With the Florida Keys “100 per cent back online” following a brief setback by Hurricane Irma in 2017, the destination is enticing travellers with a number of new and renovated properties.
And while the Keys have welcomed its first all-inclusive property, the region is taking a slow approach toward the format’s growth in the destination.
At a recent media breakfast, Ashley Serrate, media relations manager for Florida Keys & Key West, providing a number of updates on the destination for 2019 and beyond.
While other parts of the Sunshine State endured red tide and the devastation of Hurricane Michael this past October, the Keys were spared this year, Serrate told PAX, allowing for the destination’s rebound to continue unabated.
“With regards to red tide, there’s been none in the Keys so we’re very lucky in that regard,” Serrate said. “We had Hurricane Irma in 2017 and other than one or Two properties that have advanced their renovation timeline, the destination is 100 per cent back online. Anyone that was apprehensive about visiting after the storm, we can reassure that they’ll have that signature Florida Keys experience if they come down now.”
Any way you slice it
Launched earlier this year, the Key Lime Academy allows travel agents to expand their knowledge of the Keys through a series of video training modules, with new material currently being added, Serrate said.
“We make it easy - we give agents four or five small video classes and there’s no testing involved,” she explained. “You’re then a certified Florida Keys vacation planner – how hard is that? Everyone knows Key West, so it’s more a matter of familiarizing them with the other destinations within the keys.”
For Canadians travelling to Florida, Serrate noted that the Keys make a great option for daytrips from Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
“From a Canadian standpoint, when they hear Florida they think Miami or Orlando, so it’s a matter of reinforcing the fact that we’re just 45 minutes from Miami International Airport,” she said. “If you’re taking a cruise, it’s also a great pre- or post-cruise option to come down from Fort Lauderdale and visit us for a day or two.”
Keys to the destination
Here’s an overview of the Florida Keys five main regions – Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key and Key West – heading east to (Key) west along with a selection of new and renovated hotels to recommend to your clients:
Key points: Caribbean vibe, great diving spots, most accessible of the Keys from the mainland (Key Largo is the northernmost island in the chain)
The adults-only Bungalows Key Largo, a 12-acre 135-unit property billing itself as “luxury inclusive,” is targeting an opening in late fall as the first all-inclusive resort in the Florida Keys. Most rooms are to average about 800 square feet and include private outdoor plunge pools or tubs. The resort features two in-ground pools, five food and beverage outlets that include three restaurants and two bars, 1,000 feet of shoreline, three piers to accommodate boats up to 40 feet long, a “Florida Keys chic” design and 4,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space. Rates include lodging, food and premium beverages, hotel amenities, activities and water toys.
According to Serrate, while the Bungalows Key Largo will bring the all-inclusive format to the Keys, there are currently no plans to bring more AI properties to the region.
“With so many great local restaurants and things to do off-property, it’ll be interesting to see how the format does,” she said. “Since it’s on the luxury, adults-only side, the property will attract a certain demographic that wants to have the Florida Keys experience but also a certain level of comfort.”
Baker's Cay Resort, a Curio Collection by Hilton, is to be unveiled by late fall as the Keys’ only Curio property. The 13-acre, 200-room resort is to offer 17,000 square feet of meeting space with executive boardrooms, a grand lawn and two expansive ballrooms. Pet amenities include dog Tiki huts and cooled water bowls. A beachside tequila and taco venue is to include house-made hot sauces crafted from peppers grown on the property. Two swimming pools with a waterfall grotto, a winding nature trail lined with hidden beaches, a boat dock and salon also are on-site.
Key points: Sport Fishing Capital of the World, spectacular sunrises and sunsets
In Islamorada, the 37-room boutique oceanfront Hadley House Resort opened Aug. 18 with 21 rooms; another 16 rooms reopened in October. Hadley House has undergone “head-to-toe” renovations. Rooms, decorated with light woods and splashes of color, include suites with kitchenettes. An on-site marina has 15 boat slips. Its sister property, the 22-room, five-acre Fisher Inn Resort & Marina, is taking reservations starting Sept. 20 and scheduling a partial opening Oct. 1. Both resorts are managed by Dallas-based Aimbridge Hospitality.
Key points: The most central of the Keys; family-friendly destination; known for the famed Seven Mile Bridge
On Duck Key in the Middle Keys, the 60-acre, 177-room Hawks Cay Resort, a AAA Four Diamond Award–rated and Preferred Hotel Group Lifestyle Collection member, reopened Aug. 30 with a $50 million refurbishment, contemporary redesigned lobby and Oasis Cay, an adults-only pool area with grill and bar serving specialty drinks. New dining venues include Sixty-One Prime and Hawks Cay Marketplace. The resort also offers 250 two- and three-bedroom villas, the Calm Waters Spa, Coral Cay kids’ activities center and Angler and Ale restaurant. New entertainment includes comedy shows and family pool parties.
At the Seven Mile Bridge oceanside, the 24-acre, 199-unit Isla Bella Beach Resort is scheduled to open in early 2019 with a 4,000-square-foot spa, five pools, four food and beverage concepts, and a marina. The resort is to feature more than 24,000 square feet of meeting and event space. Plans call for coastal Italian- and Neapolitan-style restaurants, The Beach Bar with fresh seafood and cocktails, The Burger Palace with gourmet burgers and sliders, and Manatee Bay Marketplace, a waterfront cafe with shopping. Recreational activities are to include bocce, croquet, oversized chess, complimentary bicycles, on-site watersports and guided fishing expeditions.
Big Pine Key
Key points: Nature preserves & wildlife (the home of the Key Deer and the National Key Deer Refuge); Bahia Honda State Park
The 75-acre Sunshine Key RV Resort & Marina, the Florida Keys’ largest recreational vehicle resort, formally reopened to visitors in early September. Located on Ohio Key just past the west end of the Seven Mile Bridge, Sunshine Key celebrated reopening about a quarter of its 399 RV sites as well as new resort amenities. Amenities include a renovated marina, access to a Gulf of Mexico swimming area from a new sunset pier, completely new RV site hookups and infrastructure, a refurbished recreation center and upgraded tennis courts.
Key points: Home of Ernest Hemingway (his home is now a museum) and Key Lime pie; the U.S.’ closest point to Cuba (just 90 miles south); the gateway to Dry Tortugas National Park (70 miles west)
Parrot Key Hotel & Villas has undergone an extensive renovation following Hurricane Irma, and will celebrate its grand opening in January 2019. Set among five acres of award-winning landscaping and palm groves, the 148-room property offers four swimming pools, watersports rentals and on-site dining all day long.
Just down the street, The Laureate Key West is a small property with 64 units, each offering full kitchens, perfect for families looking for an affordable option in Key West. The hotel also welcomes dogs under 30 pounds, with a gift bag, special doggy bed, pet-friendly areas and services.
Both properties also offer shuttles to downtown Key West.