A subtropical winter in the Florida Keys & Key West — the scenic 125-mile-long island chain at the southern tip of the Florida peninsula — typically offers the warmest weather in the continental United States. This year brings newly refreshed and expanded resorts, an expanded wild bird centre in Marathon and a planned marine mammal facility in Islamorada. Also notable are new dining options at three Keys hotels and a new Lower Keys brewery.
Among what’s new:
At Everglades National Park, the all-new restaurant at the 24-unit Flamingo Lodge and Restaurant is now open. The stand-alone 75-seat restaurant — with casual fare including burritos, wraps, sandwiches, soups, salads, and desserts such as Key lime pie, catch-and-cook options, and signature 20-ounce smoothies — is open to all park visitors and lodge guests. The lodge (which opened in November), with studios and one- and two-bedroom suites with kitchenettes and balconies overlooking Florida Bay, has rates of $259 to $399 per night, plus tax.
The 125-unit Faro Blanco Resort & Yacht Club, located at 1996 Overseas Highway at Marathon's iconic 1950s-era lighthouse, is undergoing a conversion to become Faro Blanco Resort & Yacht Club, Curio Collection by Hilton, in 2024. The enhanced property is to include over 40,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, an all-new spa and fitness centre, one- and two-story bungalows, a new multi-level pool deck with bar and infinity pool, and two-story poolside cabanas. Adjacent to the resort is the 74-slip Faro Blanco Marina.
In the Lower Keys, the waterfront Sun Outdoors Sugarloaf Key, located along a 7-acre saltwater lake surrounded by mangroves, has opened as the Keys’ fourth Sun Outdoors RV resort. It features 73 full hookup 20-, 30- and 50-amp RV sites with patio, complimentary Wi-Fi, and outdoor picnic tables; a heated pool, boardwalk, Tiki bar with firepit; and custom Airstream food truck with snacks and beverages. An additional 20 holiday cottages are also available. Amenities include rentals of kayaks, paddleboards, and “AquaBanas” or giant water inflatables.
In Key West, the legendary 311-room Casa Marina Key West, Curio Collection by Hilton, has unveiled its grand renovation with all new guest rooms — including 63 suites, many featuring oceanfront balconies and walkout beachside lanais — a new lobby Canary Bar, enhanced food and beverage venues and a new 5,000-square-foot oceanfront event lawn. Two outdoor piers for watersports have also been fully renovated, with offerings including jet-ski tours, paddleboard and kayak rentals, and snorkelling trips on a luxury catamaran.
Also in Key West, the La Concha Key West hotel at 430 Duval St. is undergoing renovations and a conversion to a Marriott property with 160 rooms and 14 suites. First-phase renovations are slated for completion by the third quarter of 2024. Undergoing transformation are the property’s lobby, bar and restaurant, pool and fitness centre. In addition, the spa area is being converted into premium rooftop suites. New food and libation offerings are to include Tropicado with classic crafted cocktails, Cuban cuisine at Perla and the El Dom Coffee Shop. The property originally opened in 1926 as a luxury hotel.
The new two-bedroom, one-bath floating The Outpost can be booked for an "off-the-grid" experience as a private "conch cottage" in backcountry waters off Key West. The Outpost includes front and back decks, a back sitting or game room and fully equipped kitchen and topside seating area. Paddleboards and snorkel gear are provided, and kayak and eco-tours can be booked. The floating cottage can sleep four with a minimum two-night stay. The Outpost also can be booked for sunset, half- or full-day excursions.
In Key West, Reef Relief's Plastic Free Key West programme helps motivate businesses to voluntarily commit to reducing or eliminating single-use plastics through sustainable replacement strategies. Tier 1 businesses are committed to reduce utilisation of one single-use item. Tier 2 participants pledge to reduce use of two items. Tier 3 operations are committed to reducing all single-use plastics. A resolution supporting Plastic Free Key West to stem plastic pollution in waters surrounding the Keys was adopted by the Key West City Commission in 2023.
In Islamorada, the Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder rescue group is targeting a spring 2024 opening of The Protect Center Whale & Dolphin Hospital as South Florida's only teaching veterinary hospital treating injured whales, bottlenose dolphins and other marine mammals. The new facility is to include a 40-foot-diameter pool for long-term marine mammal rehabilitation, an educational classroom, and a 3,000-square-foot marine wildlife conservation–themed museum. Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder has cared for more than 700 injured, sick and stranded marine mammals in the Keys.
In Marathon, the 63.5-acre Crane Point Museum & Nature Trails is scheduled to unveil its all-new home for the Marathon Wild Bird Center by late January, with educational bird enclosures, a shaded outdoor seating area, and a hospital and rehabilitation facility for treatment of sick and injured rescued wild birds. The facility can shelter more than 40 non-releasable birds and continues to treat about 750 birds annually. Since 1995 the hospital has rehabilitated more than 25,000 wild birds of different species and released them back into their natural habitat.
Keys Food and Drink
The 24-acre,199-unit Isla Bella Beach Resort in Marathon has unveiled its 55-seat Sushi Cabana, an al fresco sushi restaurant located adjacent to the resort's Yellowfin pool. It features traditional sushi and sashimi offerings such as hamachi, king crab, chirashi rice bowls, handcrafted sushi and seaweed and cucumber salad. The resort now has four food and beverage venues.
In Marathon, the new 80-seat oceanfront eatery The Rhum House at Grassy Flats Resort & Beach Club offers local seafood, steaks, shareable small plates, craft cocktails, wine and beer. Breakfast is served on the Palm Deck, a new rooftop lounge with views of Hawks Channel and ocean flats. A main dining room, open 5-9 p.m. daily, is nautically decorated with salvaged mahogany, brass, bronze and local artwork. Signature fare include seafood specials, Cuban coffee–rubbed meats such as bone-in strip steak and bison tenderloin sourced from sustainable farms.
Cayo Hueso Brewing, a new brewery and tasting room with 12 drafts on tap, has opened on Stock Island, Key West, behind Roostica Wood-Fire Pizzeria. The brewery's interior and exterior walls feature murals by local artists including depictions of Ernest Hemingway and Key West roosters. Its tasting room is open 4-9:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, and 2-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Customers can order food from Roostica for delivery to the brewery.