FLORIDA KEYS — The Florida Keys & Key West continue to unveil new and fully renovated resorts throughout the 125-mile-long island chain. New attractions and initiatives can motivate visitors to connect with and take action to protect the Keys environment, both underwater and on land. On Big Pine Key, the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Nature Center is scheduled to open in coming weeks. Key West’s first electric-powered charter boat, SQUID, operated by Honest Eco Sustainable Nature Tours, offers eco-friendly dolphin-watch tours. New air service to Key West International Airport provides easy access from major U.S. airports that include New York’s LaGuardia Airport and Dallas–Fort Worth, Philadelphia and Chicago O’Hare international airports.
Beginning May 3, American Airlines is to offer year-round daily nonstop service between Key West (EYW) and Dallas–Fort Worth (DFW) international airports on E175 regional jets, with seating for 64 main cabins and 12 first-class passengers. “Passengers from across the country connecting through Dallas can come and enjoy all that Key West and the Florida Keys have to offer,” said Richard Strickland, director of airports for the Florida Keys & Key West. This summer, American plans to operate about 900 daily flights into DFW, many of them connecting to American’s daily service to Key West. Visit American Airlines at aa.com or call 800-433-7300.
Through Aug. 31, Delta Air Lines has seasonal service on Saturdays to Key West from New York’s LaGuardia Airport on Delta Connection carrier Republic Airline. The flights began March 9 on 69-seat Embraer E-170 aircraft. Delta also flies daily between Key West and Atlanta year-round. Visit delta.com or call 800-221-1212.
Through Aug. 31, American Airlines offers increased service to Key West from Philadelphia and Chicago O’Hare international airports with weekly nonstop service on Saturdays on 76-passenger Embraer E-175 aircraft. American’s Philadelphia International Airport service is Key West’s first from that city, an international hub serving eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and its shore region, Delaware, the Delaware Valley and northern Maryland. Visit American Airlines at aa.com or call 800-433-7300.
In Key Largo, the new 200-room, 13-acre Baker’s Cay Resort, at mile marker 97 bayside, is open as the Florida Keys’ only Curio Collection by Hilton. The property features pet-friendly amenities, with a Cay-9 pet program with animal beds and lifejackets, cooling water bowls and collar charms. Pets can explore the hotel’s private beach, swim in Florida Bay during Paw Happy Hour and lap up “puptails” and “yappetizers.” Pet parents can indulge at a beachside tequila and taco bar with house-made hot sauces crafted from peppers grown on the property. Food and beverage options include Dry Rocks and Calusa restaurants and two bars. Visit bakerscayresort.com or call 305-852-5553.
In Islamorada, the 25-acre oceanfront, 114-room Islander Resort is open at mile marker 82.1 oceanside as a greenhotels.com member with new on-site Islander Girl Snorkel & Tours offerings, all-new refurbished cottage-style units and screened-in lanais, and Elements Lounge & Restaurant scheduled to debut by late April. Other attractions include a new family splash pad, Tides Beachside Bar & Grill, new 6,000-square-foot Great Lawn, 110,000 square feet of beachfront event space, two oceanfront pools and a hot tub, and massage and wellness services. On-site is a historic 13-foot, 4,100-pound anchor salvaged from the wreck of the Capitana el Rubi in 1948 by diver Art McKee and donated by local divers Spencer and Hunter Slate. The Slates also donated two circa-1880 iron cannons. Islander also features 25 two-story, two-bedroom bayside townhomes for a total of 139 units. Visit islanderfloridakeys.com or call 305-664-2031.
Marathon’s 24-acre, 199-unit Isla Bella Beach Resort, located at the Seven Mile Bridge oceanside at mile marker 47, is scheduled to open April 1 with five pools, four food and beverage concepts, a marina and more than 24,000 square feet of meeting and event space. Its 4,000-square-foot Spa at Isla Bella is to open in late April with five treatment rooms, couples’ massage room, steam in each locker room and a station with tea service, infused water and fresh fruit. The spa is attached to a 1,000-square-foot state-of-the-art fitness center. Dining venues include Il Postino, a Neapolitan-style restaurant; The Beach Bar; The Burger Palace; and Manatee Bay Marketplace, a waterfront cafe with shopping. Bocce, croquet, oversized chess, complimentary bicycles, on-site watersports and guided fishing expeditions are among resort activities. Visit islabellabeachresort.com or call 305-481-9451.
The oceanfront all-suite Grassy Flats Resort & Beach Club also plans to open April 1 with 15 units on Grassy Key at mile market 58 in the Middle Keys. Grassy Flats Resort & Beach Club, with private verandas, full kitchens, Tiki bar and two pools, expects to be fully open with 33 total one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom suites by summer 2020. The eco-friendly property promotes sustainability through several initiatives: a ban on single-use plastics, use of plant-based cleaning products, water catchment and cistern for landscape irrigation using reclaimed storm water and a five-year solar investment to offset resort consumption. It also added 1,500 square feet to a turtle-friendly nesting and beach restoration area. Housekeeping, landscaping and building practices are dedicated to sustainability. The resort is the former all-suite LaTeDa by the Sea, opened in summer 2017 after full renovations of three former motels: Casa Del Sol, Yellowtail Inn and Bonefish Motel. Visit grassyflats.com or call 305-998-4590.
On Big Pine Key, the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Nature Center is scheduled to open by early April. With 1,500 square feet of exhibition space, it showcases the Keys’ four national wildlife refuges: National Key Deer, Great White Heron, Key West and Crocodile Lake. It’s located at 30587 Overseas Highway near mile marker 30.5. The National Key Deer Refuge, established in 1957 to protect and preserve the diminutive Key deer and other Keys wildlife resources, celebrated its 60th anniversary in December 2017. Visit fws.gov/refuge/National_Key_Deer_Refuge/ or call 305-872-0774.
The 74-foot, 41-passenger topsail Schooner WOLF, operating out of Safe Harbour Marina at 6810 Front St. on Stock Island, offers a variety of tall ship sailings that include sunset cruises, rum-running and full moon voyages set for March 19-20, April 19 and May 18. Conch Republic Independence Celebration sailings are offered during the 10 days of the festival, scheduled Friday, April 19, to Sunday, April 28. WOLF is a Norfolk Rover–class steel-hull schooner built in the early 1980s by master builder Finbar Gittelman, known locally as “admiral and first sea lord of the Conch Republic.” The vessel can be chartered by the hour, day or week for activities such as weddings, family gatherings and corporate or team-building events. Visit SchoonerWOLF.com or call 305-296-9653.
In Key Largo, the new Kingdom Escape Games at mile marker 102 offers escape rooms and games for groups of up to eight. They include the Rendyth’s Revenge room, a three-dimensional interactive puzzle. The second room is The Captain’s Curse and a third is planned. Kingdom Escape Games is located in a castlelike building at 102670 Overseas Highway across from John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Children under 18 must be accompanied by an adult. Visit kingdomescape.com or call 305-680-7704.
In Key West, new escape offerings have been added to Key West Room Escape at Casa Antigua, 314 Simonton St., a private residence built in 1919 that was one of Key West’s first hotels. Escape activities include Jail Break Havana, Pirate Treasure Hunt, Escape Papa’s Study, Disco Inferno and Ultimate Escape. 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. Private rooms are offered for up to 10 participants; 50 or more participants qualify for a 15 percent discount. Visit keywestroomescape.com or call 305-916-5517.
Keys Eco Tours
In Marathon, the 64-acre Crane Point Museum & Nature Trail offers new guided daily sunset kayak and paddleboard tours by Natural Paths Paddle Adventures. Crane Point also has acquired a light-blue 900-square-foot wooden house dating back to the 1920s and a historic red railroad car that was previously located at Knight’s Key. Crane Point’s rich history includes the George Adderley house, built of tabby concrete incorporating burnt seashells, where Adderley and wife Olivia lived from 1903 until 1949. Located at mile marker 50.5, Crane Point includes a butterfly garden, museum, wild bird rehabilitation center, gift shop and several walking tours. Visit cranepoint.net or call 305-743-9100.
Visitors taking a dolphin watch and snorkel tour with Honest Eco Sustainable Nature Tours have a new eco-friendly option: SQUID, Key West’s first electric-powered charter boat. SQUID is a lithium ion battery-powered hybrid charter boat with electric motors for four-hour dolphin watching and snorkeling tours. The solar-powered boat’s electricity stores can be recharged at shore through solar panels or, when necessary, a diesel generator. The boat burns three gallons of diesel fuel per trip, or about one-quarter gallon of fossil fuel per guest. Through Sunflare solar panels weighting about 120 pounds, its 12 modules can produce 2,000 watts of power. SQUID is built with lightweight material, including carbon fiber, and is awaiting final U.S. Coast Guard certification for charters. For cruise details, visit honesteco.org or call 305-294-6306.
Through April 27 on Key West’s Duval Street, an 11-weekend pilot program “Mall on Duval” presents the 500, 600 and 700 blocks of Duval Street as a pedestrian-only promenade from 5 p.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday nights. Visitors can experience seven live music venues, outdoor seated dining, shopping and browsing at 37 retail stores, 12 specialty shops and 13 galleries. Visit mallonduval.com.
Also in Key West, The Green Room eco-bar, billed as a “local hub and eco pub,” serves up unique frozen cocktails and full bar drinks “executed with environmental sustainability and efficiency.” Sales of branded merchandise, printed with eco-friendly ink, benefit Keys environmental organizations such as the Turtle Hospital and Reef Relief. The Green Room recycles glass, cardboard, plastic and cigarette butts. Most of the bar is covered in reclaimed wood from a large tropical almond tree that fell in 2014. The Green Room, open daily from 11 a.m. to 4 a.m., is located at 501 Greene St. Visit thegreenroomkeywest.com or call 305-741-7300.
In Islamorada, the Florida Keys History & Discovery Center is to launch a new app, Walk Indian Key, in June with 12 tour stops detailing surprising history about the island, accessible by boat or kayak rentals from Robbie’s Marina. Last year, the center launched Walk Historic Islamorada. The 11-acre Indian Key is located a half-mile offshore and is deserted except for the ruins of a town that existed in the early 1800s, when residents made their living from salvaging boats running aground on local reefs. The app is being developed by the Florida Keys History and Discovery Foundation with the Florida Humanities Council and the Florida Department of State’s Division of Cultural Affairs. Visit keysdiscovery.com or call 305-922-2237.
Latitudes restaurant on Sunset Key, accessible by a 10-minute ferry ride from Key West, has earned AAA’s Four Diamond award for 2019 — the only Florida Keys restaurant to receive Four Diamonds. The honor marks Latitudes’ eighth consecutive year on the prestigious list. Perched on Sunset Key’s sandy shoreline, Latitudes offers fine dining and sweeping views of the Gulf of Mexico from tables set on the beach and indoors. Seasonal dinner menus feature local fish such as lemon-glazed yellowtail snapper or pan roasted rosemary cobia, fresh produce and an ample selection of traditional meats, poultries and pasta. Breakfast and lunch also are served. Visit sunsetkeycottages.com/key-west-restaurants/latitudes/ or call 305-292-5300.