The Florida Keys and Key West are experiencing a significant wave of development with new resorts, sustainable transportation options, attractions, and airlift all being brought online.
Among the most notable highlights, new sustainable transportation options have been added in Islamorada’s Upper Matecumbe Key and were expanded in Key West.
The region’s attractions meanwhile, continue to showcase sustainability and protection of the Keys’ natural resources and the island chain’s surrounding waters.
Bungalows Key Largo
In Key Largo, the adults-only Bungalows Key Largo, a 12-acre 135-unit “luxury inclusive” resort is scheduled to open December 20 as the Key’s first all-inclusive resort.
Located at mile marker 99 bayside, the resort features Zen Garden Spa, two in-ground pools, a fitness Tiki hut, 1,000 feet of shoreline, three piers to accommodate 40-foot-long boats, 800-square-foot bungalows and 4,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space.
Dining venues are Bogie & Bacall’s, Sea Senor, Fish Tales, and a food truck. There will also be two on-site bars.
Baker’s Cay Resort
The new 200-room, 13-acre Baker’s Cay Resort, at mile marker 97 bayside in Key Largo, is accepting bookings for stays beginning February 28.
The Florida Keys’ only Curio Collection by Hilton, the property is to feature a Cay-9 pet program with amenities such as pet beds, animal lifejackets, cooling water bowls and collar charms.
Pets can explore the hotel’s private beach and swim in Florida Bay during Paw Happy Hour. “Puptails” include bacon-flavored “yappetizers,” Cay-9 Kibble and Catch of the Day entrees, ice cream bones, Dog Perignon Champagne (filtered water with wild Alaskan salmon oil) and FetchMe Noir (filtered water infused with organic bacon extract).
Pet parents can indulge at a beachside tequila and taco bar with house-made hot sauces crafted from peppers grown on the property.
In Islamorada, the 24-acre, 115-room Islander Resort at mile marker 82.1 oceanside is to partially reopen in late December, unveiling a full transformation as a greenhotels.com partner member.
Cottage-style units feature sleek, contemporary decor with screened lanais and upscale in-room amenities. Watersports, massage and wellness services, two pools, a hot tub, and a new family splash pad are among resort offerings.
Dining concepts include Elements Lounge & Restaurant and the casual poolside Tides Beachside Bar & Grill.
The Islander Conference Center, with state-of-the-art facilities, overlooks a newly installed Great Lawn.
Isla Bella Beach Resort
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 in March with a 4,000-square-foot spa, five pools, four food and beverage concepts, a marina and more than 24,000 square feet of meeting and event space.
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 activities to be offered.
Parrot Key Hotel & Villas
In Key West, the 148-unit Parrot Key Hotel & Villas is partially open with a full refurbishment, poolside Tortuga Bar, on-site bicycles and jet skis.
The resort’s new Grove Kitchen & Bar is scheduled to open in January. A waterfront villa experience and upgraded Beach Club program are also to be added.
Villas offer multiple bedrooms, space for entertaining, separate living room and wet bar. Waterfront villas will feature a complimentary one-hour stay extension on request and twice-daily ice delivered to the room.
Laureate Key West
The 64-unit all-suite Laureate Key West has opened, appointed with coastal chic rooms featuring full kitchenettes including refrigerator, stove top, microwave, and dishwasher.
Spacious suites feature premium cable channels, complimentary high-speed Wi-Fi, a coffee maker, and work desk. A large pool cabana is available on a complimentary, first-come, first served basis.
Need a ride on Islamorada’s Upper Matecumbe Key after shopping or dining?
Freebee Islamorada is operating a new free electric vehicle ride service Thursdays through Sundays. A six-month trial was launched November 29 by the Village of Islamorada and Freebee.
Freebee’s service is offered Thursdays and Fridays from 4 p.m. to midnight, Saturdays from noon to midnight, and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. There is no service Monday through Wednesday.
Delta Air Lines meanwhile is set to launch new seasonal service between New York’s LaGuardia and Key West International airports, with Saturday flights from March 9 through August 31.
Delta Connection carrier Republic Airline will operate the flights on Embraer E-170 aircraft, with 69 seats including nine first-class seats. Delta flies daily between Key West and Atlanta year-round.
Southern Airways Express is also expanding its service to the region, offering new roundtrip daily weekday and twice-daily weekend service to Key West from West Palm Beach on Cessna Caravan nine-passenger turboprop aircraft.
The nonstop service operates between fixed-base operators Atlantic Aviation at West Palm Beach’s Palm Beach (PBI) and Signature Flight Support at Key West (EYW) international airports.
And still more news on the transportation front, Key West’s free Duval Loop bus has expanded its service, operating daily from 6 a.m. to midnight year-round with 18 stops for easy car-free access to Mallory Square, Truman Waterfront Park and many of the island’s popular attractions.
Islamorada’s Florida Keys History & Discovery Center at Islander Resort, mile marker 82, has unveiled a new Coral Reef Exploration exhibit with three aquariums, educational storyboards, interactive kiosks, and video monitors.
A 1,250-gallon aquarium showcases native local species such as angel and butterfly fish, tangs and wrasse, and invertebrates making their home on and around Keys coral reefs. Two 280-gallon aquariums support invasive lionfish, live corals, crustaceans and reef fish.
The exhibit is the result of a partnership between Mote Marine Laboratory and the Florida Keys History and Discovery Foundation, which operates the Discovery Center. The $250,000 project was funded in part by the Monroe County Tourist Development Council, in-kind contributions from Mote and donations.
In Marathon, Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters is now offering tank certification packages and occasional visits by “mermaids” during special events.
Aquarium Encounters certification costs $250 and is guided by the National Association of Underwater Instructors. It is an immersive coral reef tank encounter. Participants can feed tropical fish and cownose rays in a 200,000-gallon tank, as well as feed sharks through acrylic glass partitions that separate guests from the sharks.
The package includes Aquarium Encounters admission for one year, a personalized tank certification card, complimentary fin and snorkel coupon at Deep Blue Dive, 25 percent discounts on future encounters and 10 percent café and gift shop discounts. The certification card is valid at other NAUI Dream Destinations, but is not an open-water dive certification.
Meanwhile, on Big Pine Key, the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Nature Center is scheduled to open in January.
The new center, with 1,500 square feet of exhibition space, showcases the Keys’ four national wildlife refuges: National Key Deer, Great White Heron, Key West, and Crocodile Lake refuges. It’s located at 30587 Overseas Highway near mile marker 30.5.
On Key West, the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum has unveiled a new exhibit titled “With Little More Than the Shirts on Their Backs.” The exhibit features displays of personal choices and items that Cuban balseros, or rafters, brought to the Keys on chugs — handmade boats — on their treacherous journeys to freedom.
The museum’s second-floor exhibit joins its “Voyage to Freedom” series, with chugs as part of the museum’s “continuing exploration of a specific and short-lived period in contemporary American and Caribbean history that saw a tremendous influx of Cuban balseros risking everything for a new life,” said executive director Melissa Kendrick.
The U.S. wet-foot, dry-foot policy, which ended in January 2017, allowed fleeing Cubans — usually traveling on chugs across the Florida Straits — who landed on U.S. soil to remain.
On Summerland Key, Mote Marine Laboratory’s Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research and Restoration offers new complimentary public tours from 10-11 a.m. Tuesdays and 3-4 p.m. Fridays.
The tours are geared toward those interested in learning about the science behind coral restoration, said Allison Delashmit, Florida Keys community relations and community manager.
The Nature Conservancy has unveiled #RespectOurReef guidelines for divers, snorkelers and anglers to help protect the continental United States’ only living coral barrier reef system, which runs parallel to the Florida Keys.
Tips include anchoring away from corals and using a mooring ball if possible, avoiding touching coral, using coral-safe sunscreen and avoiding leaving unwanted fishing lines or other litter in the water.
Divers, snorkelers and anglers who see coral issues, such as bleaching or disease, are urged to report information to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s SEAFAN, or Southeast Florida Action Network. They also are encouraged to pledge to share details about #RespectOurReef.