New Accommodations, Spirited Tours and Duval Loop Are Among What's New in the Florida Keys & Key West for Summer 2017
FLORIDA KEYS -- The pace of life slows a bit in the Florida Keys & Key West during summer, while new boutique-style accommodations — including the soon-to-open Marquesa 4-1-4, a sister property to Key West's acclaimed Marquesa Hotel — continue to refresh the destination.
For ease of access through Key West to the island's downtown attractions, the southernmost city in the continental United States is soon to launch a new hop-on, hop-off bus service. The complimentary Duval Loop transportation is to allow car-free access, making it easy for visitors to park, ride and walk to Duval Street and nearby attractions.
New spirited beverage tour options, showcasing mead and rum, are now offered at the Keys' first meadery in Key Largo and a new rum distillery in Key West. For families, an experience making authentic Key lime pie presents a fun and novel activity. Here's what's new:
On Grassy Key near Marathon, LaTeDa by the Sea, an all-suite two-, three- and four-bedroom oceanfront resort, has opened at mile marker 58. The new property includes renovations of two former motels, Casa Del Sol and Yellowtail Inn.The new resort offers 23 oceanfront units, each with a minimum 600 square feet, full kitchens and private verandas. Its sister property in Key West is the 15-room LaTeDa Hotel at 1125 Duval St., where Cuban national hero Jose Marti gave his revolutionary "Cuba Libre" speeches from a second-floor balcony during the 1890s. LaTeDa by the Sea is located at 58162 Overseas Highway. Call 305-743-8400.
On Geiger Key in the Lower Keys, Geiger Key Marina & RV Park, with 40 total sites, has new RV rentals available nightly, weekly or monthly. Seven travel trailer rental RVs, each with partial ocean views, are self-contained with full hookups and sleep two to 10 guests. The RVs are priced from $129 to $249 a night and include towels, linens, dishes, pots, pans and utensils. Geiger Key Marina, billed as an "old Florida fish camp," includes The Fish Camp restaurant and Tiki bar, popular among locals. A barbecue dinner on Sundays at 4 p.m. is a weekly favorite. Geiger Key Marina & RV Park, about 10 miles northeast of Key West near mile marker 10.5, is located at 5 Geiger Road. Call 305-296-3553.
In Key West, the acclaimed 27-room Marquesa Hotel, with history dating from 1884, is to open a new sister property, the 14-room Marquesa 4-1-4, in July. Marquesa 4-1-4 incorporates two historic buildings — the Pilot House, or the Julius Otto and William Kerr homes — built from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. A newly built third, the rear Bahama House, has eight rooms and private porches set around a swimming pool and orchid garden. Marquesa 4-1-4's lobby retains original hand-stenciled ceiling panels, Dade County wooden pine walls and original curved-glass windows. To be available on-site is 24-hour concierge assistance and complimentary Wi-Fi, a welcome glass of wine, newspapers, morning coffee, afternoon iced tea and parking. Expedia Inc.'s trivago.com recently ranked the Marquesa Hotel third among America's top 10 properties for 2017 in its 4-Star Category. Marquesa 4-1-4 is located at 414 Simonton St. Call 800-869-4631 or 305-292-1919.
The 100-room The Perry Hotel Key West at Stock Island Marina has opened on Stock Island, the key directly adjacent to Key West, with one of the Florida Keys' largest deep-water marinas, accommodating vessels up to 300 feet long. The Perry's lobby and rooms feature abstract art by local artists. The hotel is located at the 42-acre Stock Island Marina Village overlooking Safe Harbor and a 220-slip marina. Excursion partners include Lazy Dog Adventures, Namaste' Eco-Excursions and Harmony Yacht Vacations, with cruises to Cuba from the marina's private docks. Future site attractions include Stock Island's Arts & Provisions, a shop and art gallery with rotating installations created by Key West craftspeople. The Perry Hotel Key West is located at 7001 Shrimp Road. Call 305-296-1717.
In Key Largo, the Keys' first meadery, Keys' Meads, has opened with tours, a tasting room and retail space at mile marker 99.3. Mead, a fermented alcoholic beverage made from honey, is believed to be one of the first alcoholic beverages. Traditional mead from the family-operated Keys' Meads is made from honey, water and yeast. The meads are dry, semi-dry or sweet, "characteristics of whatever honey it was made from, along with any added ingredient," said Jeff Kesling, Keys' Meads owner. Ginger, apple, plum, Key lime, lychee and other flavors are added. Specialty meads include habanero, coffee, caramel and spiced, in bottle sizes of 375 and 750 milliliters. New flavors are to include blueberry, huckleberry, pineapple and Jamaican cherry. Keys' Meads has acquired honey from apiaries or beehive collections that include Pirate Hat Apiary, which tends to 40 hives in the Upper Keys, and others in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland. Keys' Meads is located at 99353 Overseas Highway. Call 305-204-4596.
The Key West Rum Distillery & Experience Center has been opened in the island city by Key West-based Hemingway Rum Co., makers of Papa's Pilar premium sipping rums with the motto, "Never a spectator." The 8,200-square-foot brick attraction, once a tobacco warehouse, houses Papa's Pilar Rum production facility, experience center, tasting room and trading post. Additionally, a 2,400-square-foot event center is planned. Its 350-gallon still is capable of producing up to 80 gallons of rum daily from molasses, yeast and water. An interactive scent display allows visitors to smell active rum ingredients. Self-guided tours are offered daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The tour pays tribute to famed author Ernest "Papa" Hemingway, a Key West resident in the 1930s, and includes a replica of his boat Pilar affixed to ceiling rafters. Patrons 21 and older with a legal ID can explore a tasting room with Hemingway memorabilia for samples of Papa's Pilar dark and blonde rums blended from varieties in Florida, the Caribbean and Central America. The distillery's director of operations, Carlton "Carl" Grooms, co-founded the International Rum Council and co-authored the book "Rum & Contemporary Cuisine." Key West Rum Distillery & Experience Center is located at 201 Simonton St. Call 305-414-8754.
In Key West, a hop-on, hop-off Duval Loop bus service is to launch this summer with 16 stops, providing free transportation around Duval Street, the Key West Historic Seaport and other attractions. The route is to run from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, within a short walk of top tourist attractions. It's operated by Car-Free Key West, a facet of the city's planning department, to promote "life within pedal strokes and walking distance." Initially the Duval Loop is to operate Thursday to Sunday from 6 a.m. to midnight. Buses are to run every 30 minutes from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and every 15 minutes from 10 a.m. until midnight. Call 305-809-3911 during business hours Monday through Friday.
Silver Airways has launched nonstop service into Key West International Airport from Palm Beach International Airport in West Palm Beach, Florida. Silver operates daily roundtrips, except Tuesday and Wednesday, on 34-seat Saab 340B Plus turboprop aircraft. One-way fares are priced from $89.98, excluding baggage fees. On select flights, a 21-day advance purchase is required. The carrier also offers "Freedom Fares," providing passengers flexibility to change flights with no additional fees. Restrictions apply. Call 801-401-9100.
The entrance at the 63.5-acre Crane Point Hammock Museum & Nature Center in Marathon is soon to be enhanced by a red railroad car that's currently the Pigeon Key Visitor's Center on Knights Key. The railroad car is to be moved this summer from its current location at mile marker 47 on Knights Key, located at the north end of the famed Seven Mile Bridge, to near Crane Point's entrance at mile marker 50. The car originally transported passengers traveling the Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad that operated from 1912 to 1935. Crane Point also has improved several attractions, adding lionfish to its aquarium, touch tanks with small marine life, new signage with a Cuban chug exhibit, a bee observation center and evening kayak and paddleboard tours. One of the Keys' most sensitive environmental and archaeological sites, Crane Point is preserved by the Florida Keys Land and Sea Trust as a nature sanctuary and education center. Crane Point Hammock Museum & Nature Center is located at 5550 Overseas Highway. Call 305-743-9100.
In Islamorada, the History of Diving Museum at mile marker 83 observes this year's 15th anniversary of the sinking of the Spiegel Grove with an exhibit about the history of the artificial reef. The exhibit continues through Sept. 4. The 510-foot-long, 84-foot-tall former U.S. Navy ship was sunk in 2002 to create an artificial reef about 6 miles off Key Largo. Today the Spiegel Grove, the third-largest ship ever scuttled to create a new reef for divers, is an entire artificial reef ecosystem. It is surrounded by colorful corals and more than 200 different species of fish identified by the Key Largo-based Reef Environmental Education Foundation. The museum showcases historic Spiegel Grove artifacts and outlines the story of its positive environmental impact. From 1956 to its decommissioning in 1989, Spiegel Grove helped to enforce America's Cold War strategy, transporting troops and military equipment to support friendly governments. From 1962 to 1971, the ship also was part of a NASA recovery support fleet. The History of Diving Museum is located at 82990 Overseas Highway. Call 305-664-9737.
The Key West Art & Historical Society has renovated its permanent museum exhibit, "Overseas to the Keys — Henry Flagler's Overseas Railway," at the Custom House. The second-floor exhibit, first launched in 2012, showcases Keys history through the engineering feat of the construction of Flagler's famed Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad. The rail line was completed in 1912, connecting the Keys to each other and to the Florida mainland for the first time. New exhibit elements include an oversized map of the Keys with details of Flagler's bridge extension, a 1920s-era home video shot from the railroad, a railroad tie, signal lantern, switch light and a 50-page souvenir booklet titled "Beautiful Florida - Scenes Along the East Coast Railway, The Winter Playground of the Nation," originally priced at $1.25. The Custom House is located at 281 Front St. Call 305-295-6616.
In Key West, Air Adventures Helicopters has new private add-on options to their aerial sightseeing tours above the island city and its surrounding waters. Tours include a five-minute "discovery" ride, island tour, Key West eco-tour, ultimate island experience and sunset celebration flights, priced from $69 to $249 per person. Clients can reserve a private tour for three passengers on a Robinson R44 helicopter for an additional charge of $29 per person. A "doors-off" add-on also is offered, at $20 per passenger, if the passenger chooses an open-door view. Air Adventures Helicopters is located at 3471 S. Roosevelt Blvd. Call 844-246-3594.
A new free app called "Walk Key West," with stories about 12 historic sites in the island city, is available to accompany walking tours. The app highlights details about the Custom House, Clinton Square, former Coast Guard headquarters, old Custom House, Sloppy Joe's, the Fogarty, Curry and Porter mansions; the Oldest House, the Key West Woman's Club, the Patterson-Baldwin House and St. Paul's Episcopal Church. The GPS, or global positioning system, tour include sites and properties with Key West Historic Marker Tour plaques. The app was produced by the Florida Humanities Council in partnership with KeyWestHistoricMarkerTour.org.
Want to make an authentic Key lime pie? New classes at the Key West Key Lime Pie Co. teach participants to do just that on Fridays at 11 a.m. The tangy treat, linked to Key West's history, is believed to have first been created by "Aunt Sally," a cook for Key West's first millionaire and ship salvager, William Curry, in the 1800s. Spongers and fishermen made it onboard their vessels with simple ingredients that didn't require refrigeration. Class participants create their mini-Key lime pies of graham cracker crust, Key lime filling and whipped topping in a live kitchen. Prices are $20 per person for "students" ages 5 and older. Children under age 15 must be accompanied by a paid adult for the hourlong classes. Classes take place at 511 Greene St. Call 855-SWT-PETE.
In Key West, the 56-acre Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park has unveiled new signature gates, brick entrance booths, an ornamental fence and entry access routes. The $1.7 million state-funded project includes a new ranger entry station for vehicles and a ticket booth for pedestrians and cyclists. A new road connects the booths with the park's interior. Also added were 140 new native trees, sidewalks, bike lanes, entry signs, fencing and lighting enhancements. Florida's southernmost state park in the continental United States is known as "Fort Zach" to locals and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1973. The park, known for its recreational opportunities and U.S. military history, includes a historic fort, one of a series built in the mid-1800s to defend the nation's southeastern coastline. Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is located at 601 Howard England Way. It's open daily from 8 a.m. to sunset and guided Fort Taylor tours are offered at 11 a.m. Call 305-292-6713.
On Summerland Key, Mote Marine Laboratory's new International Center for Coral Reef Research and Restoration, dubbed "IC2R3," has opened to scientists. The facility's 19,000 square feet more than doubles previous space for coral research and restoration at Mote's Lower Keys campus. "This is going to be ground zero for the restoration of coral reefs all around the world," said Dr. Michael Crosby, Mote's president and CEO.
IC2R3 includes the Alfred Goldstein Institute for Climate Change Studies, allowing research on climate change and coral reef ecosystems. Marine scientists have access to new seawater systems and experimental tanks for studying reef species facing climate change impacts such as rising ocean temperatures and acidification. Molecular equipment enables scientists to process and prepare samples for genetic sequencing and analyses. Additionally, IC2R3 expands Mote's ability to grow coral reef fragments in a lab and then plant them onto reefs. It includes a carbonate chemistry lab for ocean acidification studies and tanks for live corals. To date, Mote scientists have restored more than 20,000 corals on Florida's reefs. The scientific research facility is one of five sites operated by Mote, a nonprofit research institution. Classrooms and dormitories are available for visiting scientists and students. While the facility currently is open to scientists and researchers, Mote eventually hopes to schedule time for the public to tour the center and learn about research projects. IC2R3 is located at 24244 Overseas Highway. Call 941-388-4441.