FLORIDA KEYS - The Florida Keys & Key West mark the spring season with a variety of enhanced accommodations, new adventures and culinary offerings to tempt visitors. Explore the highlights here.

Keys Accommodations

The Key West island resort formerly known as Sunset Key Guest Cottages, A Westin Resort, is now part of Starwood's Luxury Collection and has been renamed Sunset Key Cottages: A Luxury Collection Resort. Just a brief private launch ride across Key West Harbor from the Westin's 245 Front St. property, Sunset Key features new enhancements and luxury experiences that highlight the resort's exclusivity. Enhancements include newly renovated two-bedroom cottages and an upgraded arrival experience. Guests no longer check into Sunset Key via the Westin, but instead are escorted from the resort's porte-cochère to the island. New luxury experiences include the daily complimentary "rum ration." Every afternoon at 4:30 p.m. guests can gather at Sunset Key's Latitudes outdoor bar for their daily issue of the resort's new locally distilled and custom branded rum. Guests can choose from light or dark rum or the cocktail of the day. Additional guest services include complimentary ice cream delivery service from the Conch Cruiser "ice cream cycle." Free frozen treats are available to guests daily at 3 p.m. from a bicycle equipped with a custom icebox full of gourmet gelato and sorbet. Guests can simply flag down the bike, which is decorated with island scenes hand-painted by local artist Christie Fifer, and select a flavor to sample. For more information, call 305-292-5300.

Key Largo's private Ocean Reef Club, located at 35 Ocean Reef Drive, features 36 holes of golf, a salon and spa, more than a dozen restaurants, a 175-slip marina and a private airport. Usually reserved for members, the club allows select groups to experience its 30,000 square feet of indoor meeting and function space as well as outdoor venues including two oceanfront pools and Lagoon Beach that can accommodate up to 400 people. Groups can enjoy field trips and eco-kayak tours through the club's Nature Center and group activities at the property's all-new cooking school, which accommodates cooking demonstrations, private parties and tasting events for up to 150 people. Groups also can participate in team-building events such as bingo night, bungee run, cardboard boat regatta, sand castle competitions and more. In addition, the property opened a new meeting facility in March 2016. Carysfort Hall offers modern meeting and function space designed to accommodate groups of up to 300 guests. The newly designed space features a 5,688-square-foot ballroom, five additional meeting rooms and covered patios along the marina that allow for outside functions. For more information, call 305-367-2611.

Scheduled to open in summer 2016, Key Largo's Playa Largo Resort is to feature 167 luxury guest rooms, 10 private bungalows and a private beach house. Located at 97450 Overseas Highway, the luxurious beachfront resort will offer amenities such as a resort pool, private cabanas, spa and fitness facilities, and a variety of watersports options including paddleboards, kayaks, snorkeling, diving, boating and ocean excursions. Additionally, the 14.5-acre property is to incorporate over 39,000 square feet of meeting space with multiple inside and outside venues. For more information, call 305-853-1001.

Key West's historic La Concha Hotel & Spa is celebrating its 90th anniversary throughout 2016 with a variety of events and guest experiences to honor its historic significance as one of the island's most legendary hotels. Centrally located at 430 Duval St. in downtown Key West, the hotel has hosted some of the island's most famous visitors over the years including Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams. The hotel is theming its anniversary celebrations around famous guests and the culture of 1930s Old Town Key West. Two of the property's suites have been renamed the Ernest Hemingway Suite and the Tennessee Williams Suite. The hotel also plans to host a series of culinary and cocktail celebrations at Wine-O, its casual wine bar and lounge, and 430 Duval, its signature restaurant. In addition, the cocktail menu is to be changed for 2016 to feature classic 1930s cocktails. For more information, call 305-296-2991.

Keys Attractions and Adventures

Mote Tropical Research Laboratory, operated by the Florida-based Mote Marine Laboratory and located at 24244 Overseas Highway on Summerland Key, is demolishing its current facility to make way for the construction of a new research and education center. The 19,000-square-foot facility, expected to open in early 2017, will more than double Mote's research and education space in the Lower Keys. Initiatives include expanding programs focused on studying and restoring damaged coral reefs and on finding new ways to address global threats to reefs such as climate change and ocean acidification. Mote's current plans call for expanding coral restoration efforts by bringing 5,500 nursery-raised corals to a proposed snorkel park encompassed within Key West's Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park. Mote intends to plant 5,000 boulder and brain corals and 500 staghorn corals to build interest in coral reefs and help people understand the important role that reefs play in the marine ecosystem. Preliminary underwater site work off Fort Zachary Taylor is slated to begin in April and restoration work is to continue through May and June.

Eat Drink Discover Key West recently launched a new adventure that blends food, libations, strolling and sailing. The "Tall & Crawl" is a pirate-themed land and sea tour that introduces visitors to the history of Key West as well as the present beauty and charm of the island. The tour features a variety of food and rum tastings on land as well as refreshments served on board an 80-foot pirate ship replica, the square-rigged Jolly II Rover. Passengers can help raise the vessel's red sails and participate in a "firing" of the cannons. They also can view Key West's Historic Seaport, Sunset Key, Christmas Tree Island and Fort Zachary Taylor all from the boat. The four-hour adventure costs $109 and begins at 11:30 a.m. daily, with the passenger check-in location at 600 Front St. The company also offers a sunset sail and an island city "bucket list tour" called Plunder Key West.

Keys Culture and Heritage

A permanent exhibit of 15 paintings by playwright Tennessee Williams debuted in March 2016 at Key West's Custom House Museum, 281 Front St. Famed for plays including "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "The Glass Menagerie," Williams lived in Key West for more than 30 years and helped shape the island's literary culture. He was known to relax by painting at his Duncan Street cottage and on Ballast Key, a private island owned by his longtime friend David Wolkowsky. The exhibit's paintings, which are displayed in a new second-floor gallery at the museum, depict subjects including Williams' close friends and personifications from his poetry. Originally home to Key West's customs office, postal service and district courts, the four-story Custom House currently serves as an award-winning museum and headquarters of the Key West Art & Historical Society. Its two floors of exhibitions spotlight two centuries of history, art, people and events. The museum also recently underwent more than $300,000 in roof repairs. They included fabrication and installation of two new copper "acorns," the replacement of deteriorated shingles, cleaning and painting of the dormers, installation of a new ridge cap and lashings, and repairing flashings around the chimneys and valleys of the roof. For more information, call 305-295-6616.

Key West, the southernmost city in the continental United States, was actually a Union outpost during America's Civil War — and a large-scale bronze sculpture remembering the island's African-American soldiers who served in a Union regiment recently was unveiled in the island's Bayview Park. Called "The Forgotten Soldier," the sculpture depicts a uniformed soldier holding a rifle, with one arm upraised. Its unveiling and dedication Feb. 16, 2016, marked the 153rd anniversary of the date in 1863 when more than 120 African-American soldiers from Key West were instructed to report for duty. Key West was the only southern city to remain loyal to the Union throughout the Civil War and was headquarters for the Navy Gulf Blockading Squadron against Confederate shipping. The sculpture, commissioned and donated by Key West businessman Ed Knight, stands among other veterans' memorials including one to Confederate soldiers and sailors.

Keys Food and Drink

Oltremare Restaurant, located at Islamorada's Amara Cay Resort, has launched several weekly culinary events to keep visitors and locals craving new innovative dishes and pairings. A "Sinful Sunday Brunch" includes a Bloody Mary cart and specialized menu available from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The restaurant's "Martinis and Meatballs" night, where the chef pairs craft martinis with meatball inspired dishes, is scheduled Mondays from 5 to 10 p.m. "Wine Down Wednesdays," set for 5:30 to 10 p.m., give visitors a chance to enjoy a glass of new and unique wines that are normally sold only by the bottle. Led by Chef Dario Olivero, Oltremare is a 60-seat upscale Italian eatery located at 80001 Overseas Highway. For more information, call 305-664-0073.

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

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Read full article at Monroe County Tourist Development Council Website