20 DEC 2016:  One sun destination insider who used to battle Minnesota’s harsh cold winters once took an island vacation to Florida’s southernmost tip, and never left. She managed to successfully beat the old local saying there. “They say if you get sand in your shoes you will return again and again,” Carol Shaughnessy, a Florida Keys and Key West tourism rep and resident laughs. Instead Carol stayed. It’s been over 30 years.

“It gets right under your skin.”

Fittingly, as Toronto’s first snowfall blasted the city, the Florida Keys and Key West Tourism Office hosted a media beach volleyball party to remind us of the ‘must-do’s and the iconic experiences available only here in southernmost Florida. Carol reveals the biggest international visitors for the sun-kissed area are Canadians too.

Her coastal paradise, she points out, is ideal for people who want to experience a true destination, void of big brands while emphasizing a more authentic Florida. Locals have a passion for nature as the coral archipelago is strewn with old fashioned mom and pop shops and one-of-a-kind organizations.  “The Florida Keys and Key West resonate with people who want to do more than lie on a beach and have a few cocktails. It’s about people who want to connect with their vacation experience,” she explains describing the ideal demographic.

Accessibility

The popular sun destination is accessible via connecting flights from Atlanta or flights arriving from any major city in Florida. Key Largo is only a one hour drive from Miami.

The Florida Keys and Key West boasts too many accolades and superlatives to list but one theme’s constant: it’s big on nature. The region is comprised of five districts: Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key and the Lower Keys, and Key West.

Here’s a quick look at a few jewels in this necklace of islands.

Why Canadians go

…it’s the weather. Enjoy subtropical year round climate where the temperature hovers in the warm 20s Celsius in the winter. The regional tourism bureau (www.fla-keys.com) even has a full climate chart available.

Beaches

Sure, but Carol admits these sandy shorelines aren’t the typical kind, and that’s due to the Florida Reef, which is Continental United State’s only living coral barrier reef that spans 125 miles along the Florida Keys. “It parallels the entire keys plus it’s the third largest living coral reef in the world.”

Activities

Galore – Located in the Lower Keys, the Bahia Honda State Park (http://bahiahondapark.com/) has been named one of the US’s top beaches by a number of travel studies.

There’s a net full of offshore water sports from paddle boarding and kite boarding to diving and snorkelling as the unparalleled views of marine life teeming on the legendary reef.

Kayak into the backcountry to discover the shallows of the Florida Keys are home to another totally different type of marine life. Check out Big Pine Key in the Lower Keys.

Key Largo

Key Largo calls itself, “The diving capital of the world” and is home to the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (http://pennekamppark.com), the first undersea park in the United States.


Islamorada

Islamorada bills itself as “The sport fishing capital of the world” and arguably has the largest fleet of professional chartered captains in the US

Marathon

Located in the Middle Keys the big claim-to-fame here is the Seven Mile Bridge. “The Seven Mile Bridge is considered one of the bucket list rides in North America,” says Carol, who adds the best time to cross is sunrise or sunset.

This famous scenic roadway part of the 182-km Overseas Highway connects mainland Florida to Key West, and was designated an All American Road in 2009.

Intentional Travel

There’s a travel trend devoted to experiential travel. As Carol describes it, experiential travel focuses on people travelling to a place to connect with the locals and by doing so they participate in shared authentic experiences.

“The Keys experience is simple,” she says and concludes, “One of the interesting things about The Keys is that you will find people who are passionate about what they are doing. That is something visitors see and sense so there is a great genuine welcome.”

It’s no surprise the tagline for this fun sun hub is “The Florida Keys and Key West: Come as you are.” Let your conscience be your guide.



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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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