FLORIDA KEYS — This winter the Florida Keys continue to spotlight sustainability with coral restoration programs while resorts showcase their offerings to accommodate friends, family and small groups with added villa and stand-alone cottage-style units.
In 2023 heritage activities are planned to celebrate Monroe County’s 200th anniversary, focusing on the rich history and culture of the Keys and the island chain’s place in Florida’s history. “Florida Keys & Key West 200” events are to commemorate the Florida Legislature’s July 3, 1823, establishment of Monroe County as Florida’s sixth county.
In addition, Naval Air Station Key West is to celebrate its own bicentennial with the Southernmost Air Spectacular featuring the U.S. Navy Blue Angels April 15-16 at NAS Key West’s Boca Chica Field.
Among what’s new:
In the Middle Keys, fixed-base operator Million Air has acquired the former Marathon Jet Center at Marathon International Airport as the airline’s fourth fixed-base operation in Florida. The operation has rebranded to Million Air Florida Keys and offers guests a staffed beverage cart greeting aircraft on arrival. Passengers can enjoy refreshments on the building’s covered second-story veranda. Two phases of construction are slated to begin in spring 2023. Phase 1 includes a new 9,958-square-foot full-service indoor-outdoor restaurant and parklike green roof to be open to both passengers and the Marathon community. Phase 2 includes two new hangars with leasing opportunities of 40,000 and 24,500 square feet. A ramp and taxiway connector expansion, targeted for completion in summer 2024, is to provide 16 acres of ramp space. Visit millionair.comor call 305-743-1995.
Key West International Airport has started construction on its 2.5-year, $100 million Concourse A terminal expansion, with completion targeted for summer 2025. The new second-level concourse is to feature nearly 50,000 square feet of space including an extensive contemporary departure area, additional baggage areas and an upgraded checkpoint supporting up to four security lanes. Seven passenger boarding jet bridges are to provide all-weather access linking the terminal and aircraft, while an extended passenger bridge is to connect the existing terminal building with the new concourse. Currently, six carriers — Allegiant, American, Delta, Jet Blue, Silver and United — serve the airport with 23 daily nonstop flights. Visit eyw.com or call 305-809-5200.
In Islamorada, Chesapeake Beach Resort is scheduled to open three new villas (in addition to eight previously opened and two yet to open) and a new boat ramp and dock by late January. Villa types, each with kitchenette, include an 830-square-foot ocean king villa, a 700-square-foot one-bedroom ocean view, a 650-square-foot two-bedroom, 520-square-foot king and ADA-king efficiencies, and 320-square-foot standard king units. The resort’s lobby is fully renovated with a newly added gift shop. The property currently offers 60 units with balconies, two pools, a beach bar cart and a beach venue for weddings, events, family reunions and corporate retreats of up to 100. Kayaks and fishing rods can be rented. Visit chesapeake-resort.com or call 305-664-4662.
In Islamorada, the 27-acre Cheeca Lodge & Spa has unveiled 43 new luxury oceanfront suites, each featuring more than 550 square feet and floor-to-ceiling glass doors opening to an expansive private lanai with open-air spa tub. The resort’s new stand-alone 10,000-square-foot event center, the Islamorada Ballroom, is located just north of the main lodge and is billed as the Upper Keys’ largest meeting and event venue. The ballroom accommodates 1,000 guests for receptions and 788 for banquet-style dinners. Cheeca Lodge now features more than 16,000 square feet of meeting and event space, including the resort’s 6,300 square feet, and a total 244 guest rooms and suites. In addition, The Casitas at Cheeca Lodge villas have personalized butler service, one- and two-bedroom units from 750 to 2,100 square feet, large furnished porches, full kitchens and washer and dryer. Visit cheeca.com or call 305-664-4651.
New watersports at The Islamorada Resort Collection — Amara Cay Resort, La Siesta Resort & Villas, Pelican Cove Resort & Marina and Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina — include guided sunset jet ski tours and rentals. In the spring, new Hypergliders — featuring a combination of Tohatsu outboard motors and stainless-steel propeller technology — and powered sandbar catamarans and paddle sports are to be added. Spray Watersports at Pelican Cove at mile marker 84 (84457 Overseas Highway) leads 26-mile guided jet ski tours through mangroves and past state parks, wildlife preserves and Alligator Reef Lighthouse, with a stop at an Islamorada sandbar. Visit spraywatersports.com or call 305-664-0075.
In the Middle Keys on Crawl Key at mile marker 57, the new 110-unit nature resort to be called Valhalla Island Resort is under development by Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris and his Floridian Holdings LLC. With more than 175 acres, it’s billed as the largest resort property in the Florida Keys and as “a new model for sustainability: committed to preserving the community and promoting the sport of fishing.” The property is to include a three-story, 29-room lodge with an additional 50 villas, cottages and homes as well as conservation areas, workforce housing and solar panels. Eight types of stand-alone units, with at least one porch and outside shower, are to range from 379-square-foot studios to 3,700-square-foot four-bedroom, four-bath homes. State-of-the-art sustainable design techniques are to be used including on-site renewable energy via solar and geothermal power, rainwater harvesting and storage, and orienting buildings to enhance natural ventilation. Planned amenities include a 12,000-square-foot spa with retail space, a 3,400-square-foot fitness facility and golf carts for guest transportation throughout the vehicle-free resort. The project is designed by architectural firm Hart Howerton of New York and San Francisco, and Nunzio Marc DeSantis Architects of Dallas. Completion is targeted within the next two years. Visit johnnymorrisnatureresorts.com or call 417-873-4567.
Kimpton Key West’s 23-room Ridley House is now Kimpton’s first flagged property that has evolved into an adult-only resort for guests 21 and older. Current Ridley House programming includes weekly blackjack, monthly tarot card readings and specialty poolside food and beverage offerings such as boozy popsicles, cocktails and mocktails and Key lime bites. Kimpton Key West is a collection of five boutique properties throughout Key West’s Old Town historic district. In addition to Ridley House, Kimpton Key West’s portfolio includes Winslow’s Bungalows, the Lighthouse Hotel, Ella’s Cottages and Fitch Lodge. Visit kimptonkeywest.com or call 305-294-6969.
At Everglades National Park, the all-new 24-unit Flamingo Lodge & Restaurant is slated to open in early 2023. Under construction using enhanced and modified shipping containers, the lodge offers 24 units with kitchenettes including studios and one- to two-bedroom suites fronting Florida Bay. The park’s fully renovated pink Guy Bradley Visitor Center with interactive exhibits, a gift shop and expansive views overlooking Florida Bay also is scheduled to open in spring. Twenty furnished eco-tents offer glamping-style camping. The park — the nation’s largest subtropical wilderness and the continental United States’ third-largest national park at 2,400 square miles — celebrated its 75th anniversary Dec. 3 in Monroe County’s Flamingo area, a 50-minute drive from the park’s South Florida entrance in Homestead. Visit nps.gov/ever or flamingoeverglades.com/flamingo-lodge-restaurant or call 855-708-2207.
In Key Largo, Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium’s third land-based Keys coral nursery is now open for complimentary public tours for 12 participants. Tours are scheduled Fridays at 10 a.m. at Reefhouse Resort & Marina, 103800 Overseas Highway. Reservations can be made at mote.org/KeyLargo. Mote — raising brain, star and branching corals both onshore and offshore — outplants coral along the entirety of the Florida Keys reef tract. Key Largo efforts are focused on Carysfort, Grecian Rocks and French reefs. A separate Mote satellite land-based coral nursery is located at Bud 'N Mary's Marina in Islamorada, with public tours available Tuesdays at 2 p.m. Reservations can be made at mote.org/Islamorada. At the Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research & Restoration on Summerland Key, Mote offers public tours Tuesdays at 10 a.m. with required reservations. Private tours are available on request. Visit mote.org or call 305-745-2729.
In Marathon, Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters at 11710 Overseas Highway has a new exhibit with a Cassiopeia, or moon jellyfish, habitat located between the coral and predator reef tank viewing windows. Guided in-water experiences include a Coral Reef encounter where guests can snorkel or dive with over 2,000 fish and feed sharks or other predators through a window, Stingray Cove where guests get into the water to interact with stingrays, and a Big Shark Bay encounter where participants pet and feed an adult nurse shark. A mangrove lagoon features 50 different species of local fish including tarpon, queen angelfish, parrotfish, barracuda, goliath grouper and bonnethead sharks. Visit floridakeysaquariumencounters.com or call 305-407-3262.
In Marathon, the dog-friendly Salty Pup Adventures enables visitors to spend time on the water with their dogs (under 40 pounds) on a 27-foot catamaran-style vessel with Yamaha engines. The World Cat 270 SD offers spacious lounge seating at the bow, bench seating at the stern and is equipped with a large ladder for easy access to and from the water. Excursions include a two-hour sunset, four- and six-hour sandbar, four- and six-hour snorkel and sandbar, and six-hour island getaway tours from Marathon Sailfish Marina at 100 Avenue I. Visit saltypupadventures.com or call 770-318-0067.
In Key West’s Truman Waterfront Park, the redesigned Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center is open to the public Fridays and Saturdays, with planning underway for a community grand opening in early 2023. The state-of-the-art family-friendly facility offers contemporary new exhibits that highlight Florida Keys mangrove habitats and allow interaction with life-size mangrove branches. Visitors can “dive” into the Keys’ coral reef with immersive digital interactives, audio and tactile objects, and also explore maritime heritage. The freestanding main exhibit focuses on the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, while other exhibits include a colorful light-filled aquarium showcasing coral restoration, the shipwrecks of the Florida Keys Shipwreck Trail and an interactive paddleboard experience through the mangroves. Visit floridakeys.noaa.gov/eco_discovery.html or call 305-809-4750.
In Key West, Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe has opened a 1,600-square-foot store at 335 Duval St. that includes a full kitchen used for demonstrations. As well as signature Key lime pies, Kermit’s Key lime products include doggie treats, fresh juice, cookies, candy, sauces, salsa and relish, specialty oils, jams and jellies, dry mixes, nuts and snacks, seasonings, gift assortments, bath and body products, clothing and accessories. Items under development include a key lime bath salt to be launched in early 2023. Visit keylimeshop.com or call 305-296-0806.
This winter the Florida Keys continue to spotlight sustainability with coral restoration programs, like Mote Marine Laboratory's third land-based Keys coral nursery, now open for tours at Reefhouse Resort & Marina in Key Largo.
Naval Air Station Key West celebrates its bicentennial and Monroe County's 200th anniversary with the Southernmost Air Spectacular featuring the U.S. Navy Blue Angels. Photo: Mike Freas
Key West International Airport has started construction on its 2.5-year, $100 million Concourse A terminal expansion with seven new passenger boarding jet bridges.
Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris' nature-themed Valhalla Island Resort is under development on Crawl Key in the Middle Keys, billed as a new model for sustainability.
Fully-furnished eco-tents are now available at Flamingo in Everglades National Park. A new 24-unit lodge and restaurant opens spring 2023. Photo: JoNell Modys
Salty Pup Adventures lets visitors spend time on the water with their dogs on a catamaran-style power boat for snorkel, sandbar and sunset tours.