FLORIDA KEYS — Perhaps because the southernmost islands in the continental United States have never experienced a snowy white Christmas, businesses and organizations in the subtropical Florida Keys are extraordinarily enthusiastic about showing their holiday spirit.
From Key Largo to Key West, the calendar is packed with events designed to spread holiday cheer — including a trio of festive lighted boat parades featuring vessels whose decorations range from traditional greenery to offbeat salutes to the season.
Listed here are some holiday highlights, all spiced with an individualistic Florida Keys flair.
Now Through Tuesday, Dec. 22
Holiday Photos with Santini (or another dolphin) at Dolphin Research Center (Marathon)
At Dolphin Research Center, mile marker (MM) 59 bayside on Grassy Key, visitors who participate in the Meet the Dolphin program also can pose with the dolphins for a holiday photo. Visitors can select props such as Santa hats, reindeer antlers, and holiday wreaths to use while posing, and DRC’s experienced photographers will shoot the pictures using high-resolution digital cameras. Meet the Dolphin gives guests an opportunity to go onto the facility’s floating dock to give backrubs and share a “flippershake” with a dolphin. The program is offered several times each day on a walk-in basis and costs $25 per person in addition to general admission prices. The photos can be supplied on CD for $25 (including all members of the family), or as prints. Print prices vary depending on number ordered. Contact: (305) 289-1121.
Wednesday, Nov. 25, throughout the holiday season
Harbor Walk of Lights (Key West)
The harbor walk along the Historic Seaport at Key West Bight, stretching from Greene Street to Grinnell Street, is to be festively dressed for the holiday season. Celebrate with Key West Bight holiday events, shop at unique island shops and galleries, and relax at waterfront restaurants and watering holes. Part of the Key West “Bight Before Christmas” holiday celebration, the festivities are presented by the Key West Bight Preservation Association. Contact: (305) 292-5044 or visit www.keywestchristmas.org.
Friday, Dec. 4, 4-10 p.m.
Florida Keys Holiday Festival (Islamorada)
This extravaganza is to begin with a tree-lighting ceremony at Founders Park, MM 87 on U.S. Highway 1. A holiday parade follows with Santa arriving on an Islamorada Fire Rescue truck, and continues with a holiday gift bazaar, a silent auction of ornaments decorated by local artists and even snow. Contact: (305) 664-4503.
Friday, Dec. 4, 8 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 5, 2 p.m.
Keys Chorale 2009 Holiday Concert (Key West)
This annual event will feature “Magnificat” by Claudio Monteverdi and “Laud to the Nativity” by Ottorino Respighi, as well as holiday favorites for the entire family. Tickets for Friday night are $30 for reserved seating and $20 for general admission. For the Saturday matinee tickets are $20 (general admission only). All shows are staged at the Tennessee Williams Theatre, 5901 College Road. Contact: (305) 296-1520 or www.keystix.com.
Saturday, Dec. 5, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Big Pine & Lower Keys Island Art Festival (Big Pine Key)
Experience the joys of art and music at this winter festival, to be held on the wooded grounds of the Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce, MM 31 oceanside. Family fun highlights include live music by favorite local entertainers, exhibits and booths featuring the original work of artists and craftsmen, raffles of artwork and vendors offering food and beverages. Parking and admission are free. Contact: (305) 872-2411.
Saturday, Dec. 5, 7 p.m.
Key West Holiday Parade (Key West)
The island city shows its holiday spirit with this annual hometown parade. Featuring marching groups and motorized and nonmotorized floats, the festive procession traditionally draws entries from churches, civic organizations, businesses and neighborhood and school groups. Starting at Truman Avenue and White Street, it proceeds down Truman to Duval, where it takes a right and proceeds to Eaton Street. Contact: Maria Ratcliff at (305) 809-3881.
Friday and Saturday, Dec. 11-12, 5:30-8 p.m.
Friday and Saturday, Dec. 18-19, 5:30-8 p.m.
Holiday Historic Lighted Inn Tours (Key West)
Discover the holiday spirit and Key West’s architecture and history by touring five to six beautifully decorated historic inns each evening. Hosted by the Key West Innkeepers Association, the tours include culinary masterpieces by top island chefs and creative offerings by local artists, writers and performers. For tour cost and ticketing information, visit www.keywestinntour.com. Contact: (305) 295-1334.
Friday – Sunday, Dec. 11-13; 7 p.m.
The Key Largo Baptist Church produces a Christmas pageant that is quickly becoming a mainstay Upper Keys tradition. The free pageant at the Coral Shores Performing Arts Center at the Coral Shores High School (MM90) in Islamorada is performed by the church choir. Children’s voices join in with secular favorites like Let It Snow, before transitioning into the nativity story. A cast and crew of over 50 people present the powerful musical drama about the real meaning of Christmas. Show times Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Admission is free. Contact: 305-451-1642
Friday, Dec. 11, 5-11 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 12, 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution Presents All-New Holiday Cayo Carnival
Reviving a 20-year tradition, the rollicking Cayo Carnival is to be held in Key West to benefit Reef Relief. Cayo is to feature 18 hours of nonstop entertainment under a big-top tent at the Conch Republic Seafood Co. at the corner of Greene and Elizabeth streets. The stellar talent lineup includes Howard Livingston and the Mile Marker 24 Band, Grammy-nominated Larry Baeder and Paul Cotton, of Poco, with his local band. Other attractions include food, libations and environmental presentations. A $5 entrance fee provides admission for both nights and all day Saturday. Contact: Peter Anderson, president of Reef Relief, at firstname.lastname@example.org (305) 849-2222.
Saturday, Dec. 12, 4 p.m.
Pops in the Park “Sounds of the Season” Holiday Memories Concert (Key Largo)
The Keys Community Concert Band is to perform a free “Sounds of the Season” concert at Key Largo Community Park, MM 99.6 oceanside. Holiday favorites highlight the afternoon entertainment. Performances are outdoors; no chairs are provided. Contact: (305) 451-4530.
Saturday, Dec. 12, 7:30 p.m.
Key Largo Boat Parade (Key Largo)
Decorations, music and animations are to entertain holiday celebrants during the holiday boat parade on Blackwater Sound. Best viewing and libations are to be found at Sundowners, Señor Frijoles, the Marriott Key Largo Bay Resort and Caribbean Club, all near MM 103-104. Contact: (305) 451-4502 or visit www.keylargoboatparade.com.
Saturday, Dec. 12, 8 p.m.
Schooner Wharf Bar Lighted Boat Parade (Key West)
Lighted and decorated vessels, from rowboats to tall ships, proceed around Key West’s Historic Seaport and harbor areas. Prior to the boat parade, at 6 p.m., the Gerald Adams Elementary School Steel Your Heart Band will welcome spectators with songs of the season. Spectators can watch and applaud from bars, restaurants and resorts in and around the Historic Seaport. Contact: Evalena or Sheree at (305) 292-3302 or www.schoonerwharf.com/09boatparade.htm.
Sunday, Dec. 13, 9-11 a.m.
Stand Up for Animals Holiday Mutt Strut (Marathon)
Bring your own or borrow a shelter mutt (purebreds OK, too) to join the annual strut. Strutters are asked to get pledges to raise funds for Stand Up for Animals. Refreshments for dogs and their dates are to be served. A special appearance by the Grinch is scheduled, and dogs can have their pictures taken with the Dr. Seuss character. There also will be a Christmas costume contest and live music. Contact: (305) 743-3779.
Sunday, Dec. 13, 3 p.m.
Southernmost Christmas Tree Celebration (Key West)
Holiday revelers enjoy free conch chowder, then board Conch Tour Trains to proceed to the continental United States’ Southernmost Point to set up the Southernmost Christmas Tree at sunset overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The event is an annual community thank-you party presented by the Monroe Association for ReMARCable Citizens. 1401 Seminary St. Contact: (305) 294-9526.
Sunday, Dec. 13, 6 p.m. (dusk)
Key Colony Beach Lighted Boat Parade (Marathon area)
Christmas lights on outriggers and displays on boat decks are part of the beautiful festivities during the Key Colony Beach Boat Parade, set to begin at the 7th Street canal. Open to all boats, the parade route visits canals and cuts, and passes city hall three times. Great viewing spots include Sadowski Causeway at MM 53.5 and the area behind city hall. Contact: (305) 743-7214.
Friday, Dec. 18, 5-9 p.m.
Fourth Annual Free Christmas Concert on the Harbor Walk of Lights (Key West)
Live holiday music, games for the kids, free cookies and eggnog, holiday cheer and a chance for photos with Santa highlight this event. Created as a gift to the community, the gala is produced by the Key West Bight Preservation Association and tenants of the Key West Bight. Contact: (305) 292-5044 or visit www.keywestchristmas.org.
Saturday, Dec. 19, 4 p.m.
Pops in the Park Musical Holidays Concert (Plantation Key, Islamorada)
The Keys Community Concert Band is to perform a free holiday concert at Founders Park, MM 87 bayside on Plantation Key. Performances are outdoors; no chairs are provided. Contact: (305) 853-7294.
Tuesday and Wednesday, Dec. 29-30, 5-8 p.m.
Holiday House Tours (Key West)
Presented by the Old Island Restoration Foundation, the annual self-guided tours showcase festively dressed Key West homes and gardens. Proceeds benefit the Old Island Restoration Foundation’s museums, collection and education, grant and scholarship programs. Tickets with maps to the featured homes are $25 per person, available one week before the tours at the Oldest House & Garden and TIB Bank at 330 Whitehead St. and 3618 N. Roosevelt Blvd., or during the tour at any featured home. Contact: (305) 294-9501 or visit www.oirf.org.
Thursday, Dec. 31, just before midnight
Key West New Year’s Eve Celebrations (Key West)
The Southernmost City celebrates New Year’s Eve with a “conch shell drop” at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, 201 Duval St.; the descent of a super-sized red high-heel shoe carrying drag queen Sushi at the Bourbon Street Pub/New Orleans House complex, 724 Duval St.; and the descent of a pirate wench from atop a tall ship’s mast in the island city’s Historic Seaport. Contact: (305) 296-2388, ext. 121, for Sloppy Joe’s conch shell drop; (305) 293-9800 for the high heel drop; (305) 292-3302 for the descent of the pirate wench.
Thursday, Dec. 31, midnight
New Year’s Eve Fireworks on Blackwater Sound (Key Largo)
The back bay in Key Largo is to be the setting for the annual New Year’s Eve fireworks extravaganza hosted by bayside restaurants Sundowners, Señor Frijoles, Cactus Jack’s, Gus’ Grille at the Marriott Key Largo Beach Resort and the Caribbean Club, all located around mile marker 103-104. Contact: (305) 451-4502.
Friday, Jan. 1, 2009, 8 a.m.
Village New Year’s Day Celebration (Islamorada)
The annual 5k Run, Walk and Crawl is slated to start at 8 a.m. Jan. 1 at Founders Park, MM 87 bayside in Islamorada. For the less athletically minded, a day of festivities follows with the blessing of the fleet at Whale Harbor Bridge and other events. Contact: (305) 853-1685.
For more information about the Florida Keys & Key West, including a comprehensive schedule of holiday events and festivities, visit www.fla-keys.com. Or, in the U.S. and Canada, call toll-free 1-800-FLA-KEYS (800-352-5397).