Winter may bring snowy or freezing weather to many U.S. locations, but the 125-mile-long Florida Keys island chain ushers in subtropical warmth and a variety of outdoor and cultural activities for visitors.
Keys resorts continue to undergo rebranding, renovations and expansions, adding suites for families that allow social distancing while reconnecting with loved ones.
New seasonal winter flights into Key West include daily nonstop service from Houston on United Airlines, and daily service from Boston, Orlando and Tampa on American Airlines. Aztec Airways has new service from Fort Lauderdale.
In Key West, masks are mandated everywhere outside of a lodging establishment or residence. Throughout all other areas of the Keys, everyone must carry a facial covering for immediate use to be worn inside businesses and outdoors when 6 feet of social distancing is not possible. Masks may be removed for eating or drinking.
Visitor venues, attractions and resorts throughout the Keys have enhanced sanitization and safety measures. For comprehensive COVID-19 visitor guidelines, visit fla-keys.com.
Among what’s new:
In Marathon, the 16-acre waterfront Faro Blanco Resort & Yacht Club, with 125 rooms and a 73-slip marina accommodating vessels up to 120 feet, has been acquired by EOS Investors LLC, which describes it as an “amenity-rich, destination resort.” EOS also owns the nearby Isla Bella Beach Resort. Faro Blanco’s amenities include the 199-seat Lighthouse Grill with expansive waterfront views, two swimming pools, bar, market, fitness center, on-site watersports and fishing charters, and more than 11,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space. The resort’s on-site landmark Faro Blanco Lighthouse has guided guests by land and sea since the 1950s. Visit faroblancoresort.com or call 305-743-1234.
The historic Casa Marina Key West, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, celebrates its 100th anniversary on New Year’s Eve as the final project of industrialist Henry M. Flagler, founder of the Florida Keys East Coast Railroad that stretched from the Florida mainland to Key West. Casa Marina opened on New Year's Eve 1920 as Key West's most glamorous resort . It was converted into U.S. Navy office headquarters from 1942-1946 and was commandeered by the U.S. military during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Notable guests have included Ernest Hemingway, Rita Hayworth and other famous Keys visitors. Today the landmark resort, beloved by locals and visitors, offers 311 rooms and suites, two private pools, a large private beach and the island’s largest space for meetings and weddings with 11,000 square feet indoors and outdoors. Amenities include Spa al Mare; Flagler’s Ballroom, serving daily breakfast; and the outdoor Sun Sun Beach Bar & Grill with lunch, dinner and “toes in the sand” dining options. Visit casamarinaresort.com or call 305-296-3535.
In Key West, the 219-room Kimpton Key West collection is adding its fourth and fifth Old Town boutique-style resorts. Ridley House (the former Cypress House Inn) at 601 Caroline St., ideal for honeymooners and VIPs, is to open Feb. 14. Ella’s Cottages at 811 Simonton St., for groups and extended stays, opened Nov. 15. Recently unveiled are the 44-room Fitch Lodge, 1030 Eaton St.; the 45-unit Lighthouse Hotel, 902 Whitehead St.; and the 85-room Winslow’s Bungalows, 725 Truman Ave., named after artist Winslow Homer and the collection’s largest property with three pools. Each pet-friendly resort has continental breakfasts, complimentary bikes, hammocks and its own pool. Visit kimptonkeywest.com or call 877-219-4500.
The new boutique Capitana Key West — one of the closest properties on North Roosevelt Boulevard to downtown Duval Street and with a private beach fronting the Gulf of Mexico — is scheduled to open by early 2021 as an Opal Collection property. Seventy-five rooms, each with a balcony, include 64 units with Gulf views and 11 townhome-style cottages (offering grocery deliveries from Fausto’s Food Palace). The 64 units include 3 suites with two bedrooms (one with bunks and one a king); 32 king rooms, some with wraparound Gulf-view balconies; and 29 queen rooms with kitchenettes. Four units are ADA-accessible. Amenities include a 24-hour fitness center, signature bicycles, lobby market shop and poolside cabanas (reservations required). It’s at 2401 N. Roosevelt Blvd., previously the site of Banana Bay Resort & Marina. Visit thecapitanakeywest.com or call 305-292-6925.
Margaritaville Key West Resort & Marina is to be rebranded Jan. 4 as the 178-room Opal Key Resort & Marina as part of the Opal Collection Hotels & Resorts. A seamless transition is to unveil a resort known for offering its popular Key West experiences with a convenient, central location adjacent to Mallory Square at 245 Front St. The resort is home to a full-service 37-slip marina with watersports, outdoor and indoor dining options, waterside shops and live entertainment. Visit opalcollection.com or call 305-294-4000.
In the Lower Keys, the 524-acre Bahia Honda State Park is undergoing a $2.96 million restoration of its Sandspur area on the park's north side, with completion targeted by late 2021. Full restoration includes its mile-long Sandspur Beach, 24-campsite Sandspur campgrounds, a 155-car parking area and two shower towers at the day-use area. The park, known for sandy beaches, shallow-water swimming and snorkeling, is located at 36850 Overseas Highway. Visit floridastateparks.org/BahiaHondaor call 305-872-2353.
In Key West, visitors can pen their own stories in the second-story writing studio of Ernest Hemingway at his Spanish colonial villa, the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum at 907 Whitehead St. A three-hour, after-hours experience for two can inspire creativity in the space where Hemingway penned “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and other works. “For a writer to be able to occupy Hemingway's same space, and soak in the same creative atmosphere he did, is a priceless opportunity,” said Mike Morawski, the museum’s chief executive officer. Cost varies; advance reservations are required. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum also has a new virtual book club, offered through Facebook @Hemingway Home Book Club, featuring selected books every six weeks. Launching Jan. 1, its selections are to focus on books by author Ernest Hemingway and works of historical and modern fiction relating to Hemingway. Book discounts are to be offered through an online book store. Email email@example.com or call 305-294-1136.
The Lighthouse Hotel, a Kimpton Key West collection member located at 902 Whitehead St. across from the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, offers “A Hemingway Affair” for private parties of up to 10. The Hemingway Suite, with a view of the literary legend’s former home, can be reserved for a culinary experience with a custom menu created by Great Events Catering, cocktail hour with butler-passed hors d’oeuvres and a multicourse in-suite meal prepared by a private chef. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 305-294-8067.
BeachBunny’s Original Tours of Key West offers GPS-driven downloadable audio and multimedia tours for walking, biking and driving. Visitors can maintain social distancing and get an authentic, immersive Key West experience. Tours include Easy Stroll Through Old Town, Key West; Perfect Key West Sunset Stroll; Bike the Beaches and Back Roads of Key West; and Day Trip! A Drive Through the Lower Keys. Interested participants can download BeachBunny Tours’ free app to a phone or tablet through the Apple Store or Google Play, then choose a desired tour. Visit beachbunnytours.com.
The Key West Art & Historical Society offers a Key West Lighthouse Sunset Experience for groups of up to eight, featuring 90 minutes of exclusive access to the lighthouse, keeper’s quarters and grounds. The lighthouse, opened in 1848, has 88 steps to reach the top. Each experience includes a complimentary bottle of wine or Prosecco and artisanal meats, cheeses or sweets (vegan and vegetarian options are available) from a local wine shop. Bookings are required at least 24 hours in advance. The grounds and keeper’s quarters museum are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Contact email@example.com.
Dry Tortugas National Park, located about 70 miles off Key West, has begun a $4.5 million three-phase full restoration of its 144-year-old iron-plated Tortugas Harbor Lighthouse on historic Fort Jefferson, considered an iconic symbol of the remote park. “While partial repairs to the lighthouse have occurred over the past 40 years, it has never received this kind of comprehensive preservation,” said Pedro Ramos, South Florida parks and preserve superintendent. The project, funded from park entrance fees, includes disassembling the 37-foot-tall iron structure; metal conservation and repair in Alexander City, Alabama; and reassembly in Dry Tortugas. The lighthouse was deactivated in 1921. Visit nps.gov/drto/learn/historyculture/lighthouses.htm.