FLORIDA KEYS — The Florida Keys & Key West offer a variety of new and enhanced accommodations, attractions, sustainable and eco libations and Everglades National Park amenities that highlight the National Park Service's 100th anniversary in August.
Explore some new reasons to visit the Florida Keys here:
Resort properties in the Keys continue to add new amenities and summer packages while two new properties, in Key Largo and Key West, come on line to welcome guests.
The eagerly awaited Playa Largo Resort & Spa, mile marker (MM) 97.5, is set to open in late summer as the first new-build Key Largo resort in more than 21 years. The full-service resort, the newest addition to Marriott's Autograph Collection, is to offer 144 rooms and suites, 10 secluded bungalows and a standalone luxury guest house.
The 14.5-acre facility is to feature a 6,000-square-foot ballroom ideal for destination weddings, corporate events, meetings and banquets.
Resort amenities include a private marina, several restaurants, a beachfront Tiki Bar, an expansive waterfront pool, 745 feet of beach, two tennis courts and a basketball court, watersport rentals, a state-of-the-art fitness center, a full-service spa and salon and a children's activity and nature learning center.
The property is the ninth partnership between Florida developer Prime Hospitality Group and Shaner Hotels, a hospitality owner-operator.
Playa Largo is located at 97450 Overseas Highway bayside. For more information, visit www.playalargoresort.com or call 305-853-1001.
The 141-room Hilton Garden Inn Key West / The Keys Collection, the brand's first property in Key West, opened in mid-April near the entry point of the southernmost city in the continental United States.
The hotel features a contemporary design, open and bright with a vibrant color palette of green, blue and orange. Each guest room features the brand's signature bedding with crisp white linens, a spacious work desk with an ergonomic desk chair, a mini-fridge, microwave and Keurig coffee maker.
Property amenities include an outdoor bar located within the pool area, a 24-hour pantry with snacks and complimentary Wi-Fi throughout the property. The hotel is managed by Highgate, a premier hospitality investment and management company.
Hilton Garden Inn is located at 3850 N. Roosevelt Blvd. For more information visit www.hgi.com or call 305-320-0920.
Key West's 311-room Casa Marina, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, now offers direct seaplane air service from Florida airports to the property's private beach pier through an exclusive partnership with Key West Seaplanes.
The summer “Soaring Experiences Key West” package is priced from $6,250 for two guests to travel from their preferred Florida airport. It includes a two-night stay with daily complimentary breakfast at the historic property, greeting by the resort's VIP manager, welcome cocktail, personal photo of the guests' seaplane landing, beach butler and two pairs of Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses in-room on arrival. Guests arriving on a Key West Seaplanes flight also can bypass hotel check-in and be escorted directly to their lanai room or oceanfront suite.
Guests can travel to the Casa Marina by seaplane, with a champagne toast, from Florida cities including Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Tampa, Orlando and Naples.
The Casa Marina is located at 1500 Reynolds St. in Key West. For more information e-mail Andrew.Sir@waldorfastoria.com, visit www.casamarinaresort.com or call 1-888-303-5717.
Hawks Cay Resort, a AAA Four Diamond Award and Preferred Hotel Group Lifestyle Collection member on Duck Key, has opened its new Camp Hawk Environmental Education Program. The program was created by a certified teacher for children ages 5-12 as a fun way to learn about the unique ecosystem of the Florida Keys.
Children can learn about bugs, birds, sea creatures, creepy critters and Florida's varied weather systems in the program that's based on educational theory and is supportive of Common Core standards.
A four-hour morning program at Camp Hawk is offered daily for children from kindergarten through grade 6, priced at $60 per person with lunch. Campers seeking a full-day experience also have an afternoon adventure program with themed games and crafts. The full-day camp is priced at $90 per person including snack and lunch.
The Middle Keys property on Duck Key features 177 guest rooms and 225 two- and three-bedroom villas, a full-service marina, six restaurants, a saltwater lagoon, five swimming pools, kids and teen clubs and the award-winning Calm Waters Spa.
For more details visit www.hawkscay.com or call 877-484-9342.
The Glunz Ocean Beach Hotel & Resort in Key Colony Beach is offering a two-night “It Takes Two Romance” package, available through Aug. 31 and priced from $599 per couple for suite accommodations for two nights.
Package amenities include welcome champagne, assorted chocolates, fresh seasonal berries and complimentary dessert at the resort's new Havana Jack's oceanside restaurant. The package is subject to availability and excludes service fees and taxes.
In addition, summer movie nights are held on the property each Monday at 8:30 p.m. through October, with free popcorn and special movie-night dinner menus. Kids under 12 eat free with adults. The Middle Keys resort, offering a private beach to its guests, is located at 351 E. Ocean Drive.
To learn more, visit www.glunzoceanbeachhotel.com or call 800-321-7213 or 305-289-0525.
Attractions in the Florida Keys, both all natural and human-created, are brimming with one-of-a-kind features, combining eco-beauty, rich history and unique opportunities to view the region's wildlife.
The Key West Art & Historical Society recently debuted an exhibit titled Stanley Papio: Junkyard Rebel that features more than 100 sculptures created by the late Key Largo folk artist Stanley Papio. Born in 1914, Papio was a renegade metal sculptor, beloved as one of the Florida Keys' most eccentric characters.
The new permanent exhibit is open at Fort East Martello Museum, 3501 S. Roosevelt Blvd.
Papio's welded creations, blending satirical social commentary and gritty whimsy, often represented actual people, animals or objects. The Papio exhibition features large and small sculptures and three-dimensional constructions, including the towering “The Preacher.”
Known as Barefoot Stanley because he seldom wore shoes, Papio died in 1982. Today his constructions are acclaimed for their inventiveness and humor, and recognized as culturally important American artwork.
Visitors to the Florida Keys History & Discovery Center in Islamorada, at MM 82 on the property of the Islander Resort, a Guy Harvey Outpost, now can enjoy an interactive historical experience through a new permanent model of Indian Key, once the Florida Keys' second largest community outside of Key West.
Indian Key, located on the Atlantic Ocean side of the Keys island chain, is accessible only by private boat or kayak. The new model explores the history of the key, depicting what once was a thriving wrecking or shipwreck salvage village developed by wrecker John Jacob Housman. The island community was destroyed during a Seminole attack on Aug. 7, 1840.
The exhibit also includes artifacts on loan from the Florida Division of Historical Resources.
The Discovery Center's 35-seat theater is equipped with surround sound and a 4K-technology and projection system. The center is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. General admission is $12 per adult, $10 for seniors and free for children 13 and under.
To learn more visit www.keysdiscovery.com or call 305-922-2237.
A new watersports company, All In Watersports, has opened in Islamorada at MM 85.5 bayside, offering a five-hour “Day of Fun” all-inclusive trip that departs from Smugglers Cove Resort daily at noon. The company offers parasailing, jet skis, clear kayaks and standup paddleboarding. Other attractions include a floatable rock-climbing wall, water park and water trampolines. The company's fleet includes three personal watercraft and five boats. Participants can experience their adventure in Florida Bay or the Atlantic Ocean.
An affiliated company, Clearly Unique Charters in Key West, features completely clear kayaks for an intriguing combined eco- and snorkel experience.
Both companies offer a money-back guarantee against sea sickness.
All In Watersports is located at Windley Key, 85500 Overseas Highway in Islamorada. Clearly Unique Charters is located at 231 Margaret St. in Key West. To learn more, visit www.allinwatersports.com or www.clearlyuniquecharters.com.
The main entrance area of the 2,805-acre Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, located a half-mile north of MM 106 on County Road 905, is to re-open June 11 after a three-month restoration that included the removal of several buildings, asphalt and fill.
The park has one of the largest contiguous tracts of West Indian tropical hardwood hammock in the United States. Restoration of the tropical hardwood hammock opens additional trail sections to visitors in the park, known as one of Key Largo's best-kept secrets. The park is home to 84 protected species of plants and animals including wild cotton, mahogany mistletoe and the American crocodile.
Backcountry permits for trail hiking, which begins about seven miles north of the entrance, can be obtained at the ranger station at nearby John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Visitors can explore the park's six miles of nature trails, most of them paved, accessible to bicycles and wheelchairs. Ranger-guided tours are available.
For more details visit www.floridastateparks.org/park/Key-Largo-Hammock or call 305-451-1202.
The Islamorada Foundation is to showcase its weekly Monday Green Market from December through April and free evening music at its inaugural property, the 1.1-acre Southwinds Park, MM 82 oceanside, in the heart of downtown Islamorada. The park is within walking distance of popular Islamorada resorts such as Cheeca Lodge & Spa, Casa Morada and La Jolla Resort.
In December and January, the foundation is to feature its fourth Annual “60 Nights of Lights,” a showcase of holiday lights on dozens of park trees sponsored by individuals and businesses.
Free Sunday “After Dark in the Park” concerts are to be presented from 6-8 p.m. Dec. 4 and 18 and, in 2017, Jan. 8 and 22, Feb. 5 and 19, and March 5 and 19.
The non-profit foundation manages and improves the park property under an operating agreement with the Village of Islamorada.
For more information visit www.islamoradafoundation.com or call 305-407-4637.
Keys Food and Drink
Restaurants throughout the Florida Keys & Key West are known worldwide for serving the freshest succulent seafood, creatively prepared with local ingredients such as mangoes and limes. New liquid libations are becoming part of the Keys' sustainability movement that also includes fresh, organic ingredients in cocktails.
The Eco-Bar at The Stoned Crab restaurant is Key West's first bar to go au natural, adding organic produce and alcoholic bases to crafted cocktails. The Eco-Bar calls itself the first environmentally friendly bar on the island to serve only sustainable wine and spirits, organic eco-cocktails and craft-brewed beers.
The Eco-Bar uses herbs from the restaurant's own garden, all-natural alcoholic bases and seasonal fruits and vegetables from Florida farms to give cocktails a fragrant, earthy punch. The idea for The Eco-Bar was partly inspired by Paul Menta, executive chef of The Stoned Crab and founder of the Key West First Legal Rum Distillery.
The Eco-Bar, which opened in mid-May, is located adjacent to Ibis Bay Beach Resort at 3101 N. Roosevelt Blvd.
To learn more call 305-294-4350 or visit www.stonedcrabkeywest.com.
Hawks Cay Resort has unveiled its new Angler & Ale restaurant at the 85-slip Hawks Cay Marina, located on Duck Key at 61 Hawks Cay Blvd. The venue, a new entertainment destination, gives guests a place to savor Keys art, “Rock the Docks” night-time programming offered every other week and other lively entertainment. Angler & Ale features panoramic views, 230 indoor and outdoor seats for dining and lounge areas around two fire pits.
Menu highlights include broiled Florida lobster and a Lobster Reuben, crispy grouper cheeks, whole roasted snapper and a “Hook N Cook” option, allowing guests to bring in their fresh catch and have a chef cook it up.
Angler & Ale also has an extensive beer selection with signature Angler's Ale brew. It's open seven days a week for lunch, dinner and drinks.
For more details visit www.anglerandale.com or call 305-209-9991.
Islamorada's legendary 27-acre Cheeca Lodge & Spa, built in 1946, celebrates 70 years of service with new food and beverage programming. New celebratory beverages include a specialty themed cocktail and custom-crafted beer brewed by Florida Keys Brewery.
Cheeca's signature “Live the Legend” cocktail –- created in honor of Islamorada's founders who farmed coconuts and pineapples -- is made with tropical house-crafted pineapple-infused coconut rum, cranberry and lime juices topped with a fresh rum-soaked pineapple.
The resort's crisp new “It's Cheeca, Baby!” brew is a light German-style blend of hops, hibiscus and honey.
The offerings are part of the yearlong celebration titled “Authentically Cheeca” that includes unique Florida Keys experiences through promotions, partnerships and programming.
Cheeca Lodge is located at MM 82. For more information visit www.cheeca.com or call 305-712-7166.