Spring Into the Florida Keys & Key West with New Airlift, Resorts and Outdoor Experiences

FLORIDA KEYS —The Florida Keys & Key West are experiencing an active spring with added airlift into Key West, new accommodations and outdoor experiences that include the launch of Islamorada’s first coral dive and transplant activities.

New nonstop flights to Key West International Airport are scheduled in June from Nashville, Tennessee — home to a variety of country artists with musical ties and connections to the annual Key West Songwriters Festival — and from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and greater Cincinnati, Ohio.

Keys Airlift

Allegiant Air is adding twice-weekly nonstop service to Key West International Airport on Airbus A319 aircraft from three cities: beginning June 2 from Nashville International Airport on Wednesdays and Saturdays, beginning June 3 from Pittsburgh International Airport on Thursdays and Sundays, and beginning June 9 from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Allegiant chose Key West as one of its new U.S. gateway cities known for outdoor recreation.  Call 702-505-8888.

JetBlue has launched year-round, low-fare service to Key West from New York City’s John F. Kennedy and Boston Logan international airports. Flights are scheduled Thursdays, Fridays, Sundays and Mondays on Embraer 190 aircraft with 100 passenger seats, including 16 “even more space” seats and two-by-two seating with ample leg room. Flights include unlimited complimentary snacks and soft drinks, live programing on personal seatback televisions and free high-speed wireless internet.  Call 800-538-2583.

Through May 5 United Airlines has daily nonstop service between Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport and Key West. United’s 70-passenger Embraer E175 aircraft has 12 first-class, 16 economy-plus and 42 standard economy seats. United also has daily nonstop service from its hubs at Chicago O’Hare and New Jersey’s Newark Liberty international airports and Dulles International Airport in greater Washington, D.C. Call 800-864-8331. 

Keys Accommodations 

In Islamorada, the renovated pet-friendly Chesapeake Beach Resort, a Pacifica Host Hotels resort, has unveiled 20 new rooms in addition to the resort’s 32 previously renovated units. A new two-story Tiki hut is targeted for completion by summer’s end. In addition, 13 on-site villas are to undergo full renovations, scheduled for completion with new kitchenettes and bathrooms by mid-2022. The resort is located at 83409 Overseas Highway. Call 305-664-4662.

There are new retail offerings at The Perry Hotel Key West and Stock Island Marina Village’s 40-acre compound, including Arcimoto Key West, with three-wheel utility vehicle rentals; the F45 Studio, with full body workouts and weekly workout bootcamps on the event lawn; and the Key West Bouquet Bar, a flower cart with build-your-own, paper-wrapped floral bouquets and a “grab and go” wall with premade wrapped bouquets. The Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Co. is slated to open in April with farmer-direct coffees and smoothies at The Perry. Storefronts are located at 7001-7019 Shrimp Road. Call 305-296-1717.

In Key West, the 219-room Kimpton Key West collection's Ridley House, formerly the Cypress House, opened March 1 with 23 king rooms including two suites. The property is located at 601 Caroline St. and is ideal for honeymooners, couples and VIPs. Kimpton's four other boutique Key West properties are Ella's Cottages, with 22 rooms at 811 Simonton St.; the 44-room Fitch Lodge, 1030 Eaton St., targeting explorers; the 45-unit Lighthouse Hotel, 902 Whitehead St., positioned for groups, wedding parties and friends; and the 85-room Winslow's Bungalows, 725 Truman Ave., the collection's largest with three pools. Each of Kimpton's five Old Town resorts is pet-friendly and offers continental breakfast, complimentary bikes, hammocks and its own pool. Call 877-219-4500.

The new Capitana Key West — one of the closest North Roosevelt Boulevard properties to downtown Duval Street and with a private beach fronting the Gulf of Mexico — opened Feb. 10 as an Opal Collection property. Seventy-five units, 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 two-bedroom family suites (one with bunks and one a king) with small kitchen and dining area; 32 king rooms, some with wraparound gulf-view balconies; and 29 queen rooms all with kitchenettes. Four units comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Amenities include a 24-hour fitness center and lobby market shop. The property is located at 2401 N. Roosevelt Blvd. Call 305-296-6925.

Keys Attractions

In Key Largo, Keys’ Meads, the Keys’ only meadery, has a new 2,500-square-foot location offering tours, a tasting sampling room and retail space selling made-in-the-Keys mead — a fermented alcoholic beverage crafted from honey. Traditional meads from the family operation are made from Florida Keys honey, water and yeast, and come in dry, semi-dry or sweet versions, depending on ingredients added. A Meads Club offers shipments. Established in 2017, Keys’ Meads is now located at 99411 Overseas Highway, mile marker 99.4, and is open daily. Call 305-204-4596.

In Islamorada, Keys History & Discovery Center has reopened to visitors. Located on-site at Islander Resort, the facility is open Wednesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visitors can learn about Keys history through permanent exhibits about indigenous people, pirates, wreckers and salvagers, Spanish treasure fleets, the Florida Keys Over-Sea Railway and the Overseas Highway and examine a model replica of Indian Key as it was in 1840. A Coral Reef Exploration exhibit has three aquariums showcasing the Keys’ unique coral reef ecosystems. Health safety measures include mandatory face coverings, social distancing, hand sanitizer availability and plexiglass shields. Call 305-922-2237.

The Lagoon on Grassy Keya 49-acre action-sports eco-park, is now open in the Middle Keys. The facility is a consolidation of the former Keys Cable Wakeboard Park with ownership under Matt Sexton, local resident and owner of Grassy Flats Resort & Beach Club. The Lagoon offers kiteboarding, wakeboarding, foil-boarding, sailing, paddleboarding and kayaking. It also specializes as a local concierge, matching clients with expert guides for spear fishing, fly-fishing, charter fishing, and free diving. Experiential activities focus on hands-on instruction. On-site are the new 2,000-square-foot Bongos Café & Tropical Beer Garden; Lagoon Saloon, a giant wind, surf and lifestyle pro shop; and the nonprofit Florida Keys Community Center, established to serve the Grassy Key community with public gardens and sustainability programs. It’s located at 59300 Overseas Highway. Call 305-414-8245.

The Aquaplex, in the heart of Key West’s “pink triangle” or LBGTQ entertainment district where “reality is a drag,” has unveiled a new look. The property now has five venues including a new outdoor Hawaiian-themed restaurant — Poké in the Rear — serving lunch and dinner with a full bar in the compound’s back patio area. There’s also an expanded dance floor, doubled in size for socially distancing; the Back Bar, an outdoor garden bar; the 22&CO bar, known for its neon flamingo décor; and the Sidebar, a dance club connecting the venues. Owner–general manager Michael Ingram is a Key West architect. The complex, open from noon to 2 a.m. daily, is at 711 Duval St. Call 305-294-0555.

At Mallory Square, the city of Key West is scheduled to complete a $300,000-plus restoration in April of two historic, hexagonal cable structures used to store and protect giant spools of telegraph cable, laid underwater to enable communication between Key West and Havana. The structures, built on the mainland, were transported on the Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad to Key West locations prior to 1920, according to History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications. A similar hut, identified by a plaque detailing its history, is located near the Southernmost Point. Mallory Square overlooks Key West Harbor and is the site of the island’s famed nightly sunset celebration. 

In Key West, an outdoor space fronting the historic Fort East Martello Museum, managed by the Key West Art & Historical Society, is undergoing restoration with about $500,000 earmarked from the Monroe County Tourist Development Council. A reclamation of the former East Martello Park, the space is to be used for educational programs, concerts, weddings and outdoor events for up to 3,500. It’s located near Key West International Airport at 3501 S. Roosevelt Blvd. Call 305-296-3913.

Keys Experiences

In Islamorada, I.Care, the Keys’ newest coral reef restoration organization — partnering with Mote Marine Laboratory on Summerland Key and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Foundation — is scheduled to launch its first coral dive and transplant event in March through Key Dives operator and I.Care co-founder Mike Goldberg, an Islamorada resident, at Bud N’ Mary’s Marina. In addition, future weekly coral transplant trips are scheduled by Key Dives, Islamorada Dive Center and Conch Republic Divers. In partnership with I.Care, a new Mote Marine Laboratory land-based coral nursery at Bud N’ Mary’s is expected to be fully operational in May. I.Care’s mission is to transplant brain, star and branching corals — raised both onshore and offshore by Mote — to reefs off Islamorada. Call 305-664-2211.

In Marathon, Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters is offering “Biologist for a Day” summer camps for youths ages 10-18. One-, two- and three-day marine life educational programs are planned, led by the attraction’s marine biologists. Campers also can participate in marine life encounters, feeding activities and classroom sessions. Camps are scheduled for four to 10 participants and held 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with dates to be announced. Email info@floridakeysaquariumencounters.com.

Less than 3 miles from downtown Key West, Stock Island is gaining recognition as an off-the-beaten-path destination for art lovers. Self-guided I Love Stock Island Art Strolls, held on the second Saturday of each month, showcase eclectic art, Keys-crafted pieces and working studios. Participants can view creations by multiple artists in disciplines from sculpture to woodworking, mosaic, screen printing, soap and fabric art. Upcoming strolls are scheduled March 13 and April 10 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The I Love Stock Island Festival, celebrating the island’s heritage, seafood and culture, is slated June 16-20.  

Ever ridden in a presidential limo? In Key West, the Harry S. Truman Little White House, Florida’s only presidential museum, has acquired one of Truman’s presidential limousines, and a ride is included on the museum’s new White Glove Tour. The mid-century, mint-condition Lincoln Cosmopolitan stretch limo with 32,000 odometer miles was originally based in New York City for use by President Truman. The tour, just over two hours, is offered Monday through Friday at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., priced from $500 plus tax for up to six people, and includes a visit to the new Key West Harry S. Truman Foundation Suite adjacent to the museum. Several of the suite’s galleries feature newly unveiled artwork, photos and artifacts. Visitors can don white gloves to hold presidential memorabilia, then ride in the limo around Old Town Key West. Call 305-294-9911.

In Key West The Reach Resort Key West – Curio Collection by Hilton's Four Marlins restaurant offers a new “Table to Tide” prix fixe, six-course culinary experience curated by resort Chef Kevin Spencer. Menu highlights include a variety of seafood choices such as oysters and caviar, scallops with Latin-inspired sunchokes and frogmore stew with local shellfish. Priced at $400 per table for two, the on-the-beach dining features panoramic sunset views from Key West’s only natural sand beach and includes white-tablecloth service and a sparkling wine toast. Separate wine pairings also are offered. Call 305-296-5000.

The 90-minute Old Town Literary Walking Tour takes participants past sites and landmarks recalling world-renowned writers’ presence in Key West, illustrating the island city’s significance in the literary world. The tour features former homes and haunts of writers including Tennessee Williams, Shel Silverstein, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Frost and others. Currently limited to six participants (masks required), tours are $30 per person and take place at 5 p.m. Fridays and 10 a.m. Sundays, scheduled to run through May 30. Call 305-293-9291.

In Key West "Fabulous 500 Block of Fleming Street" businesses are kicking off their monthly First Fridays on Fleming buy-local self-guided event Friday, April 2, at 6-9 p.m. featuring locally owned and operated boutiques, bars, galleries and eateries. Participants include The Roost Bar and Liquor Store, La Rubia Panamanian Hats, Key West Island Books, Key West Local Luxe Jewelry Emporium (also hosting Facebook live “Pretty Party” jewelry sales events each weeknight at 5 p.m.), Amanda Johnson Fine Art, Sea Store Antiques, Duck & Dolphin Antiques, Clemente's Trolley Pizzaria, Thirsty Mermaid Seafood and Jean Pierre Klifa Resort Wear. Additional events are planned on the first Friday of every month. Call 305-304-9001.

Keys Watersports

In Marathon the new 2,000-square-foot Seven Mile Fly Shop is open, focusing on conservation and the Keys’ fishing community. It offers an around-the-clock open “flybrary” for sharing flies, guided fishing charters, casting lessons and a full line of apparel and gear for the beginning and experienced angler. The shop sells Free Fly, Tibo, Abel, Thomas & Thomas, Sage, R.I. Winston Rods and other fishing goods. It’s open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 1638 Overseas Highway. Call 305-440-3406. 

Charter boat operator Bluesail Vacation Yachts & Sailing Academy on Stock Island in the Lower Keys has added two monohull sailboats to its fleet for sailing education and on-the-water lessons. The academy’s sailing certification and licensing program — through NauticEd and specializing in globally recognized sailing education — meets United Nations Resolution 40 mariner competency and Coast Guard–recognized American National and National Association of State Boating Law Administrators standards. Online classes are also offered for all levels including for sailors who own or plan to purchase a sailboat, captain their own yacht or expand sailing knowledge. The operator is based at 7005 Shrimp Road. Call 813-601-5243.

Sea, Key West, a locally owned watersports company operated by resident John Hadfield, is now open at 720B Caroline St. in the island city. Sea, Key West also features an online store, curbside pickup for contactless delivery and complimentary Key West delivery for those preferring to purchase personal watersports gear rather than rent equipment. Dedicated to environmentally friendly practices, it provides eco-friendly packaging and carries brands that are reef-safe or make donations to keep oceans clean. Patrons can enjoy complimentary coffee, meet Freddy the Pirate Skeleton or take a photo with Maxine the Parrot. Call 305-741-7490.

Keys Accolades

Key West was the only Florida destination among the top 10 spots on international travel website Big 7 Travel’s annual 50 Best Coastal Towns in the United States report. “Countless pastel-colored homes, a robust vacation atmosphere, incredible seafood and the most gorgeous beaches in Florida definitely back up the claim,” Big 7 Travel wrote. “Then, below the water, you’ve got incredible vibrant coral perfect for scuba diving and crystal-clear waves perfect for wading the day away. It truly is paradise on earth.” 

Tripadvisor named Key West the fifth most popular U.S. destination in its 2021 Travelers’ Choice “Best of the Best” awards. Key West ranked just behind New York, New York; Maui, Hawaii; Las Vegas, Nevada; and New Orleans, Louisiana. “Key West's popularity as a vacation destination is a response to our wide-open spaces, subtropical island breezes and abundance of water activities," said Stacey Mitchell, director of the Florida Keys tourism council. 

Key West was the only Florida destination among the top 10 spots on international travel website Big 7 Travel’s annual 50 Best Coastal Towns in the United States report.

Key West was the only Florida destination among the top 10 spots on international travel website Big 7 Travel’s annual 50 Best Coastal Towns in the United States report.

Allegiant Air is adding twice-weekly nonstop service to Key West International Airport on Airbus A319 aircraft from Nashville, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

Allegiant Air is adding twice-weekly nonstop service to Key West International Airport on Airbus A319 aircraft from Nashville, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

In Islamorada, the renovated pet-friendly Chesapeake Beach Resort has unveiled 20 new rooms in addition to its 32 previously renovated units.

In Islamorada, the renovated pet-friendly Chesapeake Beach Resort has unveiled 20 new rooms in addition to its 32 previously renovated units.

The newly opened Ridley House, part of the Kimpton Key West hotel collection, is ideal for honeymooners, couples and VIPs.

The newly opened Ridley House, part of the Kimpton Key West hotel collection, is ideal for honeymooners, couples and VIPs.

The Lagoon at Grassy Key has evolved into a tropical adventure park, marketplace and day resort.

The Lagoon at Grassy Key has evolved into a tropical adventure park, marketplace and day resort.

I.Care’s mission is to transplant brain, star and branching corals, raised both onshore and offshore by Mote, to reefs off Islamorada.

I.Care’s mission is to transplant brain, star and branching corals, raised both onshore and offshore by Mote, to reefs off Islamorada.

History buffs who visit Key West’s Harry S. Truman Little White House can now ride in a presidential limousine Truman used during his term in office.

History buffs who visit Key West’s Harry S. Truman Little White House can now ride in a presidential limousine Truman used during his term in office.

Marathon’s newcomer, Seven Mile Fly Shop, pays close attention to detail and offers a variety of retail choices, education and even a casting pond for enthusiasts.

Marathon’s newcomer, Seven Mile Fly Shop, pays close attention to detail and offers a variety of retail choices, education and even a casting pond for enthusiasts.

This article was updated on May 7, 2021 at 3:50 PM
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