FLORIDA KEYS — Many families have been separated for months because of the coronavirus pandemic, unable to share important occasions like birthdays, weddings, graduations and holiday gatherings. But finally, postponed trips are being planned so families can reunite, make new memories and strengthen generational bonds.
In the Florida Keys & Key West, the 125-mile-long island chain at the southern tip of Florida, families can find seemingly endless ways to reconnect. Memories can be made just by driving the famed Florida Keys Overseas Highway with more than 40 (count them!) bridges, including the landmark Seven Mile Bridge.
Visitors will find miles of wide-open seascapes, with sea and sky spanning as far as the eye can see, and endless eclectic roadside stops to explore.
A family road trip through the Keys features five distinct destinations in a single trip: Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine and the Lower Keys, and Key West — the fabled southernmost island in the continental United States.
Protecting this subtropical island chain is the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, which encompasses 2,900 square nautical miles of waters and submerged lands surrounding the entire Keys — including the continental United States’ only living coral barrier reef. In this protected realm, scores of on-the-water activities can be shared.
Ten Florida state parks have inviting beaches for sunning and shallow-water swimming. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the nation’s first undersea park, offers a unique introduction to the Keys with glass-bottom boat and snorkel tours of the reef.
The surrounding sea, with its soothing salty water, is refreshing and revitalizing. Families can experience the tranquil joy of Keys living by kayaking through the peaceful Lower Keys backcountry, chartering a boat for a private offshore fishing excursion or taking an eco-tour to spot wild frolicking dolphins, sea turtles and indigenous fish and marine life.
Visitors can explore the offshore islands of Indian and Pigeon keys and snorkel in warm, turquoise-tinted water. They can SNUBA (a cross between snorkeling and scuba diving) at multiple places or get dive certified from a master pro at a world-class dive shop. Kids and active adults can learn to paddleboard, kiteboard, wakeboard or aqua-cycle.
In the Keys, there’s history to fascinate all ages: tales of pirates and sunken treasure, Civil War–era forts, Henry Flagler’s Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad, noted American authors including Ernest Hemingway and even the “Little White House” of former President Harry S. Truman.
Family groups can explore unique aquariums; lush botanical gardens; establishments that nurture turtles, dolphins and wild native birds; or a wildlife refuge that protects tiny indigenous Key deer.
In addition, they can share a “catch and cook” experience at nearly any waterfront restaurant, or sample lionfish, pink shrimp and stone crab claws while launching a “treasure hunt” for the best Key lime pie. Adults can toast with a Keys-crafted libation and, at sunset, all can applaud the sun as it sinks slowly beneath the horizon.
Many amenity-rich resorts, both established and new, can easily accommodate families in spacious units or villas with kitchens and private bedrooms. Such properties can provide a comfortable yet exotic subtropical backdrop for that long-awaited family reunion.
When the vacation is over, perhaps it will inspire a new family tradition: planning future visits to the Keys to continue strengthening connections and making lasting memories.