FLORIDA KEYS — With balmy temperatures even in the winter months, the Florida Keys & Key West offer visitors a warm welcome and a wealth of new and enhanced accommodations, land and water attractions, and culinary and creative experiences. Explore the highlights here.

Keys Accommodations

The property that was once Islamorada’s iconic Holiday Isle Beach Resort and Marina, located at mile marker (MM) 84 oceanside, has completed an $11.6 million renovation. Now known as the Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina at Holiday Isle, the landmark has been transformed into a lushly landscaped, modern tropical oceanfront resort.

The Postcard Inn at Holiday Isle’s evolution includes renovations to its guestrooms, meeting space, main lobby and swimming pool area. Extensive landscaping improvements have been made to highlight natural scenic views, while technology upgrades include comprehensive resort-wide Wi-Fi access and flat-screen televisions at the on-site bars as well as in all guestrooms.

The resort’s main restaurant facility, formerly the Sport Fish Grill, has been transformed into the first Shula Burger. Named for legendary Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula, the restaurant offers a full-service bar and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Holiday Isle’s famed Tiki Bar, with its hand-carved wood floor, is expected to remain — along with the resort’s claim to have invented the frozen rumrunner cocktail.

For more information, visit www.holidayisle.com.

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Marathon’s luxurious Hawks Cay Resort, located on Duck Key at MM 61 oceanside, has begun a $1 million renovation to enhance the culinary options available to guests at the 60-acre island getaway.

Much of the renovation will be focused on the main kitchen to allow several menu enhancements. Terrace, the pool area breakfast eatery, will expand its menu to include lunch items.

The Beach Grill at Hawks Cay and the surrounding beach area are to transition into a designated adults-only area renamed Sand Bar. The Sand Bar menu is to feature more adult-oriented opulent light fare.

The resort’s gift shop, soon to be known as Island Time, will expand to include a coffee bar serving a full Starbucks menu.

Resort renovations are slated for completion by March 2012.

For more information visit www.hawkscay.com.

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Albury Court Hotel, one of five properties in the Historic Key West Inns collection, has completed room renovations that marry historic architecture with modern amenities and décor.

All of the boutique hotel’s 38 rooms were transformed at a cost of approximately $100,000.

Located at 1030 Eaton St., Albury Court offers rooms in five adjacent historic buildings whose Key West–style architectural features include clapboard siding, open porches, metal roofs and picket fences. The buildings share a courtyard, lobby and heated pool with waterfall.

Continental breakfast is included with all guest stays.

For more information, visit www.historickeywestinns.com/the-inns/albury-court.

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The poolside Lighthouse Court Café & Mojito Bar recently debuted at the Lighthouse Court Hotel, located at 902 Whitehead St. beside the historic Key West Lighthouse and across the street from the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum.

The café and bar provide an ideal venue for hotel guests and walk-in visitors seeking a few drinks or a quick lunch in the island’s historic district. Menu items at the café include fresh salads, wraps, homemade Key lime pie and personal-sized flatbread pizzas. The full bar provides specialty cocktails like Not Quite Hemingway’s Mojitos and Adalina’s Key Lime Margaritas.
The café features seating for 23 people, with space for about 200 people in the adjacent courtyard.

Lighthouse Court is one of five boutique hotels in the Historic Key West Inns collection. The property features 40 guestrooms in 10 “conch” buildings dating from 1890 to the 1920s. A large central pool, tropical landscaping and decked courtyards enhance the spacious environment.

Continental breakfast is included with all guest stays.

For more information, visit www.historickeywestinns.com/the-inns/lighthouse-court/lighthouse-court-cafe-bar.

Keys Experiences

Classic historic elegance meets modern luxury aboard Key West’s newest sailing cruise vessel, the Schooner America 2.0.

Modeled after the maritime icon Schooner America, the original 1851 winner of the prestigious sailing competition named for the vessel — the America’s Cup — the America 2.0 is a 105-foot tribute ship built with lightweight modern materials that enable it to navigate with speed, efficiency and minimal environmental impact.

The Schooner America 2.0 is to spend the winter months through April berthed at Key West and sailing with the Classic Harbour Line Fleet from Key West’s Historic Seaport.

The modern schooner sails twice daily. The 90-minute Key West Day Sail departs at 1:30 p.m. for a voyage around Key West highlighting the island’s maritime sights. The two-hour Champagne Sunset Sail in Key West waters emphasizes the island’s famed sunset as a backdrop to its natural beauty.

Day sails are priced at $49 per guest and sunset sails are priced at $75 per guest. Both excursions feature complimentary beer, wine, champagne, soda and water, and guests can bring aboard their own picnic.

For more information, call 305-293-7245 or visit www.sail-keywest.com.

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Visitors to the Florida Keys can try their luck aboard the Tropical Breeze Casino, the island chain’s newest casino cruise ship.

The 10,000-square-foot casino area is a gamers’ dream, offering blackjack and craps tables with buy-ins as low as $5, poker and mini-baccarat tables as well as several slot machines.

The floating casino also features two full bars, a restaurant and a top viewing deck perfect for stargazing, dolphin watching or simply enjoying the ride.

The Tropical Breeze Casino cruises Keys waters Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and nightly from 6 to 11 p.m. departing from Key West Harbour Yacht Club, 6000 Peninsular Ave. on Stock Island. Tickets are $20 and reservations are required. Patrons must be at least 18 years old.

Key West’s Old Town Trolley will transport casino patrons from four of its centrally located stops to the Key West Harbour Yacht Club.

For more information, visit www.tropicalbreezecasino.com or call 305-294-3990.

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Key West’s well-known Subtropic Dive Center recently changed ownership to become Seaduction Key West.

Now managed by a group of dive veterans, the shop at 1605 N. Roosevelt Blvd. is poised to restore Key West’s former reputation as a technical diving capital.

With a focus on technical dives —deeper than 130 feet using mixed gases — Seaduction Key West plans to offer daily dive trips to the Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg artificial reef and to lesser-known deep-dive sites like the USS Curb and USS Wilkes-Barre. The shop also will offer dive training and equipment rentals including Nitrox and Trimix gas tanks.

For further information, visit www.seaduction.com/keywest or call 1-800-853-DIVE (1-800-853-3483).

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Active travelers now have a new way of seeing the Florida Keys. Key Largo Bike and Adventure Tours provides guided bicycle tours of the islands.

The Pigeon Key Biking and Kayaking Tour is a six-hour excursion that includes transportation, active gear, entrance fees and lunch. In addition to biking and kayaking, participants can choose between snorkeling on the beach or taking a 1.5-mile hiking trail.

The Century Rides to Key West are for experienced cyclists who are used to riding along the road. The tour starts at MM 100 and ends at the southernmost point in the continental United States. Participants can choose to explore Key West for the afternoon, or spend the night for an additional charge. These tours take place on the second Saturday of every month.
For a shorter trip focused on history and local culture, the company provides historical trips in Islamorada. The three-mile tours, which last approximately two hours and take place every weekend, proceed at an easy pace and include 10 stops around the island.

For details and tour availability, visit www.keylargobike.com or call 305-395-1551.

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Visitors to Key Largo, known as the dive capital of the world, now can experience the majesty of the sea without getting their feet wet aboard a 128-passenger paddlewheel boat. Island Time Cruise Co. specializes in 2.5-hour island cruises for lunch, brunch or sunset dinner with food prepared by Steamers Restaurant.

The paddlewheel boat features an all-wood dining room and two bars, and offers spectacular views of Keys waters and wildlife. The company also plans to offer Sunday brunch, murder mystery dinners, wine tastings and live island music aboard the boat.

The Island Time Cruise Co. paddlewheel boat is available for private charters for weddings, seminars and other special events.

The ship departs from Steamers Restaurant, located next to Gilbert’s Resort at MM 107 on Blackwater Sound. Tickets are available at Keys Diver, MM 99.6 bayside.

For more information, visit www.islandtimecruises.com or call 305-453-0001. 

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Tavernier’s Florida Keys Dive Center is the newest dive operator to join Blue Star, a voluntary conservation recognition program started in 2010 by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Ten Keys dive operators are participants, recognized for their dedication to coral reef education and conservation.

Blue Star’s mission is to help reduce the impact of divers and snorkelers on the coral reef system that parallels the Florida Keys — the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States.

Dive operators who participate in the program are evaluated yearly, and must be involved in conservation-related activities such as reef cleanups or fish counts. They also must have trained staff committed to promoting responsible tourism and teaching divers and snorkelers in-water etiquette.

Florida Keys Dive Center, located at MM 90.5 oceanside, offers several dive charter and equipment rental packages including seasonal coral reef restoration dives.

For more information, visit www.floridakeysdivectr.com or call 1-800-433-8946.

For Blue Star details, visit www.sanctuaries.noaa.gov/bluestar/operators.html.

Keys Flavors

The Lower Keys has a new sweet spot with the opening of Fruitcakes! Tasty Vegan Bites, an almost entirely organic vegan bakery.

Fruitcakes! Tasty Vegan Bites serves up vegan made-to-order baked goods that are friendly to people with allergies. Bakery specialties include flour-free macaroons, double chocolate brownies, oatmeal raisin cookies, cakes, dairy-free cheesecakes, biscotti, baked donuts and more.

Ready-made baked goods are available in the Fruitcakes! Tasty Vegan Bites baking case at Good Food Conspiracy, located on Big Pine Key at MM 30.2. In addition, custom orders can be placed by phone and picked up at Deer Run Bed & Breakfast, also on Big Pine Key at 1997 Long Beach Road.

Treats from Fruitcakes! Tasty Vegan Bites are available for small-order catering for private parties and small-scale events, with the debut of large-volume catering for weddings and large parties planned for early spring 2012.

For information, call Jennifer DeMaria at 305-872-2015.

Keys Artistry

Visitors and residents traveling the Florida Keys Overseas Highway have a new outdoor art mural to view at MM 95 bayside in Key Largo. The mural was created for the centennial anniversary of the completion of Henry Flagler’s Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad.

The hand-painted mural, measuring 60 feet long and 11.5 feet high, depicts a train similar to a Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad passenger train steaming across an arched bridge much like the Long Key Viaduct. Above the bridge is a full moon adorned with the face of the railroad’s creator, Henry Flagler.

The mural was a collaborative effort between the Art Guild of the Purple Isles, lead artist Cris Sandifer and high school art club students at Islamorada’s Island Christian School. It covers the southwest exterior wall of the Atlantic Title building.

Creation of the mural is one of a number of Keys events commemorating the 1912 arrival of Flagler’s first train from the U.S. mainland through the Florida Keys to Key West.

For information on the railroad and its centennial, visit www.flaglerkeys100.com. For information on the Art Guild of the Purple Isles, visit www.purpleislesartguild.com.

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Since opening a year ago, Islamorada’s Gallery 84 has evolved into an eclectic one-stop shop for art lovers, a co-op art gallery combined with island-style inspirations and design. Located at MM 84.7, it features displays from five local artists, an interactive artisan workshop and a menu of new creative offerings for first-time and repeat patrons.

Shop guests can discover custom-filled gift baskets such as the Welcome to the Keys, I Do and Beach Basket that feature artistic items and gourmet foods, and displays of hand-painted shoulder bags, pillows and other cause-based sustainable tourism gift items.

Artist-owners Liz Queeny and Meeja Ritchie-Smith also have developed the Design Center @ 84, offering hand-created wedding, shower and event invitations and cards for special occasions. In addition, Queeny and Smith can create gallery-wrap canvases from digital images captured by Keys vacationers, with a turnaround time of as little as 24 hours.

For more information, call 305-735-4596, email G84@gmail.com or visit www.facebook.com/whid1211.

Keys Historic Sites

The historic and architecturally unique Casa Antigua was the first place Ernest Hemingway resided in Key West, where he worked on “A Farewell to Arms” in 1928. Recently, the building’s ground level and open-air garden atrium has become available to the public for wedding and private event rentals.

Located at 314 Simonton St., Casa Antigua was once the Trev-Mor Ford dealership. Hemingway meant Key West to be a stopping-off point when he arrived in 1928 by sea from Paris, but the Ford car that should have been waiting at the docks was delayed — so the car dealer persuaded Hemingway and his wife Pauline to stay at the Trev-Mor Hotel above the dealership.

Their extended stay sparked Hemingway’s fascination with Key West and led to his decade-long sojourn on the island.

Today, the property is fully restored to feature the Pelican Poop Shoppe, offering Caribbean gifts, and a luxuriant atrium garden. Its attractions include 80 orchids, star fruit, palm trees and other foliage, a pool and fountain — all surrounded by the brickwork of the building whose private rooms, hugging the exterior walls but leaving the center open to the sky, make up the most unusual home in Key West.

Casa Antigua can be booked 365 days a year for afternoon and early evening events serving up to 200 guests.

For more information, call Lee at 305-849-3473 or email lee@conchcolor.com.

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