FLORIDA KEYS — The Florida Keys & Key West, showcasing sustainability offerings, are welcoming visitors this summer with an expanded roster of Florida Green Lodging Program properties and a variety of unique eco- and expanded accommodations — including new spacious resort villas and suites in Islamorada and accommodations on catamaran hulls in Key West.
As Keys coral restoration organization members and volunteers work to renourish Florida’s Coral Reef, educational experiences include the launch of a new land-based coral nursery in Key Largo.
In the Upper Keys construction continues on the new Flamingo Lodge & Restaurant in Everglades National Park from modified and enhanced shipping containers connected by a boardwalk. The park is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year and the property is slated to open later in the year.
In the Middle Keys a 60-passenger tram is soon to begin transporting visitors along a 2.2-mile span of the historic Old Seven Mile Bridge to tiny Pigeon Key. The tram features a locomotive front and two 30-passenger coaches. Here's what’s new in the Keys:
Key West International Airport (EYW) is finalizing plans for its $90-plus million terminal targeted for completion in October 2024. Elements are to include a new concourse A with enhanced security checkpoint, concessions and baggage claim areas; a spacious departure area; and glass-enclosed jet bridges connecting planes to the facility. A groundbreaking ceremony is planned in late summer. The terminal, designed to improve the level of service for Keys travelers, is to feature local artwork, a passenger virtual reality experience showcasing colorful underwater marine life and contemporary furniture, display monitors and lighting. Visit eyw.com or call 305-809-5200.
In the Middle Keys a 60-passenger tram is to debut in June to transport visitors along a 2.2-mile span of the historic Old Seven Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key. The colorful tram features a locomotive front and two 30-passenger coaches. The 2.2-mile span of the bridge, nicknamed "Old Seven," reopened to pedestrian recreation in January. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the bridge closed in 2016 for extensive renovations that were completed in December 2021. Old Seven was originally the centerpiece of railroad magnate Henry Flagler's Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad, which debuted in 1912 and connected the Keys with each other and mainland Florida for the first time. Pigeon Key, a tiny island nestled beneath the bridge, was once home to about 400 workers constructing the railroad. Visit pigeonkey.net or call 305-743-5999.
Twenty Keys properties and a Lower Keys state park have earned the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Lodging Program designation: Ocean Reef Club and Reefhouse Resort and Marina in Key Largo; Amara Cay, Pelican Cove, Postcard Inn and La Siesta resorts in Islamorada; Gulf View Waterfront Resort and The Hammocks at Marathon in Marathon, Bahia Honda State Park and Deer Run on the Atlantic on Big Pine Key and Oceans Edge Resort & Marina on Stock Island. In addition, 10 Key West properties received the designation including: The Marker Key West Harbor Resort, Fairfield Inn & Suites, Marriott Beachside Hotel, Eden House, DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Hotel Grand Key, Southernmost Beach Resort, Old Town Manor, Rose Lane Villas, Andrews Inn & Garden Cottages and The Gardens Hotel. The Green Lodging Program supports five areas of sustainable operations: communication and education to customers and staff; waste reduction, reuse and recycling; water conservation, energy efficiency and indoor air quality. Visit floridadep.gov/osi/green-lodging.
In Islamorada, the 27-acre Cheeca Lodge & Spa is undergoing major resort enhancements, including a new stand-alone 10,000-square-foot event center and 43 newly built luxury oceanfront suites. Slated to debut in September 2022, the Islamorada Ballroom, located just north of the resort’s main lodge, is promoted as the Upper Keys’ largest meeting and event venue. The ballroom is to accommodate up to 1,000 guests for receptions and 788 for banquet-style dinners. Retractable walls create three breakout rooms for smaller events and functions. Combined with the resort’s existing 6,300 square feet of meeting and event space, Cheeca Lodge & Spa is to offer more than 16,000 square feet of meeting and event space and a total 244 guest rooms and suites. The new 550-square-foot king and double-queen suites feature floor-to-ceiling glass doors, opening to an expansive private lanai with signature open-air spa tubs. Visit cheeca.com or call 305-664-4651.
In Islamorada, Chesapeake Beach Resort is adding 13 new oceanfront villas (including two stand-alones) and a new Tiki bar, boat ramp and dock, scheduled to open this fall. The resort lobby, with a newly added gift shop, has been fully renovated. The property features 52 rooms and suites including 32 oceanfront and 20 standard rooms, each with balcony; two pools, a beach bar and sandy beach venue for weddings, events, family reunions and corporate retreats. Kayaks and fishing rods are available for rent. It’s located at 83409 Overseas Highway. Visit chesapeake-resort.com or call 305-664-4662.
In Key West Mellow Ventures Backcountry Outfitters has unveiled three off-the-grid vessels for overnight accommodations. The new "outposts,” including a fully restored former cigar-maker’s cottage, are built on 50-foot catamaran hulls. Customized Backcountry Eco Vacations include on-the-water stays, experiences and healthy meals and feature three tiers: Eco Outpost with a Tiki boat dockside, Eco Sailing with a catamaran dockside, and Eco Adventure with the Sugar Shack 2.0, offering overnight trips to the Marquesas Keys. Three-, five- and seven-night stays are to be available as well as wellness, artist and writer retreats. The backcountry charter company has locations at 1605 N. Roosevelt Blvd. and 201 William St. Its expanded and renovated Mellow Café & Gastropub on North Roosevelt Boulevard features outdoor picnic-table seating for up to 60. It serves vegan fare, artisan tacos, exotic meats and craft beer. Visit mellowkw.com/eco-vacations or call 305-745-3874.
In Key West the boutique Grand Maloney Hotel — a chic, six-bedroom property that dates back to the late 19th century — has opened at 529 Caroline St. after a nearly two-year restoration. Furnishings blend the hotel’s historic materials with luxury finishes and features such as a floor-to-ceiling yellow-tiled shower, an in-room original brick fireplace and colorful botanical print wallpaper. A newly built swimming pool and outdoor space offer an additional area for groups. The historic estate was purchased in 2019 by Key West–based Spottswood Hotels and named after Walter C. Maloney, a Spottswood ancestor who was elected Key West’s mayor in 1846. The hotel accommodates groups, and property buyouts are offered. Visit grandmaloneyhotel.com or call 305-294-3265.
Kimpton Key West has added new weekly programming, offering guests “live like a local” experiences that include a welcome signature “Cayo Hueso” craft brew on arrival, live poolside music with local musicians, an eco- “show and tell” class, guided yoga sessions both on- and off-property and predinner tastings with local spirit makers. Other amenities include complimentary doggie menus with locally made pet treats for four-footed guests. The 219-unit Kimpton Key West collection includes five boutique properties in Old Town: Winslow’s Bungalows, Lighthouse Hotel, Ridley House, Ella’s Cottages and Fitch Lodge. Visit kimptonkeywest.com or call 855-546-7866.
Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium's new land-based coral nursery — Mote's third land-based nursery in the Keys — is to open in July with capacity of 20,000 coral fragments, expanding the Upper Keys’ resilience-focused coral restoration at Reefhouse Resort & Marina at 103800 Overseas Highway. Another Mote satellite land-based coral nursery is at Bud 'N Mary's Marina in Islamorada. Through a partnership with I.CARE, brain, star and branching corals, raised both onshore and offshore by Mote, are transplanted to reefs off Islamorada. Mote has outplanted more than 140,000 coral fragments, with a 90% average survival rate, on Florida's Coral Reef. Permits for additional Upper Keys underwater nurseries are awaiting federal approval. Mote Marine Laboratory is based on Summerland Key and offers public tours Tuesdays at 10 a.m. with reservations. Visit mote.org or call 305-745-2729.
Ever floated on a giant “lily pad” in the Keys? In Key Largo, the recently opened Aqua Fun Adventures offers a 25-foot Grand Island pontoon boat equipped with a water slide positioned on the stern and a giant floating “lily pad” or mat. Also featured is a banana boat for short rides. Aqua Fun Adventures offers three standard water excursions: the aqua cozy, the sunset and a waterfront bar-hopping cruise. Through customized options, clients can go to a sandbar, stop at a restaurant for lunch or watch dolphins and manatees. Ice, water and snacks are included, and pizza from Upper Crust Pizza Restaurant can be delivered to the pontoon. Capacity is six people. Visit aquafunadventures.com or call 305-417-9603.
In Marathon, Crane Point Museum and Nature Center is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places as an attraction worthy of preservation by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The attraction’s on-site Adderly House — built in 1904 as a classic Bahamian-style home and the oldest Keys house outside of Key West — also is listed on the National Register. Also on-site at the historic attraction: a bright-red Florida East Coast Railway train car, located at the site of Marathon’s original train station; and the Crane House, built in 1954, renovated in late 2021 and the first venue outside of Key West to earn the Florida Keys Historic Foundation star designation. Visit cranepoint.net or call 305-743-9100.
In Key West, the Tennessee Williams Museum at 513 Truman Ave. has added memorabilia about Williams’ writing, filming and premiering “The Rose Tattoo” in Key West during the 1950s. In addition, in 1981 Williams gifted use of his name to the Tennessee Williams Fine Arts Center, now the Tennessee Williams Theatre, at 5901 College Road. The exhibits are enhanced with original photos by the late local photographer Don Pinder and playbills signed by Williams among other artifacts. The playwright’s 34-year residence in Key West helped the city gain widespread literary and cultural recognition. Managed by the Key West Art and Historical Society, the museum has self-guided tours Thursdays through Sundays from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Private curator-led group tours are available for a minimum of four. Visit kwahs.org/museums/tennessee-williams/visit or call 305-204-4527.
In Key West’s Truman Waterfront Park, the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center is scheduled to reopen in September. A state-of-the-art renovation includes a new free-standing main exhibit focusing on the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary through multiple videos and hands-on interactive activities. Another exhibit is to highlight Florida Keys mangroves and allow visitors to crawl and climb through life-like mangrove branches. Visit floridakeys.noaa.gov/eco_discovery.html or call 305-809-4750.
The Key West Woman’s Club offers complimentary summer tours of the 130-year-old red brick Hellings House Museum, the club’s home, Tuesdays through Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. One of the few brick structures in Key West, the 8,334-square-foot home was built by Captain Martin Hellings and his wife Eleanor, a daughter of prominent Key West merchant William Curry, Florida’s first millionaire. Club members donate time and raise funds for charitable organizations in Key West. Tours operate Mondays through Fridays during fall and winter. The museum is located at 319 Duval St. Visit keywestwomansclub.org/saving-eleanor or call 740-274-9091.
The new Flamingo Lodge & Restaurant in Everglades National Park is currently undergoing construction using modified and enhanced shipping containers to be connected by a boardwalk. The new facilities are located in the park’s Flamingo area on mainland Monroe County, about a 40-minute drive from the park’s entrance. The 24-unit lodge is to offer one- and two-bedroom suites, each with a kitchenette and a balcony fronting Florida Bay. Eight units will feature two bedrooms and a pullout sofa. The new indoor-outdoor restaurant and bar is to have seating indoors for 60 and outdoor seating for 40. It’s to be open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In addition, there are 20 furnished Eco Tents at Flamingo Campground with queen beds, furniture and a shared central bath/shower facility. A new Flamingo Visitor Center is scheduled to open this year. Everglades National Park is celebrating its 75th anniversary, with events to culminate Dec. 6. Visit flamingoeverglades.com/flamingo-lodge-restaurant or call 855-708-2207.
In the Lower Keys, the 524-acre Bahia Honda State Park, with three beaches, has reopened its mile-long Sandspur Beach on the park's north side after completing a full $2.96 million restoration. Its Sandspur campgrounds, a 155-car parking area and two shower towers at the day-use area also are open. Eighty total campsites — 73 sites for both RVs and tents with electricity and water and seven nonelectric tent-only sites — accommodate overnight visitors. Additionally, the park has six cabins on stilts that can be reserved up to 11 months in advance. Park amenities include pavilions, freshwater showers, restrooms, grills, picnic tables, beach wheelchairs and a mobi floating chair for in-water accessibility. Concessionaire Coral Reef Park Co. sells food, souvenirs and beachwear; rents kayaks; and operates daily snorkel trips to Looe Key Reef. Sandspur and Loggerhead beaches are located on the park’s Atlantic side and Calusa Beach is on the Bahia Honda Channel side. The park is located at 36850 Overseas Highway. Visit floridastateparks.org/BahiaHonda or call 305-872-2353.
On Big Pine Key, the newly renovated county Pine Channel Nature Park, mile marker 29, is to open this summer. The park will provide a scenic viewing area and amenities for Keys visitors and residents. Fully ADA-accessible, the park will have 17 parking spaces, bike racks, restrooms, a kayak and canoe hand-launch area, 9,500 square feet of boardwalk, Tiki huts, picnic areas with tables, benches, barbecue grills and an 11-foot raised viewing deck. The Pine Channel Nature Park — the former Big Pine Swimming Hole — was renovated with funding from the Monroe County Tourist Development Council and the Florida Department of Transportation.
The Shops at Mallory Square, a 26,000-square-foot indoor emporium at 291 Front St. in Key West adjacent to Mallory Square, is now showcasing Keys makers: local artisans and craftspeople, many of whom developed their businesses by selling wares at Keys artisan and farmers markets. Most shops are working studios. Keys-crafted products include handmade soaps, skin-care items, candles, resin artwork, original paintings, jewelry, totes, wallets and accessories made from canvas sails, pottery, ceramics, screen prints, woodworking and other items. Cuban Coffee Queen and Whit’s Frozen Custard are food vendors. The historic brick building, built in the 1850s and formerly known as Clinton Square Mall, is open daily. Visit mallorysquare.com/shops-at-mallory-square.
Grimal Grove, the 2-acre farm on Big Pine Key that's billed as the first and only breadfruit grove in the continental United States, is to release its first 500 Grimal Grove Reserve bottles of distilled vodka crafted from the grove’s breadfruit late this summer. Two large breadfruit are used per bottle. The spirit is being produced in partnership with Mutiny Island Vodka on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands and is to be available only in Florida. In addition, Grimal Grove offers guided tropical fruit excursions on request, priced at $20 per person for a 90-minute tour. The grove has more than 30 breadfruit trees of five varieties. Visit grimalgrove.com or call 305-923-6663.
The city of Marathon, through efforts by the Marathon Garden Club, has been added to Monarch City USA’s roster — the only Florida Keys city and one of 17 designated cities throughout Florida. Monarch City USA encourages municipalities to help the monarch butterfly population grow through planting nectar plants. Visit monarchcityusa.com/members.
In the Lower Keys, the 524-acre Bahia Honda State Park, with three beaches, has reopened its mile-long Sandspur Beach on the park's north side after completing a full $2.96 million restoration.