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Florida Keys Mean And Island Appeal

April 2, 2014 Destination North America No Comments Email Email

According to Florida Keys legend, if visitors get sand in their shoes, they’re bound to come back to the island chain again. It’s not unusual to see first-timers scuffling their feet along the beaches, hoping to ensure repeat visits.

Curving below the southern tip of the Florida mainland, the Keys are connected by the Overseas Highway’s 42 bridges over the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. The region is divided into five unique districts, beginning with the northernmost island of Key Largo, known for its unparalleled diving and snorkeling.

Farther down lie the sport-fishing paradise of Islamorada, boaters’ retreat and historic Seven Mile Bridge at Marathon, unspoiled nature preserves of Big Pine and the Lower Keys and, finally, quirky and charming Key West.

Together, the Keys are characterized by a rich natural environment, flourishing creative community, balmy subtropical climate, and a friendly laidback vibe that seems worlds away from everyday cares.

As well as these attributes, visitors can enjoy unique attractions, adventures and accommodations. Visit www.fla-keys.com for more information.

PRESERVING THE FLORIDA KEYS’ CORAL REEFS

Divers can become “citizen scientists” and join the efforts of Key Largo’s Coral Restoration Foundation, dedicated to creating offshore nurseries and restoration programs for threatened coral species, during four 2014 coral restoration workshops.

Amy Slate’s Amoray Dive Resort is offering specially priced stay-and-dive packages for coral restoration programs May 15-18, June 12-15, Sept. 11-14 and Oct. 9-12.

Participants go on Friday and Saturday afternoon two-tank working dives to the coral nursery to clean and prepare corals for planting, and an orientation dive at one of the restoration sites. Call 800-426-6729 or visit www.coralrestoration.org.

EXPLORE THE ‘SPIRIT’ OF KEY WEST

Key West paranormal expert David Sloan recently debuted Sloan’s Ghost Hunt, interactive ghost tours that start nightly from Kelly’s Caribbean Bar, Grill & Brewery at 301 Whitehead St.

During Sloan’s 90-minute walking tours in Old Town Key West, the renowned ghost hunter and author takes guests to some of the island city’s most haunted locations. State-of-the-art “ghost hunting” equipment is used to help detect supernatural activities. Tickets are $25. Visit www.keywestghosthunt.com.

SOAR THROUGH THE SKY IN ISLAMORADA

Adventurous visitors can soar above Florida Keys waters with Tiki Jet Jetpack Adventures, located at Islamorada’s Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina at 84001 Overseas Highway.

Thrill seekers are taken by a tiki-themed pontoon boat to the flying site. After training and a safety briefing, they are fitted with a helmet, personal flotation device and harness. Instructors then strap participants to a JetLev R200 flight pack, tethered by a 30-foot hose to a tiny boat apparatus with a pump that uses seawater as propellant. Flight controls enable individuals to take off, make soft turns, hover and land.

Tiki Jet flight experiences include up to 30 minutes of flight time. Visitwww.tikijet.com.

KEY LARGO COMMEMORATES A FILM LEGEND

Film buffs can celebrate the work of an American screen legend at the Humphrey Bogart Film Festival in Key Largo May 1-4.

The 1948 movie “Key Largo,” starring Bogart and his wife Lauren Bacall, was partly filmed on the island at the head of the Florida Keys.

The Key Largo Chamber of Commerce produces the festival in partnership with the Bogart Estate. Among events, Bogart’s son Stephen Bogart and film historian Leonard Maltin are to screen Bogart classics and other films that fit the 2014 theme of romance.

Other attractions include parties, a Bogart Ball and canal cruises on the fully restored African Queen. The original vessel from John Huston’s 1951 film “The African Queen,” starring Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, is home ported in Key Largo. Visit www.bogartfilmfestival.com.

LUXURY RESORT UNVEILS NEW ROOMS IN MARATHON

Marathon’s Tranquility Bay Resort recently added 16 new tropical garden guestrooms to the luxurious 12-acre property at 2600 Overseas Highway.

Tropical garden guestrooms are all single-level units and a dedicated surrounding area has a private pool.

The waterfront property’s accommodations include 87 two- and three-bedroom beach houses located on 1,100 feet of private shoreline. Guests can enjoy multiple swimming pools, on-site watersports, in-room spa services, a beachside tiki bar and the Butterfly Café. Visit www.tranquilitybay.com.

KEYS’ FIRST RUM DISTILLERY DEBUTS IN KEY WEST

Chef Paul Menta’s Legal Rum Distillery, the Florida Keys’ first such operation, is now open in Key West at 105 Simonton St. on the site of a pre-Prohibition-era saloon. The distillery is open daily for tours and free rum samplings. While state law prohibits distillers from selling alcoholic beverages, visitors can enjoy complimentary rum and Coke drinks if they purchase a classic glass Coke bottle.

In addition, visitors can buy up to two 750-milliliter bottles of Legal Rum at a time. Vanilla brûlée, coconut and Key lime rums also are available.

Private guided distillery tours and rum-tasting sessions can be arranged for parties of six or more. Visit www.keywestlegalrum.com.

QUIRKY MUSICAL HAPPENINGS IN THE LOWER KEYS

Divers and snorkelers can enjoy music in the key of “sea” when the Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival celebrates its 30th anniversary July 12, 2014. The quirky concert showcases the colorful marine life that inhabits the continental United States’ only living coral barrier reef, lying off the Florida Keys.

Hundreds gather each year for the songfest at Looe Key Reef, south of Big Pine Key in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. A local radio station broadcasts marine-themed music via speakers suspended beneath boats and costumed divers, ranging from mermaids to Elvis, “play” instruments on the ocean floor.

The undersea fun has a serious purpose. Diver awareness messages promote coral reef preservation. Visit www.lowerkeyschamber.com/festival.cfm.

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