FLORIDA KEYS — The Florida Keys are bustling as new resorts continue to be unveiled throughout the destination. New sustainable transportation options have been added in Islamorada’s Upper Matecumbe Key and expanded in Key West. Additionally, new airlift is coming to Key West from New York City and has been launched from Florida’s West Palm Beach.
Attractions continue to showcase sustainability and protection of the Keys’ natural resources and the island chain’s surrounding waters, protected by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Here’s what’s new:
In Key Largo, the adults-only Bungalows Key Largo, a 12-acre 135-unit “luxury inclusive” resort is scheduled to open Dec. 20 as the Key’s first all-inclusive resort. It is to be managed by Noble House Hotels & Resorts. Located at mile marker 99 bayside, the resort features a Zen Garden Spa, two in-ground pools, a fitness Tiki hut, 1,000 feet of shoreline, three piers to accommodate 40-foot-long boats, 800-square-foot bungalows and 4,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space. Dining venues are Bogie & Bacall’s, Sea Señor, Fish Tales and a food truck, while two on-site bars can satisfy thirsty customers. Rates include golf cart pickup and drop-off service, lodging, food and premium beverages, resort amenities, water toys, activities such as morning yoga, cooking and mixology classes, sunset happy hours, fish fries and pig roasts. Visit BungalowsKeyLargo.com or call 866-801-0195.
The new 200-room, 13-acre Baker’s Cay Resort, at mile marker 97 bayside in Key Largo, is accepting bookings for stays beginning Feb. 28. The Florida Keys’ only Curio Collection by Hilton, the property is to feature a Cay-9 pet program with amenities such as pet beds, animal lifejackets, cooling water bowls and collar charms. Pets can explore the hotel’s private beach and swim in Florida Bay during Paw Happy Hour. “Puptails” include bacon-flavored “yappetizers,” Cay-9 Kibble and Catch of the Day entrees, ice cream bones, Dog Perignon Champagne (filtered water with wild Alaskan salmon oil) and FetchMe Noir (filtered water infused with organic bacon extract). Pet parents can indulge at a beachside tequila and taco bar with house-made hot sauces crafted from peppers grown on the property. Visit bakerscayresort.com or call 305-852-5553.
In Islamorada, the 24-acre, 115-room Islander Resort at mile marker 82.1 oceanside is to partially reopen in late December, unveiling a full transformation as a greenhotels.com partner member. Cottage-style units feature sleek, contemporary décor with screened lanais and upscale in-room amenities. Watersports, massage and wellness services, two pools, a hot tub and a new family splash pad are among resort offerings. Dining concepts include Elements Lounge & Restaurant and the casual poolside Tides Beachside Bar & Grill. The Islander Conference Center, with state-of-the-art facilities, overlooks the newly installed Great Lawn. Visit islanderfloridakeys.com or call 305-664-2031.
Marathon’s 24-acre, 199-unit Isla Bella Beach Resort, located at the Seven Mile Bridge oceanside at mile marker 47, is scheduled to open in March with a 4,000-square-foot spa, five pools, four food and beverage concepts, a marina and more than 24,000 square feet of meeting and event space. Dining venues include Il Postino, a Neapolitan-style restaurant; The Beach Bar; The Burger Palace; and Manatee Bay Marketplace, a waterfront cafe with shopping. Bocce, croquet, oversized chess, complimentary bicycles, on-site watersports and guided fishing expeditions are among activities to be offered. Visit islabellabeachresort.com or call 844-752-2352.
In Key West, the 148-unit Parrot Key Hotel & Villas is partially open with a full refurbishment, poolside Tortuga Bar, on-site bicycles and jet skis. Guests are greeted with a signature welcome cocktail. The resort’s new Grove Kitchen & Bar is scheduled to open in January. A waterfront villa experience and upgraded Beach Club program also are to be added. Villas offer multiple bedrooms, space for entertaining, separate living room and wet bar. Waterfront villas are to offer a complimentary one-hour stay extension on request and twice-daily ice delivered to the room. Parrot Key is located at 2801 N. Roosevelt Blvd. Visit parrotkeyhotel.com or call 888-974-9813.
The 64-unit all-suite Laureate Key West has opened, appointed with “coastal chic” rooms with full kitchenettes including refrigerator, stove top, microwave and dishwasher. Spacious suites feature premium cable channels, complimentary high-speed Wi-Fi, a coffee maker and work desk. A large pool cabana is available on a complimentary, first-come, first-served basis. The Laureate is located at 3444 N. Roosevelt Blvd. Visit thelaureatekeywest.com or call 305-296-7593.
Need a ride on Islamorada’s Upper Matecumbe Key after shopping or dining? Freebee Islamorada is operating a new free electric vehicle ride service Thursdays through Sundays. A six-month trial was launched Nov. 29 by the Village of Islamorada and Freebee. Freebee’s service is offered Thursdays and Fridays from 4 p.m. to midnight, Saturdays from noon to midnight, and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. The service is not offered Monday through Wednesday. To download the Freebee app, visit islamorada.fl.us/news_detail_T13_R188.php or ridefreebee.com/ or call 305-502-4191.
Delta Air Lines is to launch new seasonal service between New York’s LaGuardia and Key West International airports, with Saturday flights from March 9 through Aug. 31. Delta Connection carrier Republic Airline is to operate the flights on Embraer E-170 aircraft, with 69 seats including nine first-class seats. Delta flies daily between Key West and Atlanta year-round. Visit delta.com or call 800-221-1212, or eyw.com or call 305-809-5200.
Southern Airways Express offers new roundtrip daily weekday and twice-daily weekend service to Key West from West Palm Beach on Cessna Caravan nine-passenger turboprop aircraft. The nonstop service operates between fixed-base operators Atlantic Aviation at West Palm Beach’s Palm Beach (PBI) and Signature Flight Support at Key West (EYW) international airports. Those private terminals are “non-sterile,” meaning the flights do not depart from the two airports’ main terminals. Visit iFlySouthern.com or call 800-329-0485.
Key West’s free Duval Loop bus has expanded its service, operating daily from 6 a.m. to midnight year-round with 18 stops for easy car-free access to Mallory Square, Truman Waterfront Park and many of the island’s popular attractions. The Duval Loop route begins at the Park ‘N Ride on Caroline Street and proceeds to Simonton Street and Front Street near the waterfront, up Whitehead Street and to the park, to the area near the Southernmost Point marker, and eventually down Fleming to White Street and back to the Park ‘N Ride. The service operates four pink-and-blue buses. The loop takes about 30 minutes roundtrip. Visit carfreekeywest.com or call 305-809-3911.
Islamorada’s Florida Keys History & Discovery Center at Islander Resort, mile marker 82, has unveiled a new Coral Reef Exploration exhibit with three aquariums, educational storyboards, interactive kiosks and video monitors. A 1,250-gallon aquarium showcases native local species such as angel and butterfly fish, tangs and wrasse, and invertebrates making their home on and around Keys coral reefs. Two 280-gallon aquariums support invasive lionfish, live corals, crustaceans and reef fish. The exhibit is the result of a partnership between Mote Marine Laboratory and the Florida Keys History and Discovery Foundation, which operates the Discovery Center. The $250,000 project was funded in part by the Monroe County Tourist Development Council, in-kind contributions from Mote and donations. Visit keysdiscovery.com or call 305-922-2237.
In Marathon, Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters now offers tank certification packages and occasional visits by “mermaids” during special events. Aquarium Encounters certification, priced at $250 and guided by the National Association of Underwater Instructors, is an immersive coral reef tank encounter. Participants can feed tropical fish and cownose rays in the 200,000-gallon tank, as well as feed sharks through acrylic glass partitions that separate guests from the sharks. The package includes Aquarium Encounters admission for a year, personalized tank certification card, complimentary fin and snorkel coupon at Deep Blue Dive, 25 percent discounts on future encounters and 10 percent café and gift shop discounts. The certification card is valid at other NAUI Dream Destinations, but is not an open-water dive certification. Visit floridakeysaquariumencounters.com or call 305-407-3262.
On Big Pine Key, the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Nature Center is scheduled to open in January. The new center, with 1,500 square feet of exhibition space, showcases the Keys’ four national wildlife refuges: National Key Deer, Great White Heron, Key West and Crocodile Lake refuges. It’s located at 30587 Overseas Highway near mile marker 30.5. The National Key Deer Refuge, established in 1957 to protect and preserve the diminutive Key deer and other Keys wildlife resources, celebrated its 60th anniversary in December 2017. Visit fws.gov/refuge/National_Key_Deer_Refuge/ or call 305-872-0774.
Key West’s Mel Fisher Maritime Museum at 200 Greene St. has unveiled a new exhibit titled “With Little More Than the Shirts on Their Backs.” The exhibit features displays of personal choices and items that Cuban balseros, or rafters, brought to the Keys on chugs — handmade boats — on their treacherous journeys to freedom. The museum’s second-floor exhibit joins its “Voyage to Freedom” series, with chugs as part of the museum’s “continuing exploration of a specific and short-lived period in contemporary American and Caribbean history that saw a tremendous influx of Cuban balseros risking everything for a new life,” said executive director Melissa Kendrick. The U.S. wet-foot, dry-foot policy, which ended in January 2017, allowed fleeing Cubans — usually traveling on chugs across the Florida Straits — who landed on U.S. soil to remain. The museum also is home to artifacts and treasure recovered from two shipwrecked Spanish galleons, Nuestra Señora de Atocha and Santa Margarita, which departed Cuba in 1622 and later sank off the Florida Keys. Visit melfisher.org or call 305-294-2633.
On Summerland Key, Mote Marine Laboratory’s Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research and Restoration offers new complimentary public tours from 10-11 a.m. Tuesdays and 3-4 p.m. Fridays. The tours are geared toward those interested in learning about the science behind coral restoration, said Allison Delashmit, Florida Keys community relations and community manager. Reservations are not required. Mote currently is working to restore 70,000 coral fragments along about 130 acres of the Florida Reef Tract. The Lower Keys center also is restoring coral genetic varieties resilient to disease and climate change impact threats. IC2R3 is located at 24244 Overseas Highway. Visit mote.org or call 305-745-2729.
The British Guild of Travel Writers recently honored the Tennessee Williams Key West Exhibit (recently renamed the Tennessee Williams Museum), giving it a Highly Commended Award in its Best Wider World Tourism Project category at the organization’s annual tourism awards in London. “Tennessee Williams is an important part of the literary movement that resulted in Key West and the Florida Keys being recognized as the cultural and historical location it is today,” said Stacey Mitchell, the Florida Keys tourism council’s marketing director. Williams visited and lived in Key West from 1941 until his death in 1983. It’s believed he wrote the final draft of “A Streetcar Named Desire” while staying at the La Concha hotel in Key West in 1947. Williams purchased a house at 1431 Duncan St. and made it his home for 34 years. The museum, located at 513 Truman Ave., is overseen by the Key West Art & Historical Society. Visit kwahs.org/museums/tennessee-williams/tennessee-williams-in-key-west or call 305-204-4527.
The 32-passenger When and If, a historic wooden schooner built for George S. Patton in 1939, has returned to the Keys for the season through mid-May, operating out of Stock Island Marina Village. The sleek black yacht originally was commissioned by Patton, then a U.S. Army colonel, for the intention of sailing around the world with wife Bea. Patton died in 1945 as a celebrated Army general. When and If was designed by noted marine architect John Alden, built by F.F. Pendleton for racing and safe, comfortable and luxurious family voyaging. Passengers can step aboard the classic vessel for day or sunset sails or private charters. Visit sailwhenandif.com or call 305-587-4488.
Key West Historic Markers Inc., a free self-guided, multiplatform tour program of historical sites, has merged with Key West Art & Historical Society. Tours feature 121 historic location markers showcasing Key West’s colorful history, with phone apps that serve as “docents” to support the walking tours. Key West has one of the United States’ largest historic districts and the nation’s densest accumulation of historic frame vernacular buildings. Key West Historic Markers Inc. will remain a nonprofit, while KWAHS is to “serve as stewards to its programs and research and propel the founders’ vision forward.” To plan a tour, visit the Key West Historic Marker Tour website at KWHMT.org, download the free Key West Historic Marker Tour phone app at keywest.oncell.com or call 305-507-0300.
The Nature Conservancy has unveiled #RespectOurReef guidelines for divers, snorkelers and anglers to help protect the continental United States’ only living coral barrier reef system, which runs parallel to the Florida Keys. Tips include anchoring away from corals and using a mooring ball if possible, avoiding touching coral, using coral-safe sunscreen and avoiding leaving unwanted fishing lines or other litter in the water. Divers, snorkelers and anglers who see coral issues, such as bleaching or disease, are urged to report information to Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s SEAFAN, or Southeast Florida Action Network. They also are encouraged to pledge to share details about #RespectOurReef. Visit nature.org/respectourreef/.
The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary has added three participants to its Blue Star Fishing Guides program. New members are Doghouse Sportfishing Charters in Islamorada, Double Haul Charters on Summerland Key and Rusty’s Bucket Charters in Key West. Blue Star programs for fishing, dive and snorkel operators encourage sustainable recreational fishing, diving and snorkeling practices to preserve the Keys’ fragile underwater ecosystems. Operators undergo annual compliance evaluations. The Blue Star program currently has 22 dive and 10 fishing charter operator members. Visit sanctuarybluestar.org or call 305-809-4700.
Yellowfin Bar & Grill at Oceans Edge Key West Resort & Marina has unveiled a new culinary concept, blending island-inspired cuisine with Asian flair under executive chef Katie Wenmark, who launched Hull & Mason Bar and Kitchen at Boston Marriott Quincy. Yellowfin, with al fresco and indoor dining, offers a “dock to dish” program, sourcing fish and shrimp directly from the Stock Island marina. “On the Rock” options let diners cook their fish or meat — yellowfin tuna, Key West pink shrimp, grouper or a filet mignon — on a sizzling stone. The restaurant’s interior has been redesigned with new seating and décor. The resort is located at 5950 Peninsular Ave. on Stock Island. Visit oceansedgekeywest.com or call 305-809-8204 or 786-862-6312.
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS