FLORIDA KEYS — This fall, new offerings greet visitors traveling to the Florida Keys & Key West, with 125 miles of places with wide-open spaces stretching over scenic islands and vistas of turquoise sea and sky.
The Keys continue to evolve with new and upgraded resorts offering an increase in villas, suites and cottage accommodations providing space for social distancing among families and small groups.
Florida Keys tourism officials urge visitors to take personal health responsibility and embrace protective measures such as wearing masks, social distancing and frequent handwashing.
Venues and resorts throughout the Keys have added safeguards with enhanced sanitization and safety measures as mandated by state laws and local ordinances.
Masking and social distancing measures are mandated throughout the Keys. The destination’s visitor website at fla-keys.com offers comprehensive COVID-19 visitor guidelines.
Among what’s new:
A new luxury 7.1-acre 30-unit Islands of Islamorada, with vacation rental villas and a suite hotel, is an enclave of 22 three-story waterfront villas, each with four bedrooms, full kitchens and outdoor recreation space, accommodating eight to 10 guests. In the Ocean House, an additional eight one-bedroom suites, each accommodating up to three, directly front the Atlantic Ocean. Amenities include outdoor fire pit, grill stations, oceanfront Tiki bar, paddleboards, kayaks, fitness facility and classes, yoga lawn, two swimming pools and a whirlpool tub, pickleball and volleyball courts, private marina with 10 boat slips that can accommodate vessels up to 32 feet; oceanfront wedding and event spaces, high-speed internet and 24-hour on-site concierge assistance. Minimum three-night stays are required, priced from $1,700 per night for villas and from $600 per night for suites, plus taxes. It’s located at 82779 Old Highway on Upper Matecumbe Key. Guests can arrive by car, boat or seaplane. Visit theislandsofislamorada.com or call 305-440-3255.
In Islamorada, the 214-room, 27-acre oceanfront Cheeca Lodge & Spa has acquired 10 private villas, The Casitas at Cheeca Lodge, with personalized butler service, one- and two-bedroom units from 750 to 2,100 square feet, option of resort or ocean view, large furnished porches, full kitchens, bathrooms with rain showers and large soaking tubs, and washer and dryer. Guests have access to all the resort’s signature amenities at the Casita area with a private beach, pool and tennis courts. Cheeca Lodge recently added a third pool — a zero-entry, 1,100-square-foot pool accessible to all guests — in addition to its nearby family pool and adults-only pool at The Spa. A second Tiki bar, 25 South, offers tropical cocktails with all-day dining fare such as lobster grilled cheese, lobster mac and cheese and catch-of-the-day tacos. The resort is at 81801 Overseas Highway. Visit cheeca.com or call 800-327-2888.
In Marathon, the Holiday Inn Express & Suites is scheduled to rebrand to Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Marathon Florida Keys in early October. The newly renovated hotel is featuring 27 new waterfront suites for a total 161 guest rooms. The property has partnered with Deep Blue Dive & Marina, offering on-site jet ski rentals, charter boats and sunset cruises. The redesigned hotel also has a new 40-by-40-foot chickee hut for receptions and weddings, and additional patio space and pool deck seating. On-site, Sparky's Landing Tiki Bar and Restaurant is to provide poolside service at a newly added pool bar. The property is at 13201 Overseas Highway. Visit marriott.com/hotels/hotel-rooms/mthfi-fairfield-inn-and-suites-marathon-florida or call 305-289-0222.
In Key West, the new 219-room Kimpton Key West collection is to open its fourth and fifth Old Town boutique-style resorts: Ella’s Cottages at 811 Simonton St., for groups and extended stays; and Ridley House at 601 Caroline St., ideal for honeymooners and VIPs, in late November. Recently unveiled are the 44-room Fitch Lodge, opened Sept. 3 at 1030 Eaton St.; the 45-unit Lighthouse Hotel at 902 Whitehead St.; and 85-room Winslow’s Bungalows at 725 Truman Ave., named after artist Winslow Homer as the collection’s largest with three pools. Each pet-friendly resort offers hosted breakfasts, complimentary bikes, hammocks and its own pool. Visit kimptonkeywest.com or call 877-219-4500.
The Marker Key West Harbor Resort has unveiled a $3 million renovation that includes a new on-property waterfront Harbor House with upgraded one- and two-bedroom suites, ranging from 1,000 to 1,400 square feet, at the Old Town resort. A new fitness center, with Hydrow® rower machines and Peloton bikes, also was added. Its updated 655-square-foot meeting room features 11-foot ceilings. Visit themarkerkeywest.com or call 855-485-9291.
Beginning Oct. 1, United Airlines is to resume daily nonstop service to Key West from Chicago O’Hare and New Jersey’s Newark Liberty international airports. Beginning Nov. 6, United is to launch new nonstop service five times weekly between Key West and Washington Dulles International Airport — a new market for the Florida Keys with United. Those flights are to operate Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, excluding Tuesdays and Wednesdays. "The Washington, D.C. Beltway region has the potential to increase our visitor numbers in the fall shoulder season,” said Stacey Mitchell, director of the Florida Keys & Key West's destination marketing office. “It’s likely to become a top draw for visitors from the Northeast, which traditionally is one of our top winter feeder markets.” Beginning Dec. 17, United is to increase its new service to daily flights to Key West. Visit United Airlines at united.com or call 800-864-8331, or visit Key West International Airport at eyw.com or call 305-809-5200.
In Islamorada, the Keys History & Discovery Center, on-site at the Islander Resort at mile marker 82, continues virtual programming through November. Its “Curator Connections” educational sessions include “Cocktails with the Curator” and “Community Views,” alternating monthly on Wednesdays at 6 p.m. with curator Brad Bertelli. In addition, an upcoming lecture series includes subjects such as “Black Caesar, Pirate, Myth, Legend,” Oct. 14; “Underwater World of Exploration, Research & Discovery,” Oct. 28; and “(Coral) Baby Boom: Sexual Reproduction’s Role in Reef Restoration,” Nov. 11. On-site hours, subject to change, are Wednesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Members receive a Florida Keys Stories monthly e-newsletter. Visit keysdiscovery.com/virtual-platforms, keysdiscovery.com/curatorconnections or keysdiscovery.com/lectures or call 305-922-2237.
The Studios of Key West has unveiled its new Hugh’s View rooftop space atop its three-story Art Deco-style building at 533 Eaton St. Hugh’s View features a stage, sound system, grass-like turf surface, benches, two bar stations and flower-lined perimeter. Part of The Studios’ upcoming programming, with events and classes, is to be held on the rooftop terrace that can seat up to 40. Visit tskw.org or call 305-296-0458.
A Robert the Doll Experience ghost tour that began in September takes guests through the Fort East Martello Museum, Key West’s historic Civil War–era fort (construction on it began in 1862). Dubbed "the world's most haunted doll," Robert was first given to eccentric Key West youngster Robert Gene Otto in 1904 and today is on display at the museum. The Robert the Doll Experience is created by local author David Sloan, who chronicled the eerie doll’s history in the book “Robert the Doll,” in partnership with the nonprofit Key West Art & Historical Society that operates the museum. Each nighttime tour, priced at $29 per person, is limited to 15 participants; private tours can be booked. The fort is located at 3501 S. Roosevelt Blvd. Visit ghostfort.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A new two-hour Key West Art Walk, led by Key West native Maxwell Irwin, takes art-lovers to galleries, including the city’s oldest, and studios in the Historic Seaport district, highlighting places frequented by former residents Tennessee Williams, Mario Sanchez and Jose Marti. Tours meet in front of Green Pineapple Café, 1140 Duval St., at 10 a.m. Mondays through Sundays. Additional tours are offered at 3 p.m. on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets are $40 per person and include bottled water. Visit keywestartwalk.com or call 305-850-8343.
In Islamorada, Portside Studio & Gallery is expanding to a larger new venue at 81888 Overseas Highway (upstairs and behind Sotheby’s), moving from its Morada Way Cultural District location at 151 Morada Way. The studio is owned by artist Valerie Perreault, who creates linocut and woodcut art “with an island vibe.” Currently open Wednesdays to Saturdays, 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., an appointment-only opening is scheduled Oct. 8 and 9. Visit portsidestudioandgallery.com or call 617-756-9919.
Three new wave-themed sculptures have been added to the 80-mile Florida Keys Sculpture Trail, stretching from Islamorada to Key West. The trail’s newest additions include "Moire 3," sculpted by Frank Michielli, installed at the Big Pine Key Community Park; "Gaea" by Gaia Grossi, at Mote Marine Laboratory on Summerland Key; and "Wave Henge," based on an ancient sundial and created by Damon Hamm and Jeff Sundheim, at Key West’s Truman Waterfront Park. Recently installed are "Red Nun" by Jamie Emerson, near the entrance of Crane Point Hammock in Marathon; and "Fragments" by Shiho Sato, at the mile marker 80 rest park in Islamorada. Another, "Leaves of Grass" by Markus Holtby, is at Marathon’s The Art Studio. Two — "Stand Tall, Stand Loud" by Aaron Bell, and "Everyone Breaks" by Tanda Francis — can be discovered at Grassy Key’s oTHErside Adventure Park. “Wind Tower,” by seven artists, is located in Grimal Grove on Big Pine Key. Key West’s airport sculptures are “Avis Gloriae” and “Nature Eternal,” by Sheila Berger. The trail was established through the Florida Keys Council of the Arts, Key West philanthropists John Padget and the late Jacob Dekker, and the Monroe County Art in Public Places Committee. The sculptures first stood in Manhattan’s Riverside Park South. Visit keysarts.com or call 305-295-4369.
Wahlburgers Key West is a new 5,141-square-foot casual restaurant, with outdoor waterfront bar, overlooking the Historic Key West Seaport at A&B Marina, with signature burgers, fish tacos, a grouper sandwich, fried shrimp and other casual fare. Patrons can get deliveries via its Arcimoto Deliverator, an electric, zero-emission three-wheel vehicle. There’s also a Wahl Shack booth for pick-up orders. Located at 700 Front St., the restaurant is founded by the Wahlberg family, stars in A&E Network’s reality show “Wahlburgers,” that ended a five-year run in July 2019. The family includes Donnie Wahlberg, one of the stars of the CBS television series “Blue Bloods” and a founding member of the band New Kids on the Block; and Mark Wahlberg, an accomplished actor and executive producer of HBO series including “Boardwalk Empire” and “Entourage.” Visit wahlburgers.com
In Islamorada, the Freebee Electric Vehicle Ridesharing Service has two accessible nine-passenger “Freebee XL” electric vans and a five-passenger “Freebee Mini” transporting riders around the islands of Upper and Lower Matecumbe keys and Windley and Plantation keys. Excluding Mondays, current hours are Tuesday and Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Thursday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m. to midnight; Saturday 12 p.m. to midnight; and Sunday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. The larger vehicles can travel on the Florida Keys Overseas Highway and Islamorada’s bridges. Riders can download the Ride Freebee app from the App Store or Google play. Visit ridefreebee.com or call 305-984-5057.
Mote Marine Laboratory’s Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research and Restoration on Summerland Key is offering a virtual public tour Oct. 14 at 11 a.m. Complimentary in-person tours are to resume later this year. Mote achieved a recent milestone with its outplanting of 100,000 coral fragments (50,000 in 2019 and 2020) onto Florida’s Coral Reef. Mote also is establishing a new land-based coral nursery at Islamorada’s Bud n’ Mary’s Marina through a partnership with I.CARE, Islamorada’s newest nonprofit environmental organization. Corals raised there are to be outplanted at Cheeca Rocks, named one of seven Keys “iconic reefs” by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for restoration support. Mote’s Summerland Key center is located at 24244 Overseas Highway. Visit mote.org or call 305-745-2729.
The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary has added two new participants to its Sanctuary Blue Star Guides conservation and education program: Keys Boat Tours, a diving operator and fishing guide at Ohio Key, and Keyz Charters in Islamorada, with eco- and historic tours, snorkeling and sunset cruises. Blue Star operators earn annual training and compliance evaluations on issues affecting the coral reef and sanctuary, educate customers and participate in conservation activities. The program currently has 25 dive and 18 fishing guide members throughout the Keys. Visit sanctuarybluestar.org or call 305-809-4700.
Islamorada Coffee Roaster, a roving coffee van with roasted organic coffee, has a new I.CARE Blend — a mix of fair-trade, small-batch beans with some from Café Femenino women's global coffee cooperative. For each 1-pound bag of I.CARE Blend beans, $10 is donated to the nonprofit I.CARE for coral restoration efforts on Cheeca Rocks. Islamorada Coffee Roaster’s kitchen commissary and a soon-to-open retail venue is at 80924 Overseas Highway. Its bags and cups are compostable and environmentally safe inks are water-based. Visit islamoradacoffeeroasters.com or call 305-572-3001.
Key Largo Chocolates and Ice Cream, the Keys’ only chocolatier, has opened a new retail store, Keys Chocolates and Ice Cream in Islamorada at mile marker 81.9 oceanside. Its second retail store sells specialties such as ice cream, artisan chocolates, Key lime pretzels and pie on a stick. A new ice cream flavor includes ube, crafted from a purple yam from the Philippines, tasting similar to roasted marshmallow. Islamorada patrons can purchase take-outs or enjoy treats outdoors at picnic tables. Visit keylargochocolates.com or call 305-440-3178.
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS
Andy Newman/Carol Shaughnessy