OVERSEAS HIGHWAY

FLORIDA KEYS — A new initiative implemented by the South Florida Water Management District, a regional governmental agency that oversees water resources in the southern half of Florida, is making a positive environmental impact in the Florida Keys.

Their research suggests that 75 percent of U.S. travelers feel it is important that their visits don’t impact the environment. In August 2009, the district piloted the Water Conservation Hotel and Motel Program, called Water CHAMP.

The program already has enrolled 17 Florida Keys lodging facilities and is enjoying a 98 percent approval rating from guests.

Keys hotels and motels that enroll in Water CHAMP commit to implementing reuse programs that encourage guests to use towels and linens more than once during their stay, and install high-efficiency faucet aerators in every guest room.

The program helps hotels and motels save water, foster energy efficiency and reduce operating costs, while educating people in simple ways to protect South Florida water resources.

To learn more about Water CHAMP and water conservation efforts, visit www.savewaterfl.com.

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Key Largo Bay Marriott Resort, located at mile marker (MM) 103.8 bayside, is offering Key Largo’s only Swim with the Dolphins hotel package through Dec. 31, 2010. The package combines accommodations with a dolphin swim for two at either Dolphins Plus or Dolphin Cove, two of Key Largo’s marine mammal education and research facilities.

The Swim with the Dolphin Package includes guestroom, a dolphin swim for two and daily breakfast for two. A two-night minimum stay applies and reservations must be made seven days prior to arrival.

Both Dolphins Plus and Dolphin Cove offer structured and natural dolphin swims in a natural lagoon. Swimmers take turns entering the water and interacting hands-on with dolphins while activities are mediated by an experienced dolphin trainer.

For details, visit www.marriott.com/specials/mesOffer.mi?marrOfferId=510898&displayLink=true.

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Ocean Dawn Suites, an eight-unit luxury property at MM 82.9 in Islamorada, recently became a certified member of the Florida Green Lodging Program. The Green Lodging Program was created by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to recognize and reward environmentally conscious lodging facilities in the state.

Husband-and-wife team Hal and Suzy Miller began the resort’s facelift with energy-efficient appliances and water-miser toilets. An overall landscaping renovation is expected to be complete in May with drought-tolerant landscaping and native flora to cut irrigation needs.

The resort was awarded “one palm” certification for its environmental commitment after meeting DEP guidelines for adopting cost-saving practices that reduce waste and conserve natural resources, as well as demonstrating goals for continued improvements that can earn “two palm” and “three palm” certification.

For a complete list of green properties in the Florida Keys, visit the Green Travel section of the Florida Keys Web site at www.fla-keys.com/greentravel/designated-properties.cfm.

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Islamorada’s landmark Cheeca Lodge & Spa, a 27-acre property at MM 82 oceanside, has equipped its new 5,700-square-foot spa with organic sustainable luxury.             New treatments at the Spa at Cheeca use pure, high-quality, sophisticated beauty products from sustainable farms and fair trade sources. These include an innovative range of certified organic, hand-harvested seaweed-based products; luxurious organic vegan products for body, feet, hands and nails; a holistic botanical skincare line and a mineral-based, allergen-free cosmetic collection originally designed for post-cosmetic surgery.

Guests also can enjoy custom organic facials, revitalizing massage and body treatments and Calusa Healing among other offerings that combine neuromuscular, myofacial, Thai and sports massage techniques. Prior to each treatment, guests are treated to footbaths in healing copper bowls in the spa’s Ritual Room.

In addition, a variety of relaxing, detoxifying, mineralizing and skin-softening spa baths are available in-suite in terrace open-air bathtubs for two, a signature feature of the resort’s new Premier Spa Suites. Other attractions include poolside cabanas, a Tahitian-style spa lagoon, an outdoor sundeck and an adults-only lap pool and secluded oasis Jacuzzi.

Private yoga and Pilates sessions, personal training, acupuncture, the services of a naturopathic physician, nutritional consultations and wellness coaching also are available at the spa. For more information, call 305-517-4485 or visit www.cheeca.com.

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Midway down the Florida Keys is one of America’s newest and best kiteboarding scenes, fueled by the region’s energizing breezes, shallow-water flats that allow plenty of room to ride and subtropical climate that means year-round boarding.

The recently launched Kiteboarding Shop at Hawks Cay Resort is located at MM 61 oceanside on the secluded 60-acre island of Duck Key. Owner and program director Aaron Osters, certified as an instructor by the Professional Air Sports Association, is skilled in guiding boarders of varying ages and experience levels.

Among the shop’s offerings are one-hour trainer kite lessons and three-hour beginner and intermediate courses. Courses are tailored to meet individual needs and equipment rental is included. More experienced riders can enjoy downwinders, day and night kiteboarding trips with equipment rental included.

For more information, visit www.HawksCay.com.

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Sundance Watersports, operating at Hawks Cay Resort since 1995, now offers personalized Segway tours that provide a unique and environmentally friendly way to glide through the resort grounds and surrounding areas of Duck Key.

Guests can admire the island’s beautiful homes, tropical foliage, warm weather and waterfront views from their personal Segways. Fun, safe and memorable, the tours include a 10-15 minute orientation and introduction class. Up to six people can take a tour, and the minimum age is 12. Cost is $99 per Segway.

To book, call 305-743-0145 or visit http://experience.hawkscay.com/sundance-watersports.

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Couples eager to marry who book five nights or more at Little Palm Island Resort & Spa, located on a private island three miles off Little Torch Key at MM 28.5 oceanside, now can tie the knot on the luxurious property for no extra cost. The complimentary wedding package is good for ceremonies throughout 2010.

The resort, which consists of 30 thatched-roof bungalows surrounded by lush landscaping, is only accessible by boat or seaplane. Among its featured amenities are the sybaritic SpaTerre, acclaimed dining and a private marina.

Package highlights include the couple’s choice of island locations for the ceremony, an official to perform it and a guarantee that no other weddings will take place at Little Palm that day.

The package is based on a Sunday or Monday arrival. It must be purchased by May 30, 2010, for reservations until Dec. 20, 2010. For more information about weddings at the exclusive resort, visit www.littlepalmisland.com.

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The Florida Keys Council of the Arts and the Monroe County Art in Public Places committee recently spearheaded the installation of pieces by Florida Keys artists in the newly built and renovated terminals at Key West International Airport.

The art was selected to communicate the flavor of the Florida Keys to arriving and departing travelers. Some projects were created specifically for the airport and others are on loan as part of a rotating exhibit.

Among the standout pieces are Helen Harrison’s “Cohune Spire,” a 12-foot-high 23-karat gold-leafed palm frond on a 300-pound coral pedestal, Debra Yates’ “Sunset Celebration,” a bright-colored multimedia painted mural, and Dick Moody’s half-scale stainless-steel depiction of a plane that flew from Key West to Havana in the early 1900s.

The exterior of the airport’s renovated original terminal features a large outdoor mural recently refurbished by its creator, Key West painter Rick Worth. The mural offers an engaging rooftop view of Key West’s historic Old Town architecture, foliage and ocean.

For more information, contact the Florida Keys Council of the Arts at 305-295-4369 or visit www.keysarts.com.

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Key West’s Sunset Key Guest Cottages, A Westin Resort, recently underwent a major renovation that included the addition of a new spa and full-service restaurant overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Located on the 27-acre island of Sunset Key, the resort is reached by a 10-minute ferry ride across Key West Harbor from the Westin Key West Resort & Marina, 245 Front St.

Comprising 39 custom-designed and fully equipped two, three and four-bedroom cottages, the property also offers attended beach services with tiki hut cabanas, a free-form, zero-degree entry pool, two tennis courts and more.

The new boutique spa features three spacious treatment suites with private patios and a menu of traditional and tropical body treatments, facial and touch therapy options including couples massage. Hair styling and nail services are offered in a hair and nail suite, while a spa relaxation room includes comfortable seating and a tea bar.

The new Latitudes restaurant and lounge specializes in Caribbean-flavored casual island fare and panoramic views of the Gulf of Mexico. Guests can dine indoors or outdoors, selecting from a menu that spotlights local fish, fresh produce and island classics alongside traditional meats, poultries and pasta. Breakfast, including a selection of nutrition-packed superfoods, and lunch are served as well. Creative tapas-style cuisine is available all day in the lounge, and cocktails and wines round out the offerings.

For more information and reservations, visit www.WestinSunsetKeyCottages.com.

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The Key West home where author Ernest Hemingway lived from 1931 through 1939, now the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, has been designated a literary landmark.

Hemingway worked on many of his best-known manuscripts in a second-story writing studio adjoining the Spanish colonial villa at 907 Whitehead St. They include “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and the Key West–based “To Have and Have Not,” his only novel set in the United States.

The Pulitzer and Nobel prize-winning author owned the property until his death in 1961, and it became a museum in 1964.

Literary landmark designation is conferred by a division of the American Library Association. The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum is Key West’s eighth literary landmark, joining the former homes of playwright Tennessee Williams and poet Elizabeth Bishop among other sites.

Guided tours of the Hemingway house and grounds are offered daily. For more information, visit www.hemingwayhome.com.

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A $3.5 million wharf replacement project recently was completed at Mallory Square Dock, one of the Port of Key West’s three docking facilities directly adjacent to the island city’s historic downtown area.

According to Doug Bradshaw, port project manager for the City of Key West, the construction included replacement of pilings as well as the portion of the wharf overhanging the water for maximum stability and structural soundness. In addition, the bollards that ships tie their ropes to are now significantly larger with increased capacity. The project took approximately six months.

The site of Key West’s internationally recognized nightly Sunset Celebration, Mallory Square was the center of maritime commerce early in the seaport city’s history. It became a cruise ship docking facility in 1984.

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Visitors interested in Key West’s cigar-making history can find a memorial to the once-flourishing industry in the Gato Village Pocket Park at 616 Louisa St. The park is located on the site of a cigar-maker’s cottage in what was once Gatoville, a housing community built by cigar baron Eduardo Gato for workers at his Gato Cigar Factory.

The park’s creation was spearheaded by Patricia Madiedo, a third-generation Key West resident and Gato descendant whose grandfather once lived on the site, and her husband Bruce Neff. The park was established with the assistance of Keys Energy Service and more than 30 other companies, individuals and organizations.

Visitors to the park can see the re-created façade and front porch of the cigar-maker’s cottage that stood there in 1897, aged to simulate its appearance at that time. Complementing it is a 13-foot-tall metal monument in the shape of a cigar, featuring four feet of sculpted smoke and a cigar band with the Gato family crest etched into it, crafted by artist Reen Stanhouse. Park signage tells the story of Gato Village and the Gato family.

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The Key West Chamber of Commerce Visitor Information Center has relocated to the first floor of the island city’s Old City Hall building at 510 Greene St., approximately one half-block from Duval Street.

Formerly located adjacent to Mallory Square, the center is open seven days a week until 6:30 p.m. and welcomes approximately 10,000 people per month. Staff members with a broad knowledge of Key West and its offerings are on hand to answer questions and provide information and assistance.

Visitors to the center also can pick up brochures, flyers and promotional materials about local lodging, attractions, watersports, tours, museums, restaurants and more.

For more information, visit www.keywestchamber.com.

For more travel information about the Florida Keys & Key West call, toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, 1-800-FLA-KEYS (800-352-5397) or explore the destination’s Web site at www.fla-keys.com.

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