As the Florida Keys & Key West celebrate their 200th anniversary year (marked on 3 July), here’s what’s new and noteworthy throughout the island chain:
In Islamorada, the new 12-acre Sun Outdoors Islamorada has opened. The resort features 82 full hookup RV sites with amenities including pergolas, outdoor kitchens, 47 boat slips at three marinas, pool and private poolside cabanas, kayak and watersport offerings, clubhouse, camp store, and complimentary Wi-Fi. This is Florida’s 59th Sun Outdoors resort and the third in the Keys, joining Sun Outdoors Key Largo and Sun Outdoors Marathon.
Key West’s 311-room landmark Casa Marina, Curio Collection by Hilton – which celebrated its centennial in 2021 – is undergoing a full renovation and is scheduled to reopen this autumn. Guests can anticipate a new classic design with modern touches in rooms, an airy lobby lined with windows framing the beach, an additional 5,000-square-foot oceanfront event lawn space, two activity piers, and enhanced food and beverage venues including a new rooftop bar promoted as Key West’s closest to the ocean.
At Everglades National Park in Monroe County’s Flamingo area, the all-new Flamingo Lodge & Restaurant is slated to open early autumn, featuring 24 units with kitchenettes, including studios and one- and two-bedroom suites fronting Florida Bay. The park’s fully renovated pink Guy Bradley Visitor Center — with interactive exhibits and a gift shop — is also scheduled for an autumn opening.
In Marathon, the Pigeon Key Visitor Center and Pigeon Key train have additional summer tours, with four daily tours departing for historic Pigeon Key at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m. (including a shark pool feeding after the tour) and 2:30 p.m. Lying beneath the historic Old Seven Mile Bridge, the tiny island of Pigeon Key was a work camp for labourers constructing the bridge in the early 1900s and features restored buildings and a museum.
The Key West Aquarium has undergone restoration of the building’s front exterior in a redesign to resemble the original open-air aquarium that first opened its doors in 1937. Inside, a Touch Tank, a vertical fish tank filled with tropical fish has been added and a new “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” audiovisual show, with a hammerhead shark, entertains visitors of all ages.
In Key Largo, Mote Marine Laboratory’s third land-based Keys facility — the Key Largo Coral Nursery at Reefhouse Resort — has a new weekly “Slice of Paradise” experience, enabling participants to take part in coral ‘microfragmentation’ using a small diamond-bladed saw to create coral fragments. After slicing the coral, participants mount the fragments onto ceramic pedestals to enable growth at the land-based coral nursery until the fragments are large enough to outplant onto Florida’s Coral Reef. The experience is priced at $125 per person on alternating Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Also in Key Largo, the Coral Restoration Foundation has unveiled a new “Coral Bus,” a first-of-its-kind nursery-raised coral transport technology where corals are acclimated in conditions that closely replicate those of the open ocean. Through a partnership with Georgia Aquarium, the state-of-the-art aquarium trailer enables practitioners to monitor and regulate water temperature, pH level, filtration and water flow. The monitoring helps to ensure the well-being of nursery-raised corals, minimising the stress experienced by these fragile animals during transportation for replanting on Florida’s Coral Reef.
In Marathon, the 63.5-acre Crane Point Museum & Nature Trails is to unveil a new Marathon Wild Bird Center as a permanent home, slated to open in September. Featuring a new bird enclosure, hospital and rehabilitation facility for injured and rescued birds, the new centre is set to house 750 or more birds annually. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Crane Point is the site of prehistoric Native American artifacts and an early Bahamian village as well as Marathon’s first train depot. Crane Point also features a museum, lagoon, plant nursery and several nature trails.
In Islamorada, Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder rescue group is developing the Protect Center Whale & Dolphin Hospital as South Florida's only working and teaching veterinary hospital to treat injured whales, bottlenose dolphins and other marine mammals. The new hospital and facility are to include a 40-foot-diameter pool for long-term marine mammal rehabilitation, an educational classroom, and a 3,000-square-foot marine conservation-themed museum. It’s scheduled to be fully open by the autumn. Dolphins Plus has responded to more than 700 injured, sick, and stranded marine mammals in the Keys.
In Islamorada, the 2.5-acre fully renovated waterfront Marker 88 restaurant has reopened with two open-air Tiki bars, 18 craft beer taps, 10,000 square feet of beach dining and two boat docks allowing visitors to moor up for lunch, dinner and take-away. Restaurant seating is all outdoors, with 200 seats under cover and 200 beachfront. Dishes are flavoured with Floridian-, Caribbean- and French Polynesian–inspired flair.
In Islamorada, a revitalised Oceanside Safari Restaurant and Lounge has opened with a full-service waterfront restaurant, expanded menu and bar at Caloosa Cove Resort and Marina, replacing the Safari Lounge, a locals’ favourite watering hole for libations and snacks, and a filming location for the Netflix “Bloodline” series. The revamped venue still has animal-themed décor but with a contemporary, updated design featuring 90 seats inside and 60 seats outdoors.
Located on a private island off Little Torch Key in the Lower Keys, Little Palm Island Resort & Spa, accessible only by the resort’s antique motor-yacht, The Truman or by private boat or seaplane, has resumed its Sunday Brunch Experience. Offered from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., it features welcome champagne, an unlimited selection of coursed small plates and a signature grazing table with charcuterie and nibbles. Reservations are required to accommodate a limited number of off-island guests. Dress code is “refined island casual”.