Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones signed and received their marriage license -- the first ever issued to a same-sex couple in the Keys -- just after midnight at Key West's Monroe County Courthouse.
Wearing matching black tuxes and electric blue vests, facing each other and holding hands on the courthouse steps, they were wed in a simple yet moving ceremony before about 500 enthusiastic spectators.
After Huntsman and Lee spoke their vows and exchanged handmade silver rings, Rev. Steve Torrence pronounced them legally married. The crowd erupted in cheers and applause as the new spouses embraced and kissed.
"It's official -- we're married!" said Huntsman after the ceremony. "We've been wanting this and hoping for this for such a long time. We felt in our hearts that we had been married since our first year together, and now it's real — in Florida!"
In July 2014, in response to the couple's lawsuit protesting Florida's 2008 ban on same-sex marriage, Florida Keys Judge Luis Garcia issued a landmark ruling stating the ban was discriminatory and unconstitutional.
But a state appeal derailed wedding plans until U.S. Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that Florida's county court clerks could issue licenses to same-sex couples beginning at midnight Monday.
"I'm elated, overjoyed, that I finally am legally recognized with the man that I've loved for 12 years now," said an emotional Jones.
The county clerk's office in Key West opened at 11:30 p.m. Monday night and, just after midnight, issued nine other marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
While other weddings took place in the wee hours Tuesday morning, Huntsman and Jones' ceremony was the first in the county and in the Florida Keys.
"Key West has been at the forefront in LGBT issues since the 80s and this is just historical," said Huntsman. "We couldn't have done it without the support of the community."
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS (1-800-352-5397)
Florida Keys wedding information: fla-keys.com/weddings
LGBT visitor information: fla-keys.com/gay
Chefs from some of Key West's finest restaurants are to concoct their most creative offerings at the event, competing for first-, second- and third-place honors in the appetizer, entrée and dessert categories. Attending food-lovers can taste the dishes and cast people's choice ballots, while official judges determine those most deserving of other awards.
The celebration of cuisine raises funds for the Monroe Association for ReMARCable Citizens, also called MARC, a nonprofit agency that provides life services for intellectually and developmentally disabled Florida Keys adults.
Only 450 tickets are available for the culinary classic. Ticket prices begin at $75 per person, and groups can reserve tables for four or eight with premium wine. Tickets can be purchased at keystix.com.
Event information: masterchefsclassic.com or 305-294-9526, ext. 25
Key West visitor information: fla-keys.com/keywest
Several thousand runners are expected to race through Key West's historic Old Town and scenic waterfront during the 17th annual event. Acclaimed as one of the United States' top winter half-marathons, the race typically attracts participants from throughout the U.S. and internationally to compete in the Florida Keys' subtropical January climate.
The half-marathon is scheduled to begin at 7 a.m. and proceed on a flat, fast 13.1-mile course.
A race registration booth is to be open 1-7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 17, at the foot of Margaret Street in Key West's Historic Seaport, and race packets can be picked up there.
Also that day, participants can take a training run with former Olympic runner Keith Brantly, acclaimed as one of the most successful long-distance runners in American history. In addition, Saturday's schedule features a fitness expo and a prerace pasta meal.
Plans call for Sunday's half-marathon to begin and end near the intersection of Caroline and Margaret streets. The 5k run is to start at 7:30 a.m.
An awards ceremony and post-race party are scheduled near the finish line, with entertainment provided by the Keys' Howard Livingston & the Mile Marker 24 Band.
Awards are to be presented to first- through third-place male and female finishers in five-year age groups ranging from 9 and under to 75 and over, as well as the top overall competitors and those in the masters and military divisions.
The half-marathon entry fee is $120 per person with discounts available for military members, local residents and returning runners. The 5k entry fee is $50 per person. Each entrant is to receive a gender-specific moisture-resistant race technical shirt.
A portion of race proceeds benefits the Florida Keys Community College youth swim program and Key West Sunrise Rotary Club endeavors.
Taylor is to display his keyboard mastery on Samuel Barber's Piano Concerto. The program also includes Maurice Ravel's "Bolero" and Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition."
Renowned for his brilliance, virtuosity and sensitive yet intense interpretations, Taylor has appeared with leading orchestras including the Boston Pops, New York Philharmonic and Los Angeles Philharmonic. He also has showcased his talent at venues ranging from the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall to Chicago's Ravinia Festival, and earned particular notice for his programming of Olivier Messiaen's "Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus."
Led by award-winning conductor and Key West native Sebrina Maria Alfonso, the South Florida Symphony brings together preeminent classical musicians from around the United States and pairs them with selected American and international soloists.
Before the January performance, attendees can enjoy a "symphony chat" with classical pianist and music historian Edward Pitts at the Tennessee Williams Theatre. A post-concert reception is scheduled with Alfonso, Taylor and orchestra members.
The season's masterworks series also includes concerts titled "Love, Loss, Redemption" Feb. 18 with violinist Chee-Yun Kim and "Fate of a Hero" March 26 with pianist Svetlana Smolina.
Tickets are available at keystix.com, priced at $25 to $75 per person depending on seat location.
The symphony also offers "Tropical Beats" pairings of music with art and cuisine as well as periodic pops performances. The next pops concert features the Grammy-nominated WannaBeatles, presenting Beatles favorites paired with onstage antics and visual effects, and is set for Thursday, Feb. 5, at the Tennessee Williams Theatre.
Event information: southfloridasymphony.org
Key West visitor information: fla-keys.com/keywest
A four-time Tony Award winner, McNally will speak about his long and successful career in the theater, his inspirations and theatrical colleagues. He will be joined onstage by guest stars performing numbers from musicals for which he has written the book.
Since beginning his career in 1964, McNally has authored plays and musicals including "Ragtime," "Kiss of the Spider Woman," "Love! Valour! Compassion!" and "The Full Monty." His current Broadway hit is the record-breaking "It's Only a Play."
Though McNally does much of his work in New York City, he is no stranger to the southernmost city. Key West has been a second home to him for nearly 20 years, and the Waterfront Playhouse has staged "The Full Monty" and "Love! Valour! Compassion!"
According to the Waterfront's Jeff Johnson, McNally is hosting his one-of-a-kind Key West presentation to support live theater on the island.
Following the main event, guests are invited to enjoy champagne and hors d'oeuvres in the Key West Historic Memorial Sculpture Garden adjoining the theater.
Tickets are $75 per person and proceeds are to benefit the Waterfront Playhouse, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary season.
Event information and ticketing: waterfrontplayhouse.org or 305-294-5015
Key West visitor information: fla-keys.com/keywest
Set for Wednesday through Sunday, Jan. 28 through Feb. 1, the festival's indoor and outdoor events showcase local chefs' culinary flair and favorite indigenous ingredients, intriguing libations and distinctive Florida Keys experiences.
Attendees can whet their appetites for island-style excellence at three Wine Around Neighborhood Strolls set for 5-8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 28. Guests can choose from the Bahama Village, Historic Seaport or Southernmost stroll, each featuring stops at five neighborhood emporiums for samples of cuisine and wines.
Subsequent festival standouts include Henry Flagler's Welcome Party, planned for 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 29, on the Atlantic Ocean beach of Casa Marina, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, at 1500 Reynolds St. The gracious gathering is to recall the early 1900s, shortly after the completion of Flagler's Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad and the elegant Casa Marina.
Friday's schedule stars the poolside Mile 0 Grand Tasting at Key West's new Marker Waterfront Resort, 200 William St. Attendees can enjoy fine wines and light bites from the property's Cero Bodega, whose inspired coastal cuisine blends vibrant Mexican influences with California's casual sophistication.
Key West's renowned Duval Street is to become an appealing avenue for wine lovers Saturday afternoon during "Duval Uncorked" Deconstructed. The event pairs a tasting stroll featuring vintages from diverse wine regions with an exploration of enticing boutiques, shops and galleries.
In addition, festival attendees can immerse themselves in the enticing two-day Central Coast Wine & Food Experience Friday and Saturday at the Hyatt Key West Resort & Spa, 601 Front St. Among the attractions are a winemaker brunch, two sunset wine tastings, a guided tasting seminar and a wine dinner, all featuring notable California winemakers.
Other festival events include the "6 Wines — 6 Countries — 6 Stories" wine dinner, an organic chocolate-making session, kitchen tours, a traditional shrimp boil beside the historic Stock Island shrimp docks, eclectic food and wine seminars, a private barrel tasting at Key West First Legal Rum Distillery, an outdoor "green market" and more.
VIP passes are available covering admission to multiple events, or attendees can purchase tickets for individual events.
Festival information and ticketing: keywestfoodandwinefestival.com
Key West visitor information: fla-keys.com/keywest
For example, divers can "egg-splore" for hidden eggs during an Underwater Easter Egg Hunt or join costumed mermaids and an underwater band at the Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival. The submerged songfest is held each July at Looe Key Reef, an area of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary approximately six miles south of Big Pine Key.
Coming in August 2015, the inaugural Upper Keys Reef Crawl promises fun, sun and camaraderie for outdoor and underwater enthusiasts to dive, snorkel, kayak and paddle among the beautiful reefs and abundant sea life on sites between Key Largo and Islamorada. Highlights are to include hands-on seminars presented by the Coral Restoration Foundation and REEF (Reef Environmental Education Foundation) organization as well as local entertainment, cuisine and casual Keys flair. VIP cards are available for access to specials and programs during the event.
Every October Key Largo's creative Underwater Pumpkin Carving Contest attracts dozens of divers who pit their paring skills against the naturally buoyant gourds to fashion a winning face.
The continental United States' only living coral barrier reef offers romantic couples, even wedding parties and guests, an opportunity to don boutonnières and bathing suits and pop the question or tie the knot with exotic sea creatures in attendance. Notable sites for underwater ceremonies include the welcoming arms of the 9-foot-tall "Christ of the Abyss," a 4,000-pound bronze statue within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary adjacent to Key Largo's John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.
Each year REEF partners with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to create lionfish derbies for divers to capture and remove non-native lionfish from Keys waters. According to REEF, it is estimated that more than 14,800 invasive lionfish have been collected in these derbies. Derbies award cash and prizes for the most, biggest and smallest lionfish in addition to helping preserve Florida Keys habitats and eco-systems. Divers can participate in a derby from their own private vessel or join a local dive operator's charter. Call 305-852-0030 for information on 2015 dates.
Offbeat though some of these activities may be, most carry a serious message of reef preservation and diver awareness, emphasizing ways to enjoy the reef while minimizing impacts on the underwater environment.
Florida Keys event calendar: fla-keys.com/calendarofevents
Florida Keys diving: fla-keys.com/diving
Now in its 30th year, the show is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. Wares are displayed at open-air booths alongside historic attractions on Key West's lower Whitehead Street and on Caroline Street just beyond the historic Presidential Gates on Truman Annex.
The craft show has grown from a local to a national juried event that typically attracts more than 25,000 visitors over its two-day span. The event has earned repeated recognition from Sunshine Artist magazine as one of the top 200 shows in the United States.
Products on display traditionally range from intriguing artistry in glass to intricately crafted wooden furniture, painted and glazed pottery, fabric creations and delicate one-of-a-kind jewelry. All craft offerings must be original and handmade by the artist.
Many exhibitors return year after year to showcase their wares in Key West's subtropical January temperatures — and, according to event coordinator Lois Songer, many incorporate indigenous materials such as shells, driftwood and beach glass into their work.
Presented by the Key West Art Center, a cooperative organization for local artists established in 1960, the craft show is free to attend.
Proceeds from the show help support the center's programs and maintain the historic 301 Front St. building that houses its Old Town gallery.
Event information: keywestartcenter.com or call 305-294-1243
Key West visitor information: fla-keys.com/keywest
Silver Airways has enhanced its flight schedule to Key West International Airport from five Florida cities. Silver has added a weekday flight from Fort Lauderdale for a total of four daily flights. Other additions include a second flight from Fort Myers, more flights from Tampa for a total of four daily flights and increases from Orlando for a total of three nonstop and two one-stop daily flights. Silver also has introduced a daily one-stop flight from Jacksonville. Silver is a codeshare partner with United Airlines and has interline agreements with American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue, US Airways, Alaska Airlines, Bahamasair, Hahn Air and All Nippon Airways. In addition, according to Monroe County Airports Director Peter Horton, Delta Airlines is adding two daily flights between Key West and Atlanta beginning Dec. 20 for a total of five daily nonstop flights. Finally, on Dec. 27, Delta is to resume a seasonal Saturday-only nonstop route between the Southernmost City and New York City's LaGuardia Airport.
Travelers heading to Key West from Naples on Florida's west coast now can make the trip by seaplane with Salt Island Seaplanes. Up to four passengers can board the Cessna 206 at the Naples Municipal Airport and take a more scenic route than those most commercial aircraft fly. The planes cruise at speeds of 125 mph and guests touch down in the turquoise waters off Key West in less than an hour. Flights run from Oct. 1 to April 30 every day except Wednesdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Online reservations must be booked at least two days in advance, while reservations can be made by phone for flights less than two days away. Call 239-263-7258.
Visitors to Crane Point Museum and Nature Center, located at mile marker 50.5 in Marathon, can now experience two new adventures surrounded by beautiful subtropical landscape. The museum has launched a 2.5-hour kayak tour led by Keys Kayak professional guides. On the tour, guests can explore 1.5 miles of the natural mangrove shoreline of Crane Point and three small islands off the coast including Rachel Key. Guests can purchase an all-inclusive package that includes admission to the museum and nature trails as well. The cost is $65 for adults and $37 for children under 12. Reservations are required. Additionally, visitors can explore astronomy in-depth with Crane Point's "Astronomy Tonight" program. The program consists of a series of three modules with four sessions of three-hour classes each, all designed to give participants a basic understanding of astronomy. Modules are set for Jan. 27, Feb. 3, Feb. 10 and Feb. 14. Call 305-743-3900.
To celebrate its 30-year anniversary, Key West's Sunset Watersports has added a new boat to its fleet: Sandie Cat. The custom-built 65-foot Gold Coast sailing catamaran departs daily for 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. reef snorkel adventures and an evening sunset sail. The reef snorkel is a three-hour excursion complete with complimentary draft beer, soft drinks and water — plus a light breakfast on the 9 a.m. trip. The two-hour sunset sail includes an open bar, appetizers and live music. All three trips depart from 201 William St. in Key West's Historic Seaport. Call 305-296-2554.
Groups of travelers can now stay together affordably and in style at NYAH Key West. NYAH, which stands for Not Your Average Hotel, caters to adults seeking to customize their stay by offering guestrooms that can accommodate up to six people, each with their own separate bed. NYAH is the brainchild of hospitality innovators and brothers Jesper and Gustaf Arnoldsson. Situated at 420 Margaret St. in the heart of Old Town Key West, NYAH includes several traditional conch-style houses for a total of 36 guestrooms. Each guestroom has an adjustable design that allows staff to customize the space to double or even triple the capacity. Daily happy hours and shared spaces — including three pools, two hot tubs, lounge areas and terraces — provide a social atmosphere for guests to interact and connect with one another. Rates start at $40 per person, per night, when six guests share one room. Call 305-296-9259.
Vacationers should be able to spot the most recently opened property in Marathon with ease: its focal point has been a Middle Keys landmark since the 1950s. Following construction that began earlier this year, the Hyatt Place Marathon/Florida Keys has debuted at the Faro Blanco Resort and Yacht Club, which incorporates the famed Faro Blanco lighthouse. The upscale Hyatt Place hotel features 125 spacious rooms and suites and 1,820 square feet of flexible meeting and function space, as well as a swimming pool and fitness center. Other resort amenities, scheduled to open in early 2015, include a waterfront bar and restaurant called Lighthouse Grill. In addition, boaters shortly will be able to enjoy the complex's 74-slip state-of-the-art marina capable of handling vessels up to 120 feet long. Call 305-743-1234.
Top Spa has opened at the highest point in Key West, the seventh floor of the historic Crowne Plaza Key West La Concha Hotel at 430 Duval St. The indulgent spa menu includes three- and four-hour packages including everything from body treatments and facials to nail services and massages. Spa guests can enjoy a suite-style experience that features a sensory rain shower, fully furnished vanity, flat-screen television and refrigerator stocked with fresh fruit juices and healthy snacks. Additionally, Top Spa offers luxurious spa products featuring coconut oils and flower extracts. Top Spa's opening concludes the final phase of extensive renovations to the 160-unit La Concha. Other enhancements include the addition of a wine bar called Wine-O, a chic restaurant dubbed 430 Duval, a completely redesigned lobby area and a refreshed outdoor pool. Call 305-296-2991.
Spa al Mare, the oceanside relaxation headquarters at the Casa Marina, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, located on the Atlantic Ocean at 1500 Reynolds St., has undergone a transformation. Three treatment rooms have been added in the building housing the resort's fitness center, with a separate entrance for Spa al Mare and almost 1,300 square feet of new spa space. Each of the trio of large treatment rooms features a private shower, while the space also includes a reception waiting area. Among the offerings are a daily yoga class overlooking the ocean with sunrise views. The spa operation also includes two cabanas for beach treatments. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Casa Marina features 311 guest rooms and suites and more than 1,100 feet of private beach.
The historic Martin Hellings Home, now the headquarters of the Key West Woman's Club at 319 Duval St., has opened its doors for tours. The late Queen Anne Victorian-style home, the one-time property of Captain Hellings and his wife Eleanor, was constructed in 1892 out of red brick — one of only a few residential structures within Key West's historic district that is not built of wood. The tours, among the centennial events of the Key West Woman's club, offer guests a chance to step back in time and learn about the Victorian lifestyle of a prominent Key West family. The 8,200-square-foot structure features examples of antique furniture, wicker and Victorian art glass. From November to April, tours are offered Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. From April to October, they are scheduled Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. Admission is free but donations are appreciated. Call 305-294-2039.
Visitors can discover the history of Henry Flagler's Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad and the first Overseas Highway through 180 black-and-white images in "The Rails and The Road" exhibit, now open at the Keys History & Discovery Center in Islamorada. On display through Jan. 18, 2015, the exhibit provides intriguing insights into the two conduits that have linked mainland America to its southernmost archipelago of the Florida Keys. The completion of the railroad in 1912 forever changed the face of the previously isolated islands by connecting them with the mainland and each other. The railroad's track stretched more than 100 miles out into open water. The opening of the early Overseas Highway in 1928 made it possible for motorists as well as railroad passengers to reach Key West at the tip of the Keys. The exhibit includes stories about the World War I veterans who were sent to the Keys to construct the highway. Located on the grounds of the Islander Resort, a Guy Harvey Outpost, at mile marker 82 oceanside, the center is open Thursdays through Sundays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. General admission is $12. Admission for seniors is $10, and children age 13 and under are admitted free. Call 305-922-2237.
Keys Food and Drink
The liquor is flowing at Key West Distilling, located at 524 Southard St. in historic Old Town Key West. Brainchild of New York native Jeff Louchhiem, the distillery recently opened its doors and is creating small-batch handmade sprits that showcase Key West's unique culture and offbeat personality. The products at Key West Distilling include the island's first distilled vodka and whiskey as well as a variety of rums, all produced entirely in-house. Louchhiem plans to "experiment" with several flavors of vodka and also produce a Key West gin. Call 305-295-3400.
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS
Online rental scams are a worldwide problem, according to authorities.
In a typical scam, a deposit or full payment is taken via a mailed check, wire money transfer or PayPal.
Fraudulent online listings often to appear to be legitimate, but are not. Some scammers will reproduce actual real estate listings with photos and property descriptions.
Local law enforcement and tourism officials suggest consumers consider the following guidelines when booking vacation rentals.
• Use a major credit card for lodging transactions, as is customary around the world. Most, if not all, bona fide rental firms accept credit cards. Major credit card companies normally protect the consumer in the event of fraud.
• Never electronically transfer money to someone you have not met in person.
• Be extremely wary of property owners who say they are out of the country and ask you to send a check to another person or another town. This is almost always a clear indicator of a scam.
• If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Sometimes a deep discount is a red flag that something is not right with the listing.
• All bona fide vacation rentals in the Florida Keys are licensed. Ask the agent for a copy of the transient license before paying.
• Most real estate firms or bona fide rental agents are members of a local chamber of commerce or lodging association. Those groups may be able to help verify the rental owner or agent.
Florida Keys chambers of commerce phone numbers are:
Key Largo: 1-800-822-1088/305-451-4747
Lower Keys: 1-800-872-3722/305-872-2411
Key West: 1-800-LAST-KEY/305-294-2587
The Florida Keys also has online chat links direct with visitor information professionals situated at the chambers who can be accessed weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET through a link at the top of the home page at www.fla-keys.com. The Lodging Association of the Florida Keys and Key West can be contacted at 305-296-4959.
• If you are scammed, report it to local law enforcement as well as the U.S Federal Trade Commission (FTC), whose investigators frequently collaborate with local law enforcement officials.The phone number to report a crime to the Monroe County Sheriff's Office is 305-289-2351. The non-emergency phone number at the City of Key West Police Department is 305-809-1111.
• To file a complaint with the FTC, visit www.ftc.gov or call toll-free 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).
Originally Posted: Oct. 13, 2011. Updated: Dec. 30, 2014