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 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 a characteristically Florida Keys flair.
Now Through Wednesday, 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 $30, or as prints. Print prices vary depending on the number ordered. Contact: 305-289-1121 or visit www.dolphins.org.
Wednesday, Nov. 24, 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.
Sunday, Nov. 28, 8 p.m.
“The Messiah” (Key West)
As many as 90 singers from around the Florida Keys participate in the annual performance of George Frideric Handel’s holiday masterpiece. Directed by Dean Walters, the 28th annual production is to be staged at Key West United Methodist Church at the corner of Eaton and Simonton streets, and admission is free. Contact: 305-745-1409.
Friday, Dec. 3, 4-10 p.m.
Florida Keys Holiday Festival (Islamorada)
This extravaganza features a tree-lighting ceremony at Founders Park, MM 87. A holiday parade follows, while other attractions include food, kids’ activity booths and live “on stage” performances with kids from local dance studios. A mountain of snow is the favorite among mitten-clad munchkins, and more than 20 tons of snow are to be blowing on the island better known for subtropical temperatures. Contact: 305-664-4503.
Friday, Dec. 3, 8 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 4, 2 p.m.
Keys Chorale 2010 Holiday Concert (Key West)
The Keys Chorale at Florida Keys Community College, under the direction of Dean Walters, presents its 21st annual holiday concert featuring seasonal favorites from around the world. Highlights include a featured selection of “Christmas in the Southwest” by Conrad Susa and an intriguing accompaniment of harp, marimba and guitar. Tickets for Friday night are $30 for reserved seating and $20 for general admission. 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. 4, 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 continues on to Eaton Street. Contact: 305-809-3881.
Monday through Saturday, Dec. 6-11
Christmas in Key Largo (Key Largo)
Sponsored by the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce, loads of holiday events with live music, decorations, food and drinks are designed to spark the holiday spirit. Activities are to be held throughout Key Largo, offered in concert with the 50th anniversary celebration for John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Visit area businesses, attractions and lodgings for special deals all week. Contact: 305-822-1088 or visit www.lightupkeylargo.com.
Friday, Dec. 10, 5-8 p.m.
Holiday Open House at Crane Point Hammock (Marathon)
Swing into the holiday season and joyful spirit of giving at the Crane Point Museum Store at this open house event. Unique educational and history-related gift items, hard-to-find specialties and crafts, accessories, home decor and more are to be available during the event at Crane Point, MM 50.5 bayside. Contact: 305-743-9100 or visit www.cranepoint.net.
Friday and Saturday, Dec. 10-11, 7 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 12, 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Key Largo Christmas Pageant (Key Largo)
A cast and crew of more than 50 people present a powerful musical drama about the real meaning of Christmas. All performances are free and staged at Coral Shores Performing Arts Center, MM 90. Contact: 305-451-1642.
Friday and Saturday, Dec. 10-11, 5:30-8:30 p.m.
Friday and Saturday, Dec. 17-18, 5:30-8:30 p.m.
Holiday Historic Lighted Inn Tours (Key West)
Discover the holiday spirit and Key West’s architecture and history by touring five 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.
Saturday, Dec. 11, dusk
Marathon’s Boot Key Harbor Lighted Christmas Boat Parade (Marathon)
At this favorite Middle Keys holiday event, dinghies, mega-yachts and vessels in between cruise the harbor in a sparkling procession. Best viewing sites include Lazy Days South, Marathon Marina, Sombrero Dockside Lounge and Burdine’s Waterfront. Contact: 305-743-9629 or visit www.bootkeyharbor.com/christmas_parade.htm.
Saturday, Dec. 11, 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. 11, 7:30 p.m.
Key Largo Boat Parade (Key Largo)
Decorations, music and animation are to entertain 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. 11, 8 p.m.
Schooner Wharf Bar/Cruzan Rums Lighted Boat Parade (Key West)
Lighted and decorated vessels from rowboats to tall ships proceed around Key West’s Historic Seaport and harbor areas. Before 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: 305-292-3302 or visit www.schoonerwharf.com/10boatparade.htm.
Sunday, Dec. 12, 1-3 p.m.
Christmas on the Farm 2010 (Stock Island, Key West)
Kids and adults can visit the furry, fluffy and feathered residents of the Animal Farm and get a photo taken with Santa. The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Animal Farm is situated at the county’s detention center just outside Key West at 5501 College Road. This event is free and open to the public. Contact: Jeanne Selander at 305-293-7331.
Sunday, Dec. 12, 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. The fun starts at 1401 Seminary St. Contact: 305-294-9526.
Sunday, Dec. 12, 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. The event is open to the public. Contact: 305-743-7214.
Friday through Wednesday, Dec. 17-22
“Nutcracker Key West” (Key West)
This island-flavored version of the holiday classic features professional dancers, talented Keys kids and characters and sets depicting Key West’s history and coral reef environment. Evening and matinee performances are scheduled, with all shows staged at the Tennessee Williams Theatre, 5901 College Road. Contact: 305-296-1520 or visit www.keystix.com.
Friday, Dec. 18, 12-8 p.m.
Key West Bight Before Christmas Holiday Music Festival (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. The event is to spread across the entire roadway at the Historic Seaport, also called the old Key West Bight. Contact: 305-292-5044 or visit www.keywestchristmas.org.
Saturday, Dec. 18, 4 p.m.
Pops in the Park Holiday Concert (Plantation Key, Islamorada)
The Keys Community Concert Band is to perform a free holiday concert, titled “Home for the Holidays,” at Founders Park, MM 87 bayside on Plantation Key. Special guest Santa Claus plans to be in the area handing out candy canes and spreading holiday cheer. Performances are outdoors; no chairs are provided. Contact: 305-853-7294.
Saturday, Dec. 18, 7 p.m.
Lower Keys Lighted Boat Parade (Lower Florida Keys)
All boats are welcome to enter the parade including deep-sea cruisers, dinghies, kayaks and canoes. Santa and Mrs. Claus are expected to arrive and hand out candy to the kids. The best recommended viewing is from Pine Channel Causeway or Parrotdise Waterfront Bar & Grille, 183 Barry Ave. on Little Torch Key. Contact: Holly at 305-872-0106.
Tuesday and Wednesday, Dec. 28-29, 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, 322 Duval St., 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.
Friday, 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.
Friday, Dec. 31, midnight
New Year’s Eve Fireworks on the Beach (Islamorada)
Fireworks on the beach are planned at Pierre’s Restaurant and Morada Bay Beach Café, MM 81.6 bayside. Live music and cocktails available for purchase are to add to the celebration, but coolers are not allowed. Contact: 305-664-8414.
Friday, 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 markers 103-104. Contact: 305-451-4502.
Saturday, Jan. 1, 2011, 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, festivities follow with the 10 a.m. blessing of the fleet at Whale Harbor Bridge, MM 84 oceanside. 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. Florida Keys information also can be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/floridakeysandkeywest and on Twitter at twitter.com/thefloridakeys.