Destination meetings and group gatherings in the Florida Keys can include both high-tech specs and laid-back workloads during a subtropical sabbatical. Travel and meeting planners, incentive groups and organizers of corporate retreats can find new and enhanced accommodations, leisure activities and other offerings to help ramp up the next pre- or post-meeting get-together.
JetBlue and Silver Airways passengers can choose connecting flights to Key West between the airlines' Florida network via Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Tampa and Fort Myers.
The interline agreement brings new destinations including Key West within reach of JetBlue customers. In addition, visitors to Silver Airways destinations in Florida can benefit from easy interline access to JetBlue destinations across the United States and the Caribbean.
JetBlue and Silver Airways plan to offer travelers the benefit of earning TrueBlue points on flights operated by Silver Airways. Tickets are on sale now through www.silverairways.com, travel agencies, global distribution systems and www.jetblue.com.
Keys Accommodations and Meeting Facilities
Marathon's Tranquility Bay Resort has added 16 new tropical garden guestrooms to the property located at 2600 Overseas Highway. Offering a blend of luxury accommodations, the completely smoke-free resort is situated on 12 landscaped acres.
Tropical garden guestrooms are all single-level units ideal for travelers seeking privacy and an intimate atmosphere. In addition, a dedicated area that surrounds the new guestrooms has a private pool set away from the main resort area.
With its new rooms, the waterfront property has further diversified its range of accommodations, which includes 87 two- and three-bedroom beach houses located on 1,100 feet of private shoreline.
Additional resort amenities include exotic, lagoon-style and adults-only swimming pools; on-site watersports, in-room spa services, a beachside tiki bar and several dining options at the resort's Butterfly Café. For more information, visit www.tranquilitybay.com.
Islamorada's popular 139-unit Islander Resort has joined the Guy Harvey Outpost Resort family, named for the famed marine wildlife artist and conservationist. Accommodations include both the existing oceanside property and luxurious bayside townhomes.
Ownership and management remain unchanged at the resort, renowned for its casual Keys ambiance.
The iconic slanted sign still stands at the resort entrance at mile marker 82, but the property has been enhanced with upgraded guestroom interiors, lobby, public spaces and facilities and the addition of a Guy Harvey Outfitter to assist guests with adventure experiences.
The resort's poolside restaurant has been converted into Guy's Beachside Bar & Grill and a former meeting space has become the Trophy Room interior social lounge area for guests and small special events.
The Guy Harvey Outpost brand, located primarily in the Bahamas and Florida, showcases destinations dedicated to marine research and conservation, as well as providing guests with a vacation experience that celebrates the outdoor lifestyle in a waterfront setting. For information, visit www.islanderfloridakeys.com.
Located on the same 25-acre oceanfront property, the Keys History & Discovery Center offers a premier meeting venue for corporate events. The 4,000-square-foot oceanfront space features three large meeting rooms and prefunction space with a two-story grand entrance.
Other highlights include the Blue Marlin Ballroom, verandas with views of the Atlantic Ocean, a boardroom and library, and a state-of-the-art movie theater that seats 40. Catering facilities and audiovisual equipment also are available to enhance mid-size meetings or events.
The center is developing ongoing exhibits incorporating a combination of static displays and interactive media delving into first Florida Keys inhabitants, shipwrecks and salvage, Keys pioneering families, sport-fishing legends and Henry Flagler's Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad.
In addition, traveling exhibits are to be presented that reflect upon the nature, art or history of the Keys. For more information or to reserve meeting space, visit www.keysdiscovery.com or call 305-922-2237.
Meeting planners seeking incentive sightseeing with a local flavor have a few tasty and exhilarating new excursions on tap.
With the Bean-to-Bar Experience, Lush Bar at The Green Pineapple introduces guests to the world of chocolate and fine wines at 1130 Duval St. in Key West. Guests have the opportunity to grind organic cocoa nibs, cocoa butter and organic sugar to create their own chocolate bar. In addition, they learn about the history of cocoa and how it is made.
Lush Bar offers a selection of chocolates, wines, coffee, teas and beers that come from sustainable organic vendors. Tasting sessions can be booked that offer combinations of beers or wines matched with fine chocolates.
Bean-to-Bar packages start at $65 per person and reservations are required 24 hours in advance. Two to four people can participate in each session.
To learn more about Lush, visit www.lushkw.com or download the dedicated LushKeyWest app at the iTunes store for daily specials, events, discounts, coupons and more.
A first for the Florida Keys, Chef Paul Menta's Legal Rum Distillery has opened in Key West at a former Coca-Cola bottling plant at 105 Simonton St. The site's historical significance goes beyond the renowned soda maker since it used to be a pre-Prohibition-era bar named Jack's Saloon.
The distillery is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and small and mid-size groups of guests are invited to tour the plant and enjoy free rum samplings. While state law prohibits distillers from selling alcoholic beverages, visitors can enjoy complimentary rum and Coke drinks if they purchase one of the cola brand's classic glass bottles.
Private guided distillery tours and rum-tasting sessions feature quirky stories of the island's rum-soaked past. Tours start after 5 p.m. for parties of six or more. Legal Rum Distillery's signature drink is Legal Vanilla Rum & Coke, an original interpretation of the classic rum and Coke concoction. For information, visit www.keywestlegalrum.com.
Short on time? In Key Largo, there is always time to "sea" the surroundings beyond the meeting room.
Tour operator Largo Looker recently opened at 13 Seagate Blvd. at the Pilot House Marina. The company offers glass-bottom tours in its high-speed hydrofoil-design vessel that rides on the ocean surface.
The ultramodern Largo Looker vessel features 6-by-10-foot viewing glass so guests can enjoy the only living coral reef in the continental United States, which parallels the Keys. Passengers have plenty of room to view the area's tropical fish, coral formations and marine life up close and in comfort.
Morning and afternoon tours are offered and each lasts approximately two hours. Tickets are $65 per person, plus tax. For details and booking information, visit www.largolooker.com.
Keys Virtual Assistance
Travel professionals seeking the education necessary to become certified Florida Keys destination specialists can find what they need at Key Lime Academy, a Web-based video-learning platform.
Key Lime Academy uses seven high-definition video-driven modules to educate participants on Keys properties, attractions and history. Each module is followed by an eight- to 10-question quiz presented in multiple-choice format. The process takes about 30 minutes to complete, and can be done either incrementally or in a single sitting.
When the user completes the entire e-learning series and passes subsequent quizzes with a grade of 80 percent or better, an electronic Florida Keys destination specialist certificate is issued.
Key Lime Academy targets U.S., Canadian and United Kingdom travel agents and tour operators. The site's videos and professionally planned Keys itineraries can be accessed by all agents and consumers and shared via social media.
Future development plans for Key Lime Academy include creation of a more in-depth program for agents who wish to develop further specialization.
To learn more, visit fla-keys.com/keylimeacademy/.
A "live chat" communications tool on the Florida Keys tourism council website, www.fla-keys.com, merges modern technology with visitor information services offered by the Keys' five regional chambers of commerce, from Key Largo to Key West.
Website visitors interact with live people with real-life knowledge, and can connect with and get assistance from travel professionals who live in the Keys.
Relatively new for tourism bureaus and destination marketing organizations, live chat services are ideal for travel planners who want assistance from a live person in the Keys without having to make a phone call.
To access the live chat feature, site visitors simply click the "Chat With Us Live" button located at the top of each page of the fla-keys.com website. Users then are prompted to input what area of the Keys they are interested in or "Not Sure" for a general inquiry, as well as their name and (optional) email address, and then click on "Start Chat." A chat window screen opens and within seconds the user is greeted by a chat operator and invited to respond with questions.
Live chat is available weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern Time. During off hours, users can leave a callback request.
Florida Keys information: www.fla-keys.com or 800-FLA-KEYS (800-352-5397)
Group travel information: www.fla-keys.com/traveltrade/meetingplanners.cfm