October 19, 2017 – Recovery continues in the Florida Keys & Key West after Hurricane Irma’s Sept. 10 passage through the 125-mile-long island chain. The Keys reopened to visitors Oct. 1 — just three weeks after the storm.
Local officials credited the reopening to the completion of significant infrastructure repairs, restoration of utilities and necessity of resuming the tourism-driven economy that employs about 50 percent of the Keys workforce.
While Key Largo and Key West were least affected by Irma, not all lodging properties, including RV resorts, and other tourism facilities throughout the Keys are operating on a normal basis. Potential visitors should call ahead to ensure that hotels and their favorite attractions are open.
Despite the storm, the Florida Keys’ resilience is demonstrated by the number of new and enhanced lodging facilities, attractions and other offerings opening or planned.
In hotel development, for example, the first all-inclusive resort in the Keys is to be unveiled in Key Largo early next year. In Key West, the Marquesa Hotel has debuted a 14-room expansion at its new sister property.
Here are some highlights of what’s new in the Keys:
In Key Largo the adults-only, all-inclusive Bungalows Key Largo, a 13-acre 135-unit luxury property for corporate retreats, meetings, weddings and leisure travelers is targeting an early 2018 opening. The Keys’ first all-inclusive resort is located at 99010 Overseas Highway, or mile marker 99 bayside. Most rooms are to average about 800 square feet and include private outdoor plunge pools or tubs. The resort is to offer two in-ground pools, five indoor and outdoor restaurants, four bars, 1,000 feet of shoreline, three piers to accommodate boats up to 40 feet long and a “Florida Keys chic” design. The palm-lined bungalow resort is under development by Johnson Resort Properties Inc., owned by Jerry Johnson, who also developed the Inn at Key West. Visit BungalowsKeyLargo.com or call 866-801-0195.
In Key West, the acclaimed 27-room Marquesa Hotel has expanded with a new sister property, the 14-room Marquesa 4-1-4, which opened Oct. 20. Marquesa 4-1-4 includes a newly built Bahama House, with eight rooms and private porches set around a swimming pool and granite wall fountain. The property also includes renovation of two historic buildings, the William Kerr and Pilot houses. Marquesa 4-1-4’s lobby retains original hand-stenciled ceiling panels, Dade County pine walls and original curved-glass windows. The new rooms are priced under a single 41-room Marquesa rate structure. Complimentary Wi-Fi, a welcome glass of wine, newspapers, morning coffee, afternoon iced tea and parking are included. Marquesa 4-1-4 is located at 414 Simonton St. Visit Marquesa.com or call 800-869-4631 or 305-292-1919.
Also in Key West, the 311-room Casa Marina, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, offers seaplane service from its beach, billed as the island city’s largest private beach, for aerial sightseeing trips to Dry Tortugas National Park. The seaplane service includes a champagne toast or signature cocktail, with rates priced from $3,500 roundtrip for four for a narrated 80-minute experience at just 500 feet over water. Casa Marina’s beach concierge service offers smoothies and chilled eucalyptus towels every 90 minutes. Poolside packages in cabanas include a TV, mini-fridge with nonalcoholic beverages and fruit platter, priced at $175 per cabana per day. Cabanas can fit up to four adults. Casa Marina is located at 1500 Reynolds St. Visit casamarinaresort.com or call 305-296-3535.
In Key West, the new complimentary hop-on, hop-off Duval Loop bus service makes it easy to travel around the island’s Historic Seaport and downtown Duval Street districts without a car. The route includes 16 stops, allowing riders to get on and off near Key West attractions, hotels, museums, boutiques and eateries. Designed to reduce traffic and parking challenges, the recently launched service is a project of Car-Free Key West. The city campaign promotes healthier, eco-friendly alternatives to driving such as walking, bicycling and public transit. Duval Loop’s colorful pink and blue buses run every half-hour from 6 to 10 a.m. After 10 a.m., the buses run every 15 minutes until midnight. The service operates daily December through April. From May through November, Duval Loop runs Thursday through Sunday. Visit carfreekeywest.com or call 305-809-3911.
Calypso Sailing, a Key Largo–based luxury charter sailing operator, has launched a new custom-built flagship catamaran — the Lady Susan, a 58-foot Leopard billed as the only one of its kind in the Keys — for private charters from Key Largo to Key West. Calypso Sailing’s charters aboard six vessels feature the 44-foot Second Star, also a Leopard catamaran with 45-horsepower engines, and the Big Easy II, a second 44-foot Leopard. Additionally, Calypso Sailing has two monohull sailing vessels: Pirates Choice, a 52-foot ketch, and Bloody Pirate, a schooner. Vessels can accommodate six to 38 people and full provisioning is offered. Owner-captains Suzanne and Lance Holmquist also operate the iconic African Queen steamboat, operating daily out of Key Largo and made famous in the 1951 movie, “The African Queen,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Visit calypsosailing.com or call 305-451-8080.
On Grassy Key in the Middle Keys, Keys Cable at oTHErside Adventure Park is scheduled to reopen in December with a new 1,600-square-foot retail and outfitters shop, selling gear for kiteboarding, skateboarding wakeboarding and paddleboarding, and an island marketplace with local vendors, artists and Keys-crafted goods. A new half-mile art walk loop around its lake includes two Florida Keys Sculpture Trail works, “Everyone Breaks,” by sculptor Tanda Francis, and “Stand Tall Stand Loud,” by Aaron Bell. The new air-conditioned retail outlet, with 66 solar panels, is built to sell board lifestyle goods and sportswear, Keys-crafted skateboards, works by Keys artists and Keys-made products such as Keez Beez honey. Keys Cable park is located at 59300 Overseas Highway or mile marker 59.3. Visit keyscable.com or othersideboardsports.com or call 305-853-9728.
The Key West Attractions Association, one of Key West’s oldest business associations, is to celebrate its 35th anniversary in December by unveiling a new 2018 Vacation Pass, priced at $49, plus $6 shipping and handling, per person. The 2017 pass offered more than $1,100 in savings with 25 value-added enhancements for visitors. The association’s 80 members include Key West attractions, tours, water activities companies, charters, hotels and resorts, restaurants and bars, sunset charters and other businesses. Member Key West Aquarium, one of Key West’s oldest attractions, opened on Feb. 18, 1935, and promotes itself as the first aquarium to use an “open-air concept” in its design. Today, the aquarium’s interior is air-conditioned. Visit keywestattractions.org or keywestvacationpass.com or call 305-293-7249.
A new Key West Room Escape team-building activity is offered at Casa Antigua, 314 Simonton St., a private residence built in 1919 that originally was one of Key West’s first hotels. The escape room experience, “Escape the Study,” is offered for groups of two to eight. The 60-minute activity requires participants to communicate and work together to escape the room by figuring out clues and solving puzzles in a fun, themed environment. Two more rooms, called Jail Break Havana and Pirate Treasure Hunt, are soon to be unveiled. Author Ernest Hemingway and his wife Pauline stayed at the building once known as the Trev-Mor Hotel in the late 1920s while waiting for an automobile to be delivered. Key West Room Escape is open daily and available for groups from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Visit keywestroomescape.com or call 305-916-5517.
The Key West Business Guild’s Gay Key West Visitor Center has relocated to 808 Duval St., just steps from Duval Street’s four rainbow crosswalks in the heart of the city’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender entertainment district. The new location lies within Key West’s famed “Pink Triangle,” with its cluster of LGBT bars, entertainment clubs and stores around the 700 and 800 blocks of Duval. For the last 15 years, the guild was based at 513 Truman Ave. “Recognizing that all people are created equal, Key West is renowned for its welcoming and accepting attitude,” said Matt Hon, executive director of the Key West Business Guild. The guild, acclaimed as one of America’s leading gay business associations, was launched in 1978 to support Key West’s gay community. Key West attracts more than 225,000 LGBT visitors annually. Visit gaykeywestfl.com or call 305-294-4603.
Visitors flying into Key West International Airport are greeted by a giant sculpture as part of the new Florida Keys Sculpture Trail, created through collaboration with the Florida Keys Council of the Arts, Key West philanthropists John Padget and Jacob Dekker, and the Monroe County Art in Public Places Committee. The 80-mile trail stretches from Islamorada to Key West. Key West’s airport sculptures are “Avis Gloriae,” or “bird of glory and praise,” and “Nature Eternal.” Both were created by sculptor Sheila Berger. Other Keys works include “Leaves of Grass,” by sculptor Markus Holtby, located in Marathon at The Art Studio, at 12353 Overseas Highway. Three additional works are to be installed on private property in Islamorada, and two are located on Grassy Key, at Keys Cable at oTHErside Adventure Park. “Wind Tower,” a collaborative work of seven “Model to Monument” sculptors, is located at the site of Grimal Grove on Big Pine Key. The sculptures first stood in Manhattan’s Riverside Park South in 2016, along the Hudson River as part of the “Model to Monument” program. The public arts program is a partnership between the Art Students League of New York and New York City Parks for emerging artists. Visit keysarts.com or call 305-295-4369.
Key West has a new $4 million Truman Waterfront Park Amphitheater with 500 seats and a 2,400-square-foot band shell, located at 21 Quay Road in Truman Waterfront Park. The park borders Truman Annex and the entrance to Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park. The venue, with total capacity for 2,500, features an exterior covered with panels made of Alucobond, an aluminum composite material. The amphitheater is gearing up to fully open in November. Events booked for 2018 at the new city-operated venue include the Krewe of Key West Costume Ball set for Saturday, Feb. 3, and the Americana Folk Country Music Festival scheduled Wednesday through Saturday, Feb. 7-10. Visit cityofkeywest-fl.gov or call 305-809-3881.
In December Key Largo’s Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), dedicated to conserving marine ecosystems worldwide, is to open a new interpretive center and campus improvements project adjacent to its existing headquarters at mile marker 98. The new center highlights marine ecosystems through self-guided exhibits and engages visitors through firsthand discovery and displays. Exhibits highlight Keys ecology; fish, invertebrates and plants in marine habitats; biodiversity; invasive and endangered species; conservation actions; water quality and climate change. The expanded REEF campus includes a walking trail with native plants, picnic tables, drinking fountain and outdoor educational signs. REEF is located at 98300 Overseas Highway. Visit REEF.org or call 305-852-0030.
The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, encompassing more than 2,900 square nautical miles of marine life surrounding the Florida Keys, has launched a virtual dive gallery. Five Keys dive sites can be viewed on a personal laptop or smartphone. Viewers can be more fully immersed through use of a virtual reality headset or goggles. The gallery includes the Christ of the Abyss in the Key Largo Dry Docks Sanctuary Preservation Area; Cheeca Rocks Sanctuary Preservation Area with soft and brain corals; Benwood Wreck, which sank in 1942 after colliding with another ship and is located between French Reef and Dixie Shoals; and a coral nursery. Viewers also can see the Aquarius Reef Base, an underwater ocean laboratory. A life support buoy that broke free during Hurricane Irma currently remains under repairs in Miami. Aquarius scientists research coral reefs, ocean acidification, climate change, fisheries and overall ocean health. Visit https://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/vr/florida-keys/.