglades.com/flamingo-lodge-restaurant, or call 855-708-2207.

InIslamorada, the new 12-acre Sun Outdoors Islamorada has opened at 87395 Old Highway oceanside. The resort features 82 full hookup RV sites with amenities including pergolas, outdoor kitchens, patio furniture, 47 boat slips at three marinas, pool and private poolside cabanas, kayak and watersport offerings, clubhouse, organized events, camp store, workout center, Tiki hut, second-story ocean-view lounge and complimentary Wi-Fi. Sun Outdoors Islamorada is Florida's 59th Sun Outdoors resort and the third in the Keys, joining Sun Outdoors Key Largo and Sun Outdoors Marathon. All three are pet friendly. Visit soislamorada.com or sunoutdoors.com, or call 888-886-2477 or 786-841-0030.

In Key West, Mellow Ventures has bookings available for its newly launched catamaran cottage for overnight accommodations. The new "Outpost," a fully restored former cigar-maker's cottage that accommodates overnight parties of up to six, is built on 50-foot catamaran hulls. Unique, off-the-grid customized Backcountry Eco Vacations include on-the-water stays from the Dry Tortugas to Everglades National Park. The backcountry charter company has locations at 1605 N. Roosevelt Blvd. and at 201 William St. Its affiliated Mellow Café & Gastropub, serving vegan fare, artisan tacos, exotic meats and craft beer at 1605 N. Roosevelt Blvd., has expanded outdoor seating for 60 patrons. Visit mellowkw.com/eco-vacations or call 305-745-3874.

Key West's 311-room landmark Casa Marina, Curio Collection by Hilton, is undergoing afull renovation and is scheduled to reopen this fall. Guests can anticipate a new classic design with modern touches in rooms, an airy lobby lined with windows framing the beach, an additional 5,000-square-foot oceanfront event lawn space, two activity piers, and enhanced food and beverage venues including a new rooftop bar promoted as Key West's closest to the ocean. The resort celebrated its centennial in 2021. It's located at 1500 Reynolds St. Visit casamarinaresort.com or call 305-296-3535.

In Key West, the Hyatt Centric Key West Resort & Spa has launched "The Infinite Bottle Project" with Proud Source Water to reclaim and recycle aluminum collected at the downtown property at 601 Front St. Hyatt Centric Key West, the first Hyatt resort to implement the program, serves Proud Source Water in its "infinitely recyclable" aluminum packaging. The resort also tracks and ensures aluminum cans and bottles collected are sorted for proper recycling and reuse. Visit hyatt.com/hyatt-centric/kwest-hyatt-centric-key-west-resort-and-spa or call 305-809-1234, or visit proudsourcewater.com or Replenysh.com.

Keys Attractions

Cruisin' Tikis Key Largo has added a third floating Tiki bar to its fleet and a second location, now departing from Sundowners in Key Largo. Options from Sundowners, located at 103900 Overseas Highway, include Tiki Fun, Sunset and Night cruises for up to six people, priced from $59.95 per person. Cruisin' Tikis also operates two Tiki boats out of Snooks Bayside Restaurant and Grand Tiki Bar, located at 99470 Overseas Highway, with trips priced from $59.95 per person. Cruises run 1.5 to two hours. Visit cruisintikiskeylargo.com or call 800-941-7080.

In Tavernier, the new 6,500-square-foot Pinfish Entertainment Center, located in Tavernier Towne shopping center, is slated to open this summer with Duckpin Bowling, axe throwing with three lanes, an arcade with about 30 games including video games and virtual reality, and a self-serve beer tap wall. Duckpin bowling is similar to traditional bowling but with shorter lanes and smaller bowling balls and pins. The venue can accommodate from eight to 80 guests. It's located at 91214 Overseas Highway in Tavernier. Visit pinfishentertainment.com.

In Marathon, the Pigeon Key VisitorCenter and Pigeon Key train have additional summer tours, with four daily tours departing for historic Pigeon Key at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m. (including a shark pool feeding after the tour) and 2:30 p.m. Check-in is 10 minutes prior to departure and tours can be booked online up to 14 days in advance. Lying beneath the historic Old Seven Mile Bridge, the tiny island of Pigeon Key was a work camp for laborers constructing the bridge in the early 1900s and features restored buildings and a museum. The colorful train, consisting of a locomotive front and two 30-passenger coaches, travels along the 2.2-mile span of the bridge nicknamed "Old Seven." 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 and fish from shore, and shop at an on-island gift shop offering island-themed souvenirs, cold drinks and snacks. The train depot is at 1090 Overseas Highway bayside at the old Seven Mile Marina property. Visit pigeonkey.net or call 305-743-5999.

The Key West Aquarium - Key West's first attraction - has undergone major changes including restoration of the building's front exterior in a redesign resembling the original open-air aquarium that first opened its doors in 1937. The new design features a nautically themed fountain and image of the aquarium from the 1930s. Inside the aquarium's Touch Tank, a vertical fish tank filled with tropical fish was added. A new "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" audiovisual show, with a hammerhead shark, entertains visitors of all ages. Educational tours and informative talks take place throughout the day. Visit keywestaquarium.com or call 305-910-2791.

Keys Environment

In Key Largo, Mote Marine Laboratory's third land-based Keys facility - the Key Largo Coral Nursery at Reefhouse Resort, 103800 Overseas Highway - has a new weekly "Slice of Paradise" activity, enabling participants to experience coral microfragmentation using a small diamond-bladed saw to create coral fragments. Afterslicing the coral, participants mount the fragments onto ceramic pedestals to enable growth at the land-based coral nursery until the fragments are large enough to outplant onto Florida's Coral Reef. Participants also tour the nursery and learn about endangered coral species and Mote's genetic diversity and resiliency-focused strategies. Minimum age is 10 and those ages 10 to 17 must be accompanied by a paying adult. The experience is priced at $125 per person on alternating Tuesdays and Thursdays. Visit Mote.org/KeysTours, email shuber@mote.org or call 219-363-3493.

In Key Largo, the Coral Restoration Foundation has unveiled a new "Coral Bus," a first-of-its-kind nursery-raised coral transport technology where corals are acclimated that closely replicates conditions of the open ocean. Through a partnership with Georgia Aquarium, the state-of-the-art aquarium trailer enables practitioners to monitor and regulate water temperature, pH level, filtration and water flow. The monitoring helps to ensure the well-being of nursery-raised corals, minimizing the stress experienced by these fragile animals during transport for replanting on Florida's Coral Reef. Visit coralrestoration.org or call 305-453-7030.

In Marathon, the 63.5-acre Crane Point Museum & Nature Trails isto unveil a new Marathon Wild Bird Center as a permanent home. Featuring a new bird enclosure, hospital and rehabilitation facility for injured and rescued birds, it is slated to open in September. The new center is to house 750 or more birds annually.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. Crane Point, located at the site of Marathon's first train depot, is home to the Adderley House, a structurebuilt in 1904, originally owned by a Bahamian sponge fisherman and noted as the second-oldest house in the Keys outside of Key West. In addition, the property's historic Crane House, built in 1954, has completed renovations and is to serve as a venue for weddings and events. Crane Point also features a museum, lagoon, plant nursery and several nature trails. Visit cranepoint.net or call 305-743-9100 or 305-743-3900.

In Islamorada, Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder rescue group is developing the Protect Center Whale & Dolphin Hospital 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 hospital and facility are to include a 40-foot-diameter pool for long-term marine mammal rehabilitation, an educational classroom and a 3,000-square-foot marine conservation-themed museum. It's scheduled to be fully open byfall, pending permitting. Currently, the Protect Center's retail space is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Its art show, "A Wave of Color: Promoting Ocean Conservation" with over 20 curated ocean-themed works, runs through Sept. 7. An affiliated experiential learningfacility, the Connect Center, is located at 31 Corrine Place in Key Largo. Dolphins Plus has responded to more than 700 injured, sick and stranded marine mammals in the Keys. Visit connecttoprotect.org/hospital or call 305-453-4321.

Two Florida Keys environmental leaders, Mike Goldberg of Islamorada and Dave Vaughan of Summerland Key, have recently earned global accolades. Goldberg, co-founder of I.CARE - the Keys' only Islamorada-based reef restoration organization, partnered with Mote Marine Laboratory and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation - has been named a CNN Hero. Vaughan,founder of Plant a Million Corals Foundation, was named an Ocean Steward and recognized with a sculpture of his likeness placed at the John Brewer Reef in Townsville, Australia. Vaughan is the only American honored among eight coral reef champions. Visit fla-keys.com/news/article/11413/keys-stewards-mike-goldberg-dave-vaughan-earn-global-honors/.

Keys TV and Podcast

FloridaKeysTV is a new free, on-demand globally streaming channel showcasing exclusive programming dedicated to the Florida Keys. The channel is available on Amazon, Android Mobile and TV, Apple TV, Apple IOS for iPhone and iPad, Fire TV, Roku, Samsung and LG. "Viewers can explore the entire island chain, learn about sustainability initiatives such as 'Connect & Protect,' experience deep-sea fishing adventures and discover the Keys' unique culture and cuisine," said Stacey Mitchell,director of the Florida Keys tourism council. Crawford Entertainment, creator of the "How to Do Florida" TV series, produced the channel and manages dedicated programming. FloridaKeysTV currently has more than 75 hours of one-hour and half-hour episodes about history, environmental stewardship, ecotourism, fishing, diving and travel adventures. Additional programming is planned. Visit floridakeystv.com.

The Florida Keys Traveler podcast, showcasing the continental United States' southernmost island chain's heritage from the early 1800s to the present, is to air the 30th episode of its first season on July 3, commemorating the date of July 3, 1823, when the Florida Territorial Legislature established the Keys' Monroe County. The podcast launched globally March 23 on more than 25 platforms including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and Spotify. Episodes feature Keys personalities including historians, wildlife experts, environmentalists, entrepreneurs and adventurers. Presenter Elizabeth Harryman Lasley has hosted shows on KABC Radio and Southern California Public Radio station KPCC, and is immediate past president of the Society of American Travel Writers. Visit fla-keys.com/podcast/.

Keys Fishing

The new Landboat Charters - billed as the Florida Keys' only team providing onshore bridge fishing charters with experienced local guides- offers new family-friendly, three-hour bridge and Key West pier fishing charters that include rods, gear, bait and cold bottled water. Approximate start times, depending on seasonal tides, are 8-10 a.m. and 2-5 p.m. Nonresidents are required to have a valid Florida fishing license, priced from $17 for three days at GoOutdoorFlorida.com. Landboat Charters' outings are priced from $298 for two people, with an $85 charge for each additional participant over 6 years old and no charge for the first two children under 6. Visit fishthebridges.com or call 305-204-9772.

Keys Dining

Mrs. Mac's Kitchen restaurants - with two popular Upper Keys venues known for their motto: "Eat well, laugh often, live long" - have been sold to Stephanie Figueroa, owner and operator of Fernandez the Bull, a Cuban grill at Tradewinds Plaza in Key Largo, and other southwest Florida restaurants. Figueroa plans to maintain the legacy of the restaurants, popular for their generous portions, reasonable prices, funky atmosphere and Key lime pie. The original rustic Mrs. Mac's Kitchen, located at 99336 Overseas Highway, is open Mondays through Saturdays, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mrs. Mac's II is located at 99020 Overseas Highway and is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Both locations are closed Sundays. Visit mrsmacskitchen.com or call 305-451-3722 or 305-451-6227.

In Islamorada, the 2.5-acre fully renovated waterfront Marker 88 restaurant has reopened with two open-air Tiki bars, 18 craft beer taps, 10,000 square feet of beach dining and two boat docks allowing boaters to dock their vessels for lunch, dinner and carryout. Restaurant seating is all outdoors, with 200 seats under cover and 200 for beachfront seating. In addition, there's 14,000 square feet of new event space that can accommodate up to 450. Newly added mature landscaping includes gumbo limbo trees. Menu items are flavored with Floridian-, Caribbean- and French Polynesian–inspired flair. Located at 88000 Overseas Highway, the iconic Keys venue originally opened in 1967. Visit marker88.net/ or call 305-852-9315.

In Islamorada, a revitalized Oceanside Safari Restaurant and Lounge has opened with a full-service waterfront restaurant, expanded menu and bar at Caloosa Cove Resort and Marina, replacing the Safari Lounge, a locals' favorite watering hole for libations and snacks, and a filming location for the Netflix "Bloodline" series. The revamped venue still has animal-themed décor but with a contemporary, updated design featuring 90 seats inside and 60 seats outdoors. Texas-based Suntex Marina Investors acquired the Caloosa Cove Resort and Marina, home to the restaurant, in 2022. Oceanside Safari is located at 73814 Overseas Highway and is open daily for lunch and dinner. Visit OceansideSafari.com or call 305-390-4572.

Located on a private island off Little Torch Key in the Lower Keys, Little Palm Island Resort & Spa, accessible only by the resort's antique motor-yacht The Truman or by private boat or seaplane, has resumed its Sunday Brunch Experience. Offered from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., it features welcome champagne, an unlimited selection of coursed small plates and a signature grazing table with charcuterie and nibbles. Reservations are required to accommodate a limited number of off-island guests. Dress code is "refined island casual" at the resort's The Dining Room. A source of Keys memories and milestone celebrations, the brunch is priced from $175 per person plus tax and gratuity. Email diningroom@littlepalmisland.com or call 305-422-4236.

Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS
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