FLORIDA KEYS — Fall in the Florida Keys & Key West is an idea time for outdoor activities as temperatures begin to cool. New nonstop airlift to Key West, expanded and upgraded hotels and an all-new resort in the Middle Keys, and enhanced outdoor experiences are among what’s new in the Keys.
To prevent the spread of coronavirus, Keys businesses may require facial coverings at venues such as resorts, indoor attractions, museums, restaurants, grocery stores, galleries or retail shops. Masking is required in county– and Key West City–operated government buildings. For the latest updates on coronavirus health safety protocols, click here.
Beginning Nov. 18, Allegiant is to add nonstop twice-weekly service from North Carolina’s Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) and beginning Nov. 19, from Florida’s St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport (PIE) to Key West International Airport (EYW).
“Key West is one of the most sought-after destinations in the U.S. right now,” said Drew Wells, Allegiant senior vice president of revenue and network planning. “We expect it to be an even bigger draw for leisure travelers seeking an affordable, convenient vacation spot for warm winter getaways.” In June, Allegiant added twice-weekly nonstop service to Key West on Airbus A319 planes from Nashville International Airport, Pittsburgh International Airport and Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Visit allegiantair.com or call 702-505-8888.
Everglades National Park is planning its 75th anniversary, slated to kick off Dec. 6. In the park, a new 24-unit Flamingo Lodge & Restaurant -– located in the Flamingo area about a 40-minute drive from the park's entrance -– and a new Flamingo Visitor Center are scheduled to open by January 2022, depending on weather. Both the lodge and restaurant are being built from shipping containers, above the ground on cement pillars and connected by a boardwalk. Concessionaire Flamingo Everglades Adventures, a subsidiary of Guest Services Inc., is to unveil the lodge with one- and two-bedroom units. In addition,186-square-foot eco-“glamping” tents, erected on platforms with a queen or two double beds, and 42-foot houseboats (for a maximum four adults and two children), are also available for overnight stays. Visit flamingoeverglades.com or call 855-708-2207.
An expansion of Grassy Flats Resort & Beach Club, celebrating two years on the Middle Keys’ Grassy Key at mile marker 58, is underway with the addition of a second pool and 28 new oceanfront guest rooms scheduled to open during Thanksgiving week. The oceanfront Humidor House is to include four king suites with four-poster mahogany beds and private balconies. The Wrecker’s House is to offer two queens, a king and three king suites with private wraparound balconies. The on-site Barrel & Bale bar, expanded with 152 seats and a rooftop bar, is to open Christmas week. Visit grassyflats.com or call 305-998-4590.
A new 66-acre, 110-unit resort development is planned in the Middle Keys on Crawl Key at mile marker 57. The 25-acre Valhalla Island Resort, to be developed by Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris and his Floridian Holdings LLC, is to include a three-story, 29-room resort with an additional 50 villas, cottages and homes, conservation areas, workforce housing and solar panels. Eight types of stand-alone units, with at least one porch and outside shower, are to range from 379-square-foot studios to four-bedroom, four-bath, 3,700-square-foot homes. Amenities are to include a 12,000-square-foot spa with retail space, a 3,400-square-foot fitness facility and golf carts for guest transportation. The project is under design by architectural design firm Hart Howerton of New York City and San Francisco. Visit harthowerton.com/marathon-approves-new-valhalla-resort/ or call 417-873-5000.
In Marathon, Faro Blanco Resort, known for its historic lighthouse that has guided guests to the property since the 1950s, is planning renovations to the 125-unit hotel and grounds to include an expanded pool area, waterslide, Tiki huts and other new amenities. Faro Blanco is a sister property to Isla Bella Beach Resort, owned by EOS Investors LLC. Its adjoining 74-slip marina, accommodating vessels between 35 and 140 feet, has been purchased by Suntex Marinas of Dallas, Texas. Marina guests are to have access to most of Faro Blanco’s outdoor amenities. Visit faroblancoresort.com or call 305-743-1234.
On Stock Island, The Perry Hotel & Marina has partnered with the famed Sloppy Joe’s — a watering hole formerly frequented by writer Ernest Hemingway and located in downtown Key West — to open the outdoor Sloppy Joe’s Dockside on-site at The Perry. Sloppy Joe’s Dockside, open daily from 12-10 p.m., features a light menu of sandwiches and salads, a 6-8 p.m. happy hour and live music nightly. Visit perrykeywest.com/eat-and-drink/sloppy-joes-dockside or call 786-862-6644.
Barbary Beach House Key West is to be rebranded as the 184-unit Margaritaville Beach House Key West in October. The new Margaritaville resort is to include a Tin Cup Chalice & Chill restaurant, new bar concepts, expanded retail outlet space and family-friendly activities. Amenities are to include complimentary welcome frozen cocktails, daily poolside refreshments including fruit smoothies and popsicles, concierge service, complimentary airport pickup and drop off, and nonmotorized watersports. The resort, which allows dogs under 30 pounds for a fee, is to be Key West’s only Margaritaville resort and is located across from Smathers Beach at 2001 S. Roosevelt Blvd. Visit MargaritavilleBeachHouseKeyWest.com or call 866-237-5022.
In Islamorada, the Florida Keys History & Discovery Center is debuting an exhibit with original artworks by members of the Tropical Botanic Artists collective, showcasing the variety of creatures pollinating South Florida’s native plants. Running Sept. 17 through Jan. 16, 2022, the exhibit features works illustrating birds, butterflies, moths, bees, wasps — even aquatic zooplankton — with subtropical indigenous plants they pollinate. The Discovery Center is on-site at the oceanside Islander Resort at mile marker 82. New hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. Visit keysdiscovery.com or tropicalbotanicartists.com or call 305-922-2237.
In Marathon at the Crane Point Hammock Museum & Nature Trail, the pink Crane House has undergone a $319,000 exterior renovation and is reopened to the public. Designed in the 1950s style of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the house’s blueprint is unique to the Keys. Also at Crane Point, the bright red railroad car, formerly based on Knights Key for four decades as the Pigeon Key Visitor’s Center, is completing a full restoration. Scheduled to open in October, the historic 84-foot-long car is an extension of the museum and can provide meeting space for 25 to 30 attendees. Crane Point is preserved by the Florida Keys Land and Sea Trust as one of the Keys’ most sensitive environmental and archaeological sites. Visit cranepoint.net or call 305-743-9300.
Celebrating the 85th anniversary of its founding as “Keeper of the Trees,” the 15-acre Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden is showcasing its fall “Scarecrows in the Forest” exhibition, running Sept. 15 through Nov. 30, with locally crafted scarecrows made from natural and recycled materials. Key West’s open-air “living museum” is acclaimed as the continental United States’ only frost-free subtropical natural conservation habitat and native plant botanical garden. Located at 5210 College Road, it shelters plant life native to South Florida, Cuba and the Caribbean including threatened and endangered species. Visit keywest.garden or call 305-296-1504.
Renovations to a collapsed historic archway and citadel at the picturesque Civil War–era West Martello Tower, a National Historic Site built in 1866 and managed by the Key West Garden Club, are complete. The brick arch, part of a tunnel that allowed Union soldiers to enter the citadel safely, is a scenic focal point of the fragrant, colorful subtropical gardens along the Atlantic Ocean shoreline at the Clarence S. Higgs Memorial Beach Park. Special events such as weddings, with the West Martello archway as a central backdrop, can be booked at the historic facility at 1100 Atlantic Blvd. Higgs Beach, meanwhile, is undergoing a 570-foot shoreline restoration, set for completion this fall, to replenish sand and sea turtle nesting areas. Visit keywestgardenclub.com or call 305-294-3210.
Up the Keys Eco Tours’ half-day Nature Tour, offered daily at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., now includes the Keys’ famed Seven Mile Bridge in addition to Bahia Honda State Park, Key deer and the Blue Hole. Dolphin Research Center and Tiki Bar Crawl tours also are offered. In Key West, private walking tour participants (up to 10) can learn the history and culture the island on the 1.5-hour Welcome to Key West morning stroll in the heart of Old Town. A Haunted History walking tour takes participants by five haunted mansions and stops at two haunted bars. Complimentary digital photos are included. Visit upthekeys.com or call 305-928-8961.
In September on Big Pine Key, the 2-acre fruit farm Grimal Grove, billed as the first and only breadfruit grove in the continental United States, is to begin offering guided tropical fruit excursions, priced at $15 for a 90-minute tour, on request. The grove, with more than 30 breadfruit trees of five varieties, became a Florida Agritourism Association member in July. In addition, Grimal Grove has partnered with Mutiny Island Vodka on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands to develop a Grimal Grove Reserve breadfruit-distilled vodka for release next year. The Grove is scheduled to be open on Saturdays by January. Visit grimalgrove.com or call 305-923-6663.
Key West’s Island Vibe Charters, a new LGBTQ–owned and –operated “all welcome” charter operation, offers private excursions to offshore sandbars and to the reef for snorkeling trips for families and groups of up to six. Its 28-foot, twin-engine Edgewater boat offers bow and stern seating. Four- to six-hour trips, priced from $600, include sandbar and snorkeling excursions. Ice, drinking water, life vests and snorkeling and beach gear are provided. Visit islandvibecharterskw.com or call 305-509-2186.
In Islamorada, the five-year-old nonprofit Florida Bay Forever Save Our Waters Inc. has a new home at Green Turtle Hammock Nature Preserve, an 11-acre conservation area owned by the Village of Islamorada with nature trails, a kayak launch and direct access to Florida Bay. The organization is developing site plans and fundraising for the Florida Bay Eco-Center, with educational programming planned and operations based at Islamorada’s historic Russell Cottage. Visit floridabayforever.org or call 305-563-7970.
In Key West’s Truman Waterfront Park, the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center is slated to complete the first phase of a renovation by early October. New exhibits are to feature maritime history, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and ways to protect Florida Keys habitats. A second renovation phase is to begin in early 2022. The center, like other federal and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration offices, is currently closed due to federal mandates. A reopening date has not been announced. Visit floridakeys.noaa.gov/eco_discovery.html or call 305-809-4750.
In Key Largo at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the park’s visitor center and aquariums showcase two new exhibits in partnership with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The exhibits focus on maritime heritage and include an interactive 360-degree dive experience on Upper Keys wrecks and 3D printed artifacts telling stories of dangers mariners faced when navigating Florida’s coral reef. One story features the Spanish pirate slave ship Guerrero and enslaved people surviving its wreck off the Upper Keys in 1827. Visit floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/john-pennekamp-coral-reef-state-park or call 305-676-3777.
In the Lower Keys, the 524-acre Bahia Honda State Park is undergoing a full restoration of its mile-long Sandspur Beach, its 24-campsite Sandspur campgrounds, a 155-car parking area and two shower towers at the day-use area. The $2.96 million Sandspur restoration is on the park's north side, with completion targeted for late 2022. The park is located at 36850 Overseas Highway. Visit floridastateparks.org/BahiaHonda or call 305-872-2353.
In Key Largo, plans are underway to redevelop the 8-acre Rowell's Waterfront Park, located at mile marker 104.5 bayside. Development plans include realigning the park entrance, adding a restroom facility and small parking lot with lighting, new landscaping and a walking trail. Completion is projected by summer 2022. Visit monroecounty-fl.gov/1127/Rowells-Waterfront-Park.
The Big Pine Key Swimming Hole and Nature Center at the Lower Keys Scenic Viewing Area, an extension of the Overseas Heritage Trail, is under construction with projected completion in summer 2022. At the nature center area, plans include an 11-foot raised viewing deck, 9,500-foot-long boardwalk, Tiki huts, picnic areas with tables and barbecue grills, bike racks, kayak and canoe launch area and parking spaces. The county park is located at mile marker 29 on Big Pine Key across from Captain Hook’s marina and dive center. Visit monroecounty-fl.gov/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=1498.
The Keys’ only chocolatier, Key Largo Chocolates Cakes & Ice Cream, with shops at mile marker 100.5 in Key Largo and mile marker 81.9 in Islamorada, has changed ownership. Key Largo residents Bob and Kristie Thomas recently sold their operation — known for handcrafted chocolates, truffles and Key lime treats — to Rich and Bronna Peterson, operators of small-batch Voice Chocolate in Lake Park, Florida. Visit keylargochocolates.com or call 305-453-6613.
Islamorada Coffee Roasters, known in the Upper Keys for its roving coffee van with air-roasted organic coffee, has a new retail location at 80925 Overseas Highway, just south of the Morada Way Arts District. New offerings include coffee-scented soy candles and Pirate Hat exfoliating soap made with ground coffee. The roaster features its custom I.CARE Blend, a mix of small-batch beans from dive destinations Bali, Costa Rica and Honduras. For each $25 1-pound bag of I.CARE Blend beans, $10 is donated to the nonprofit I.CARE for coral restoration efforts in Islamorada. The coffee company's bags and cups are compostable, and environmentally safe inks are water-based. Visit islamoradacoffeeroasters.com or call 305-572-3001.
Beginning Nov. 18, Allegiant is to add nonstop twice-weekly service from North Carolina’s Asheville Regional Airport and beginning Nov. 19, from Florida’s St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to Key West International Airport.