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Winter in the Florida Keys & Key West Ushers in Sunny, Breezy Outdoor Experiences

FLORIDA KEYS — Winter may bring snowy or freezing weather to many U.S. locations, but the 125-mile-long Florida Keys island chain ushers in subtropical warmth and a variety of outdoor and cultural activities for visitors.

Keys resorts continue to undergo rebranding, renovations and expansions, adding suites for families that allow social distancing while reconnecting with loved ones.

New seasonal winter flights into Key West include daily nonstop service from Houston on United Airlines, and daily service from Boston, Orlando and Tampa on American Airlines. Aztec Airways has new service from Fort Lauderdale.

In Key West, masks are mandated everywhere outside of a lodging establishment or residence. Throughout all other areas of the Keys, everyone must carry a facial covering for immediate use to be worn inside businesses and outdoors when 6 feet of social distancing is not possible. Masks may be removed for eating or drinking.

Visitor venues, attractions and resorts throughout the Keys have enhanced sanitization and safety measures. For comprehensive COVID-19 visitor guidelines, visit fla-keys.com. Among what’s new:

Keys Visitor Health Protection

A coronavirus-fighting robot is patrolling Key West International Airport’s interior spaces after hours. The robot emits high-intensity ultraviolet UV-C wavelength light that kills harmful pathogens in the air and on surfaces. The ultraviolet disinfection robot, developed by UVD Robots, is designed to remove 99.9% of pathogens including coronavirus. Key West International Airport is among the first airports in the United States to acquire one of the sophisticated units that provides nonchemical disinfection, according to a manufacturer’s representative.

The equipment’s acquisition was motivated by a desire to augment the airport’s other cleanliness and passenger protection practices to safeguard against coronavirus, said Richard Strickland, director of airports for the Keys’ Monroe County.

The robot can move around the airport autonomously, while a human operator is to ensure people are away from spaces it will sanitize and monitors its progress via a smart tablet. The robot’s autonomous operation is vital, since the light it emits during the active disinfection cycle is so intense it can only be used after hours when people are not present. For further safety, a sensor will shut the light down if a human presence is detected to protect people from UV-C exposure.

Officials said the robot can disinfect the entire airport’s interior spaces in approximately 2.5 hours. Visit Key West International Airport at eyw.com.

Keys Accommodations

In Marathon, the 16-acre waterfront Faro Blanco Resort & Yacht Club, with 125 rooms and a 73-slip marina accommodating vessels up to 120 feet, has been acquired by EOS Investors LLC, which describes it as an “amenity-rich, destination resort.” EOS also owns the nearby Isla Bella Beach Resort. Faro Blanco’s amenities include the 199-seat Lighthouse Grill with expansive waterfront views, two swimming pools, bar, market, fitness center, on-site watersports and fishing charters, and more than 11,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space. The resort’s on-site landmark Faro Blanco Lighthouse has guided guests by land and sea since the 1950s. Visit faroblancoresort.com or call 305-743-1234.

The historic Casa Marina Key West, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, celebrated its 100th anniversary on New Year’s Eve as the final project of industrialist Henry M. Flagler, founder of the Florida Keys East Coast Railroad that stretched from the Florida mainland to Key West. Casa Marina opened on New Year's Eve 1920 as Key West's most glamorous resort . It was converted into U.S. Navy office headquarters from 1942-1946 and was commandeered by the U.S. military during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Notable guests have included Ernest Hemingway, Rita Hayworth and other famous Keys visitors. Today the landmark resort, beloved by locals and visitors, offers 311 rooms and suites, two private pools, a large private beach and the island’s largest space for meetings and weddings with 11,000 square feet indoors and outdoors. Amenities include Spa al Mare; Flagler’s Ballroom, serving daily breakfast; and the outdoor Sun Sun Beach Bar & Grill with lunch, dinner and “toes in the sand” dining options. Visit casamarinaresort.com or call 305-296-3535.

In Key West, the 219-room Kimpton Key West collection is adding its fourth and fifth Old Town boutique-style resorts. Ridley House (the former Cypress House Inn) at 601 Caroline St., ideal for honeymooners and VIPs, is to open March 15.  Ella’s Cottages at 811 Simonton St., for groups and extended stays, opened Nov. 15. Recently unveiled are the 44-room Fitch Lodge, 1030 Eaton St.; the 45-unit Lighthouse Hotel, 902 Whitehead St.; and the 85-room Winslow’s Bungalows, 725 Truman Ave., named after artist Winslow Homer and the collection’s largest property with three pools. Each pet-friendly resort has continental breakfasts, complimentary bikes, hammocks and its own pool. Visit kimptonkeywest.com or call 877-219-4500.

The new boutique Capitana Key West — one of the closest properties on North Roosevelt Boulevard to downtown Duval Street and with a private beach fronting the Gulf of Mexico — opened in February as an Opal Collection property. Seventy-five rooms, each with a balcony, include 64 units with Gulf views and 11 townhome-style cottages (offering grocery deliveries from Fausto’s Food Palace). The 64 units include 3 suites with two bedrooms (one with bunks and one a king); 32 king rooms, some with wraparound Gulf-view balconies; and 29 queen rooms with kitchenettes. Four units are ADA-accessible. Amenities include a 24-hour fitness center and lobby market shop. It’s at 2401 N. Roosevelt Blvd., previously the site of Banana Bay Resort & Marina. Visit thecapitanakeywest.com or call 305-292-6925. 

Margaritaville Key West Resort & Marina has also been rebranded as the 178-room Opal Key Resort & Marina as part of the Opal Collection Hotels & Resorts. A seamless transition is to unveil a resort known for offering its popular Key West experiences with a convenient, central location adjacent to Mallory Square at 245 Front St. The resort is home to a full-service 37-slip marina with watersports, outdoor and indoor dining options, waterside shops and live entertainment. Visit opalcollection.com or call 305-294-4000.

Keys Airlift 

Beginning Dec. 17, United Airlines launched daily nonstop service between Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) and Key West International Airport (EYW). United’s Embraer E175 aircraft offers seating for 70 passengers, with 42 standard economy seats, 16 economy-plus seats and 12 first-class seats. The seasonal flights, a new market with United for the Keys, are scheduled to run through May 5. Visit United Airlines at united.com or call 800-864-8331, or visit Key West International Airport at eyw.com or call 305-809-5200.

Also beginning Dec. 17, American Airlines added daily holiday service from Boston International Airport (BOS) to Key West International Airport (EYW) on Embraer E175 aircraft. Also Dec. 17, American added new daily nonstop flights from Orlando International Airport (MCO) and Tampa International Airport (TPA) on 76-seat Embraer E175 regional jets to EYW. American’s new daily Orlando and Tampa flights, scheduled to run through April 5 and 6, 2021, have seating for 64 main cabin and 12 first-class passengers. Visit American Airlines at aa.com or call 800-733-4300, or Key West International Airport at eyw.com or call 305-809-5200.

Fort Lauderdale–based Aztec Airways offers nonstop scheduled flights and private charters from Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport to Key West International Airport (EYW) on air-conditioned, nine-seat Piper Chieftain aircraft. Passengers check in at Aztec Airways’ facility at the Key West Ferry Terminal. After check-in, a private shuttle takes passengers to EYW, where they are dropped off at the plane for direct boarding, avoiding security lines. Aztec, founded in 1988, is an on-demand commuter scheduled air carrier. Roundtrip flights are priced at $249 per person including tax. Visit flyaztec.com or call 954-601-3742.

Keys Parks

In the Lower Keys, the 524-acre Bahia Honda State Park is undergoing a $2.96 million restoration of its Sandspur area on the park's north side, with completion targeted by late 2021. Full restoration includes its mile-long Sandspur Beach, 24-campsite Sandspur campgrounds, a 155-car parking area and two shower towers at the day-use area. The park, known for sandy beaches, shallow-water swimming and snorkeling, is located at 36850 Overseas Highway. Visit floridastateparks.org/BahiaHonda or call 305-872-2353.

Keys Experiences

In Key West, visitors can pen their own stories in the second-story writing studio of Ernest Hemingway at his Spanish colonial villa, the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum at 907 Whitehead St. A three-hour, after-hours experience for two can inspire creativity in the space where Hemingway penned “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and other works. “For a writer to be able to occupy Hemingway's same space, and soak in the same creative atmosphere he did, is a priceless opportunity,” said Mike Morawski, the museum’s chief executive officer. Cost varies; advance reservations are required. Email hemingwayhomemedia@gmail.com.

The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum also has a new virtual book club, offered through Facebook @Hemingway Home Book Club, featuring selected books every six weeks. Launching Jan. 1, its selections are to focus on books by author Ernest Hemingway and works of historical and modern fiction relating to Hemingway. Book discounts are to be offered through an online book store. Email hemingwaybookclub@gmail.com or call 305-294-1136.

The Lighthouse Hotel, a Kimpton Key West collection member located 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 literary legend’s former home, can be reserved for a culinary experience with a custom menu created by Great Events Catering, cocktail hour with butler-passed hors d’oeuvres and a multicourse in-suite meal prepared by a private chef. Contact megan.coccitto@kimptonkeywest.com or call 305-294-8067.

BeachBunny’s Original Tours of Key West offers GPS-driven downloadable audio and multimedia tours for walking, biking and driving. Visitors can maintain social distancing and get an authentic, immersive Key West experience. Tours include Easy Stroll Through Old Town, Key West; Perfect Key West Sunset Stroll; Bike the Beaches and Back Roads of Key West; and Day Trip! A Drive Through the Lower Keys. Interested participants can download BeachBunny Tours’ free app to a phone or tablet through the Apple Store or Google Play, then choose a desired tour. Visit beachbunnytours.com.

Keys Lighthouses

The Key West Art & Historical Society offers a Key West Lighthouse Sunset Experience for groups of up to eight, featuring 90 minutes of exclusive access to the lighthouse, keeper’s quarters and grounds. The lighthouse, opened in 1848, has 88 steps to reach the top. 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. The grounds and keeper’s quarters museum are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Contact mgieda@kwahs.org. 

Dry Tortugas National Park, located about 70 miles off Key West, has begun a $4.5 million three-phase full restoration of its 144-year-old iron-plated Tortugas Harbor Lighthouse on historic Fort Jefferson, considered an iconic symbol of the remote park. “While partial repairs to the lighthouse have occurred over the past 40 years, it has never received this kind of comprehensive preservation,” said Pedro Ramos, South Florida parks and preserve superintendent. The project, funded from park entrance fees, includes disassembling the 37-foot-tall iron structure; metal conservation and repair in Alexander City, Alabama; and reassembly in Dry Tortugas. The lighthouse was deactivated in 1921. Visit nps.gov/drto/learn/historyculture/lighthouses.htm.

Keys Art

In Marathon, The Art Corner, created by resident artist Renee Anderson, features local works including paintings, jewelry, pop art, resin casting and fused glass. The Art Corner represents five local artists. Additional information can be found at the studio’s Facebook @Art Corner. It’s open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and located in the space “Signs by Renee” at 72 Coco Plum Drive. Call 305-743-5151. 

Keys Watersports

The Florida Keys tourism council has produced and debuted on its social media channels an educational video that encourages visitors to practice safe, responsible actions when boating, diving and fishing in the island chain. Providing safety tips and guidelines are Bobby Dube, Florida Keys public information officer for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Middle Keys dive operator Wendy Hall and Lower Keys–based sportfishing guide Captain Will Benson. "By educating visitors on the fragility of Keys marine resources before their trips, we help increase their understanding so they'll be more likely to protect those resources," said tourism council Director Stacey Mitchell. Visit fla-keys.com/sustain.

Faro Blanco Resort & Yacht Club's on-site landmark Faro Blanco Lighthouse has guided guests by land and sea since the 1950s.

Faro Blanco Resort & Yacht Club's on-site landmark Faro Blanco Lighthouse has guided guests by land and sea since the 1950s.

In Key West, masks are mandated everywhere outside of a lodging establishment or residence.

In Key West, masks are mandated everywhere outside of a lodging establishment or residence.

A coronavirus-fighting robot patrols Key West International Airport’s interior spaces after hours. Image: Rob O'Neal

A coronavirus-fighting robot patrols Key West International Airport’s interior spaces after hours. Image: Rob O'Neal

The historic Casa Marina Key West, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, celebrates its 100th anniversary on New Year’s Eve.

The historic Casa Marina Key West, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, celebrates its 100th anniversary on New Year’s Eve.

United Airlines offers daily nonstop service between Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport and Key West International Airport, utilizing Embraer E175 aircraft.

United Airlines offers daily nonstop service between Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport and Key West International Airport, utilizing Embraer E175 aircraft.

Visitors can pen their own stories in the second-story writing studio of Ernest Hemingway at his Spanish colonial villa, the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum

Visitors can pen their own stories in the second-story writing studio of Ernest Hemingway at his Spanish colonial villa, the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum

Dry Tortugas National Park, located about 70 miles off Key West, has begun a full restoration of its 144-year-old iron-plated Tortugas Harbor Lighthouse on historic Fort Jefferson.

Dry Tortugas National Park, located about 70 miles off Key West, has begun a full restoration of its 144-year-old iron-plated Tortugas Harbor Lighthouse on historic Fort Jefferson.

A new educational video encourages visitors to practice safe, responsible actions when boating, diving and fishing in the island chain.

A new educational video encourages visitors to practice safe, responsible actions when boating, diving and fishing in the island chain.

This article was updated on March 15, 2021 at 3:31 PM
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