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.
Mill McCleary, executive director of the Reef Relief organization based in Key West, uses advocacy and organizational skills to create tangible impacts through clean water and healthy ecosystems. He has overseen Reef Relief’s establishment of Key West Marine Park, founding of Coral Camp for Kids, and recent Plastic Free Key West program.
Stone crab claws offer sweet and scrumptious meat that’s among the Florida Keys’ most popular delicacies. Once the stone crab harvest season begins each Oct. 15, the savory claws appear prominently on Keys restaurant menus — triggering a veritable stampede of eager seafood fans. There’s even an annual Stone Crab Eating Contest in November.
Fans of the Florida Keys’ quirky creativity and whimsical spirit can celebrate both —and the island chain’s 200th anniversary — during Key West’s eagerly anticipated Fantasy Fest. The fabulous costuming and masking festival is scheduled Oct. 20-29, with a jam-packed schedule that includes masquerade balls, costume competitions, glamorous galas and a spectacular grand parade.
Alligator Reef Lighthouse, a 150-year-old lighthouse that has been dark for a decade, is shining again at night in the Florida Keys. An Islamorada group working to restore the aging lighthouse recently installed solar-powered lights in the lantern room — shining a beacon across the water to highlight the need to preserve the landmark.
Sue Cooper, a Florida Keys paddleboard guru and author of “Millionaire in Flip Flips,” is the face of Lazy Dog Adventures — known for its slogan, “We do more in a week than most people do all day.” But don’t be fooled by that slogan; Sue is brimming with business acumen and motivational concepts.