by Allen J. Sheinman | January 12, 2018
Tourism entities in the Florida Keys and Key West have provided the following update on the area's recovery process following Hurricane Irma. Following are the latest details.

GENERAL ASSESSMENT

Key Largo and Key West were least impacted by Hurricane Irma, which struck the Keys on Sept. 10, 2017, as were most hotels and businesses on the bayside, or gulfside, in Islamorada and Marathon.

On the Atlantic Ocean side of Islamorada and Duck Key near Marathon, some hotels had significant storm-surge impacts. Several have reopened or are reopening soon, while recovery of a few other properties is anticipated to continue through this fall, with some properties using the opportunity to advance renovations.

The most severely impacted area of the Keys is west of the Seven Mile Bridge to around Big Coppitt Key, located about 10 miles east-northeast of Key West.

Visitors are requested to avoid traveling through residential neighborhoods along the Florida Keys Overseas Highway, especially between Marathon and Key West, as this region is taking the longest to recover.

Essentially, the Florida Keys have been open to visitors since Oct. 1, just three weeks after the hurricane.

TRANSPORTATION

At Key West International Airport, American Airlines is scheduled to begin new summer 2018 seasonal, nonstop service between Key West and Dallas-Fort Worth international airports on June 9.

"With new jet service to Dallas, our visitors will now have more than 100 options for one-stop connections to the United States and abroad," said Donald DeGraw, director of airports for the Florida Keys & Key West. "The new service opens up the U.S. West Coast market for Key West." 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 struck. Some debris remains along the highway in the Lower Keys but is expected to be cleared by the end of January, according to county officials. Highway areas in Key Largo, Islamorada and Key West are clear of debris.

The first cruise ship returned to the Port of Key West on Sept. 24, and airports in Key West and Marathon reopened for commercial and general aviation on Sept. 20.

LODGING

The Florida Keys tourism council reports that almost 77 percent of lodging units are back online in the destination, with about 76 percent in Key Largo, 48 percent in Islamorada, 63 percent in Marathon, 48 percent between the west end of the Seven Mile Bridge and Stock Island, and more than 91 percent in Key West and neighboring Stock Island.

Key Largo: This year, Key Largo is to offer two all-new properties. Dolphin Point Villas, with six stand-alone villa homes accommodating up to 62 guests and events of up to 100, held its grand opening this past Dec. 9. The new Bungalows Key Largo, the Keys' first all-inclusive resort, is targeted to open in April with 135 units, two pools and several restaurants and bars.

Ocean Pointe Suites is scheduled to reopen in March. The Hilton Key Largo is undergoing a renovation to become the 200-room Baker's Cay Resort, a Curio Collection by Hilton, and is to reopen in the fall.

The famed two-bedroom Jules' Undersea Lodge, the United States' only submerged recreational hotel, reopened to overnight divers on Dec. 1.

Islamorada: The Moorings Village is set to reopen on Jan. 15. Islamorada Resort Co.'s Pelican Cove Resort is to reopen in early February, while sister property Amara Cay Resort reopened on Dec. 15.

Two other Islamorada Resort Co. properties also are reopening this spring. La Siesta Resort & Marina is scheduled to open in March. The Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina has planned a phased reopening. At Postcard, two buildings, 14 new cottages, and the Ciao Hound Italian Kitchen & Bar and Tiki Bar are scheduled to reopen in March.

Cheeca Lodge Resort & Spa is scheduled to reopen on March 30.

Islander Resort's Bayside Townhomes are open, although the oceanside resort is closed until fall.

Marathon: On Duck Key, Hawks Cay Resort & Marina will reopen in stages, beginning during this year's second quarter and continuing through summer. Other hotels in Marathon are open, and a new Hampton Inn Marathon is under development.

Lower Keys: Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge is open. Off Little Torch Key, Little Palm Island is to remain closed until early 2019. On Little Torch Key, Parmer's Resort has 35 units available, with 10 under reconstruction and set to reopen by summer. Deer Run Bed & Breakfast is hoping to reopen by the summer.

Key West: Nearly all lodging rooms are open, except for those at three properties. Havana Cabana Key West Hotel, the former Inn at Key West, is scheduled to open in April; Parrot Key Resort is to reopen on June 1; Key West Bayside Inn & Suites does not yet have a reopening date.

The Southernmost Beach Resort fully reopened in late December. The new 14-room Marquesa 4-1-4 opened as part of an expansion at Key West's 27-room Marquesa Hotel on Oct. 20.

MEETINGS

Seventy-seven percent of all Florida Keys lodging units, many with meeting facilities, are back online. Iconic meetings properties such as Cheeca Lodge in Islamorada and Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key in the Marathon area are completing scheduled renovations and are slated to reopen later this year.

All major attractions are open. While recovery continues, particularly in the Big Pine Key region, groups traveling to the Keys can choose from a wide variety of indoor and outdoor facilities, after-meeting venues and team-building offerings.     

ATTRACTIONS

All major Keys attractions have reopened.

In Islamorada, Theater of the Sea, first launched in 1946, is open. A full-menu food concession is to reopen in mid-January. Its beach area is to reopen in February, and its stingray program should reopen by spring. No date is set for its shark program.

In Marathon, Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters, with new feedings for Mobula rays, reopened on Dec. 15.

Ferry tours to the historic 5-acre Pigeon Key have resumed with a new gateway in Marathon, departing from the Hyatt Place's marina at the Faro Blanco Lighthouse. Visitors can tour a former section gang quarters, former paint foreman's dorm and historical museum.

Almost all fishing and dive charters have resumed operations.

RESTAURANTS AND BARS

Most major Keys restaurants and bars have reopened, although a few with ongoing renovations might have limited menus.

In Marathon, a new Sparky's Landing has opened at Holiday Inn Express & Suites Marathon, replacing the former Tarpon Creek Bar & Grill. The original Sparky's in Key Colony Beach has closed.

No Name Pub on Big Pine Key reopened in late October.

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 a glass-bottom boat. Snorkeling tours operate daily.

Limited food and snacks are available. The visitor center is expected to reopen in February. Dive excursions are not yet running.

In the Lower Keys, Calusa Beach at Bahia Honda State Park's northwest side is open. Two nearby campgrounds - Buttonwood, with 43 sites, and Bayside, with eight - reopened for overnight camping on Jan. 1. The park's six cabins also are open, although reconstruction in the cabin area is to continue through mid-January.

Loggerhead and Sandspur beaches remain closed for restoration. Concession food service could resume by mid-January. Snorkel boat tours are expected to resume in February.

SPECIAL EVENTS

Most special events throughout the Keys, including multiple seafood festivals in January, are taking place as usual.

Several events postponed after Irma are rescheduled. Among them:

• The 2018 Conch Scramble Charity Golf Tournament, known as the annual "par-tee" on the water, is rescheduled for Jan. 19-20 in Islamorada.

• The 2018 Cheeca Lodge Presidential Sailfish Tournament is scheduled for Jan. 26-28, to be staged out of Islamorada's Whale Harbor Marina.

• The 2nd Annual Islamorada Half Marathon and 10K is rescheduled for Feb. 3-4.

Three events -  Brew on the Bay and Taste Around the World in Key Largo, and the Winter Star Party in the Lower Keys - are canceled for 2018.

The Florida Keys & Key West calendar of events can be viewed at fla-keys.com/calendar/.

UTILITIES

Keys Energy and Florida Keys Electric Cooperative restored power to almost 100 percent of utility customers who could accept electrical power by Sept. 29. Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority restored water to all customers who could accept it.

AT&T and Comcast communications service also is restored.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS

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