Instead of celebrating the lead-up to Santa’s Dec. 25 arrival by bestowing daily gifts (as suggested in “The Twelve Days of Christmas”), consider celebrating with experiences. Florida Keys experiences, to be exact — because the island chain’s December calendar is packed with creative, colorful and heartwarming events designed to spark smiles and lasting memories.
Terry Helmers is a Florida Keys volunteer extraordinaire. His underwater specialty, as a volunteer and as a NOAA- and national parks-authorized diver, is mooring buoys. The dedicated Helmers has logged about 800 volunteer hours with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and more than 2,300 at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.
Every year, many thousands of visitors flock to the Florida Keys & Key West — the continental United States’ southernmost island chain — to celebrate life and its milestones. With sunrise on one side of the islands and sunset on the other, the Keys are an ideal place to romance, celebrate and share memorable moments.
Incredible as it may seem, ’tis the season to be jolly — despite Christmas still being weeks away. But in the celebration-loving Florida Keys, mid-November brings the first stirrings of holiday spirit. So there are plenty of festivities coming up, ranging from traditional to offbeat (and all, of course, with a unique island twist).
Viewing a sea turtle release, and seeing the rehabilitated creature return to the Florida Keys waters where it belongs, can make you cry. There’s something about watching a turtle slip into its saltwater habitat and swim joyfully away that touches the heart and inspires a powerful sense of oneness with the natural order.
Divers planning a Florida Keys vacation can anticipate days of world-class underwater adventure — exploring a fascinating shipwreck trail that stretches from Key Largo to Key West within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The trail features long-ago wrecks and ships intentionally sunk to create artificial reefs, now home to myriad fish and corals.
Visitors seeking cultural experiences to supplement the Florida Keys’ subtropical “fun and sun” lure will find arts offerings in virtually all genres. Enthusiasts can discover galleries from Key Largo to Key West, festivals that spotlight the island chain’s rich creative heritage, eclectic events that showcase the talents of local residents — and even gyotaku.
Some people who come to the Florida Keys are hungry for adventure in the island chain’s turquoise waters. Some are hungry for time to recharge in nature, or share sun-splashed romance with that special someone. And others are hungry for something more elemental: the chance to enjoy the Keys’ enticing seafood-based cuisine.
When the “real world” seems especially stressful, escape to a place that recharges the body, soothes the soul and inspires reconnection with life’s natural rhythms. The Florida Keys backcountry is that place — a realm of wild beauty and tranquil waters, with one of the most diverse assortments of marine life on the planet.
Artist Taylor Hale, a Florida Keys native raised in Key Largo, has come home. Hale is known for his stunning ethereal works of clouds and surreal scenes of the Keys’ natural world, mostly on and around the water. He recently unveiled an Islamorada gallery to display his artistry, with a second coming soon.