The Florida Keys & Key West

Florida Keys News

Who’s that Keys Chick Paddleboarding with Her Pet Chicken?

By Laura Myers

Karly Venezia, director of sales and marketing at Islamorada’s iconic 22-acre Islander Resort, has spent more than half her life — 16 years — working at resorts in Key West and Islamorada.

Venezia, who has lived in the Florida Keys for 27 years, is one of the most knowledgeable longtime residents who travels — in the air and on the road in major cities — promoting the Florida Keys & Key West.

Born in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Venezia moved to Key West at the tender age of 1 with mother Karen Thurman, now general manager of a hotel in Marathon.

“Key West was a great place to grow up — you had the small-town atmosphere, everybody knew everybody and everyone kept an eye on you,” Venezia said.

“For a small town, Key West is very diverse. You learned not just tolerance, but acceptance of all kinds of people and all kinds of lifestyles,” she explained. “It has cultural diversity of not just residents, but also our visitors from all over the world.”

Exposed at an early age to Key West’s inclusive motto of “One Human Family,” Venezia recalls explaining to friends that “some Barbies like Barbie and some Barbies like Ken.”

Venezia attended local schools, graduating in 2005 from Key West High School, where she played soccer as a sophomore and was active in student council and Interact Club activities.

Key West children “are also exposed to a lot of culture and arts: the symphony, sculpture, all the galleries, live professional theater, professional dance,” Venezia said. “I can’t think of another small town that offers so much.

“And of course, we all grew up in and around the water. I learned to swim before I could walk. We were instilled with a sense of pride in our home and a desire to protect our natural environment,” she added. “Key West is a very family-oriented community.”

After school, Venezia worked part time at hotel jobs that included her first, at 14, as a PBX switchboard operator at the Doubletree Grand Key Resort. She worked the front desk at Southernmost Hotel at 15 and throughout high school at Hampton Inn Key West.

Evenings were spent celebrating Conch baseball. Weekends were spent at a popular Keys sandbar.

Growing up in Key West in the hospitality field had its perks.

“I’ve been on Fantasy Fest parade floats since I was 3 years old,” Venezia said, referencing the island city’s lavish October costuming and masking festival.

She also spent two years in Gainesville, Florida, where she attended Santa Fe College. During college, Venezia oversaw the front desk at Hampton Inn in Gainesville.

She moved back to Key West, lured by a job as reservations manager at the Doubletree Grand Key, and quickly was promoted to sales manager.

In 2013, when Islander Resort named Venezia sales manager, she moved to Islamorada. Three years later she was named director of sales. Recently Venezia celebrated her one-year wedding anniversary with husband Mike, a charter captain.

The couple enjoys Keys life with several pets that include dogs Ali and Khloe, cat Mako and chickens Gracie and Loretta. Loretta is a 1-year-old Rhode Island Red who, it seems, follows Venezia everywhere.

“Loretta is a lap chicken. When I moved up here, I guess I must have missed the local chickens from Key West,” Venezia said.

A recent video showing Venezia and Loretta enjoying the Keys on a paddleboard went viral, reaching more than 11 million viewers. It was picked up by global networks, TV stations and the Associated Press, Reuters, Euro Insider, One News Now, the Malay Mail and a variety of other outlets across the globe. In addition, social media exposure garnered more than 772 million potential online impressions.

Hundreds of friends subsequently contacted Venezia, who had no idea that the video showcasing her unusual pet and the sport of Keys paddleboarding would go viral.

She admits to being a bit overwhelmed by all the coverage.

“I feel like I took one for the team,” she said, laughing.

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Karly and husband Mike celebrated their wedding in Paris.

Karly and husband Mike celebrated their wedding in Paris.

Karly with Loretta on a recent sunset paddle.

Karly with Loretta on a recent sunset paddle.