Six months after Irma, Florida Keys Tourism rebounds
Throughout the Florida Keys & Key West, nearly 80 percent of all lodging units are back online after Hurricane Irma struck six months ago Sept. 10, 2017.
In Key West and nearby Stock Island, 92 percent of all properties are open. Elsewhere in the island chain, 76 percent are open in Key Largo, 63 percent in Marathon, 53 percent in Islamorada and 48 percent between the west end of the Seven Mile Bridge and Big Coppitt Key.
“Lodging properties and other tourism facilities in the Keys have made an amazing rebound since last fall,” said Jim DeKeyrel, director of sales for the Florida Keys & Key West. “We’re seeing demand return, helped by cold temperatures in the north.”
The island chain has been open to visitors since Oct. 1, 2017, just three weeks after Hurricane Irma passed through the area. Key Largo and Key West were least impacted by the storm.
Some specific post-Irma tourism-related highlights include:
Tourism officials project increasing demand in coming months as the destination unveils upscale and revitalized properties and the Florida Keys’ first adults-only, all-inclusive resort. Summer business is projected to be brisk, as the Keys welcome bookings for fall, winter and into 2019.
Ocean Pointe Suites is scheduled to reopen beginning March 30 with a newly restored private beach and a new over-the-water gazebo for intimate weddings and events.
The Keys’ first adults-only, all-inclusive resort is to be unveiled this spring. The new Bungalows Key Largo is targeting an opening in May with 135 units, two pools and several restaurants and bars.
The former Hilton Key Largo is undergoing renovations to become the new 200-room Baker’s Cay Resort, a Curio Collection by Hilton, to open in the fall with 17,000 square feet of meeting space and pet amenities.
Islamorada Resort Co.’s 63-unit Pelican Cove Resort is partially reopened with 42 units. Its 6-acre 54-unit La Siesta Resort & Marina also is open, although its five-bedroom house remains under renovation.
Additionally, Islamorada Resort Co.’s 150-unit Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina is scheduled to reopen in phases, beginning mid-April with 14 new cottages. Postcard Inn’s Ciao Hound Italian Kitchen & Bar and Tiki Bar also are scheduled to reopen in April.
The 27-acre, 214-unit oceanfront Cheeca Lodge Resort & Spa is to reopen March 30 for the Easter holiday weekend.
Cheeca Lodge has undergone a $20 million renovation with a rebuilt 525-foot-long wooden fishing pier, redesign of its main lobby and all rooms, 4,600 square feet of meeting and function space, spa with seven treatment rooms and refurbished nine-hole golf course. A new pool and Tiki bar are to open in May.
Chesapeake Resort has reopened 20 garden-view units and one pool. Its remaining 45 units and resort amenities, including beach accessibility, are to reopen by spring 2019. Guests have complimentary access to Islamorada’s Founders Park, open except for its athletic fields and golf range.
Islander Bayside Resort is open with 25 two-story townhomes. Its 25-acre oceanside Islander Resort is to reopen this fall with an all-new design and culinary concepts.
On Duck Key, the 60-acre Hawks Cay Resort, a AAA Four Diamond Award–rated and Preferred Hotel Group Lifestyle Collection member, is to partially reopen March 16 with 100 villas and its Calm Waters Spa, Sunset Pool, Coral Cay kids’ activities center and Angler and Ale restaurant with breakfast, lunch and dinner. The main hotel, with 177 guestrooms, is to reopen this summer.
In Key Colony Beach, the Glunz Ocean Beach Hotel & Resort has reopened with 51 units. A poolside Tiki bar is open, and the on-site Havana Jack’s Oceanside Restaurant and Bar is to reopen later this month.
In Marathon, a new 80-room, full-service Hampton Inn Marathon is set to open in mid-May. Another property, being built oceanside near the Seven Mile Bridge by resort developer Pritam Singh, is to begin opening in 2019. It is to feature 199 rooms, but its name has yet to be released.
Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge is open. On Little Torch Key, Parmer’s Resort has 43 (including 14 waterfront) units open, with only one remaining under reconstruction. Its kayaks and paddleboards are back on the property. Parmer’s currently is rebuilding its 90-foot-long beach and its dock and marina are undergoing restoration.
The four-unit Deer Run Bed & Breakfast plans to reopen by summer. Off Little Torch Key, Little Palm Island is to remain closed until 2019.
In Key West, all properties except three are open. Havana Cabana Key West Hotel, the former Inn at Key West, is scheduled to open April 1. Parrot Key Resort is to reopen by June 1. Key West Bayside Inn & Suites is scheduled to open in the fall.
All major Florida Keys attractions are open. In Islamorada, Theater of the Sea, launched in 1946 and one of the world’s oldest marine mammal facilities, is open with a restored beach and gift shops. All marine interaction programs are open, but its shark area is undergoing repairs.
Ferry tours to the historic 5-acre Pigeon Key are operating, departing from the Hyatt Place’s marina at the Faro Blanco Lighthouse. On Pigeon Key, visitors can tour a former section gang quarters, former foreman’s dorm and historical museum.
Fishing, snorkeling and diving charters are operating.
American Airlines is set to begin new summer seasonal, nonstop service June 9 between Key West and Dallas–Fort Worth international airports.
The once-weekly Saturday commercial service is to run until Aug. 25 on 76-passenger E175 regional jets.
The Florida Keys Overseas Highway — with 42 bridges providing scenic over-water views — was designated safe for driving within five days after Hurricane Irma.
Commercial air service resumed Sept. 20, 2017, just 10 days after Irma.
National Parks, Refuges
On Big Pine Key, a new 1,840-square-foot Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Nature Center, currently under construction near mile marker 30.5, is to open this fall, showcasing the Keys’ four national wildlife refuges. It is to include indoor and outdoor exhibits, a nature trail boardwalk and book store.
Three national wildlife refuges, including the National Key Deer Refuge, Great White Heron and Key West national wildlife refuges, are open. A fourth, the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Key Largo, is, as usual, accessible only through organized volunteer activities and guided walks.
Dry Tortugas National Park is open, with the Yankee Freedom III ferry service and Key West Seaplane Adventures air service running full schedules.
Sections of hard-hit Everglades National Park, including 234 drive-up camping sites at the Flamingo Campground, are open. Flamingo Visitor Center is open with ranger-guided programs; canoes and kayaks can be rented. Park waters are open, although boaters are advised to be cautious.
By late 2019, the park’s Flamingo district on Florida Bay is to offer new overnight lodge accommodations and a full-service restaurant.
Florida State Parks
All 10 Keys state parks are open for day use as restoration efforts continue.
In Key Largo, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the first undersea park in the United States, is open to beachgoers, overnight campers, hikers and snorkelers taking four glass-bottom boats. Snorkeling tours and dive excursions operate daily, weather permitting. Powerboat rentals remain closed. Snacks and drinks are available, but the park’s cantina remains closed.
In the Lower Keys, Calusa Beach on Bahia Honda State Park’s northwest side is open. Two nearby campgrounds — Buttonwood, with 43 sites, and Bayside, with eight — and the park’s six cabins are open. A gift shop with beach gear rentals reopened Feb. 11.
Bahia Honda’s Loggerhead and Sandspur beaches are closed. The park’s concession, with food and souvenirs, is open. Snorkel boat tours should resume by late March. The park’s boat ramp is open, but the marina is closed.
Most Keys campgrounds are open for recreational vehicles and tent camping.
Of the Keys’ main RV resorts, the 28-acre Fiesta Key RV Resort & Marina on Long Key is open. Sunshine Key on the Lower Keys’ Big Pine Key plans to reopen by late spring.
Sugarloaf KOA/Key West KOA is closed until fall.
Other Keys campgrounds, including Boyd’s Key West Campground, are open.
Events throughout the Keys continue as scheduled. The Florida Keys & Key West calendar of events can be viewed at fla-keys.com/calendar/.
Debris pickup along the Florida Keys Overseas Highway is largely complete.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection workers have begun a $6 million debris removal project in unincorporated Monroe County to clear canals in Big Pine Key and other neighborhoods.
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS
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