Every captain needs a first mate. And at Virgin Voyages, the adults-only cruise line set to debut in 2020, its second-in-command will be none other than travel agents.
TORONTO — The resilience of the Florida Keys post-Hurricane Irma can be summed up in one sign, recently spotted on the side of the road: “After every storm comes a rainbow. We are the rainbow.”
Ashley Serrate of NewmanPR, which represents The Florida Keys & Key West in North America, recalled spotting the sign while on a recent visit to her “favourite place in the world”. She told media at an industry briefing in Toronto this morning that this sign perfectly embodies the spirit of the Keys, and how despite suffering a major blow, the destination is nearly fully recovered and open to tourists.
“We don’t want to sugarcoat it – when Irma made landfall, it was a category 4. Nearly everything on the Atlantic side suffered damage, but most places are already recovered,” she said.
Often referred to as ‘America’s Caribbean’, the Florida Keys spans 112 miles and comprises Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, the Lower Keys, and Key West. According to Serrate, 99% of facilities and activities in Key West and Key Largo (the bookends of the Keys) are operating normally, since they were the least affected by the storm. All hotels are open with the exception of two: Parrot Key Resort, and The Inn at Key West, which is temporarily closed for a complete renovation.
Much of Islamorada, which Serrates referred to as the “second cool kid” after Key West, is operational as well, though only 60% of accommodations are open. Most notably, Amara Cay Resort is set to reopen on Dec. 15, while its sister property, Pelican Cove, is set to open on Jan. 12.
In Marathon, best known for being a family-friendly destination and home to the Turtle Hospital and the Dolphin Research Centre, is also still in recovery mode. Its biggest hotel – Hawks Cay Resort – is closed for restoration and plans to reopen in summer 2018. According to its website, the resort is waiving all cancellation policies and is processing any deposit refunds.
Big Pine Key and the Lower Keys, on the other hand, need more time to get back on their feet as they suffered a direct hit from Irma. Serrate could not confirm when the Lower Keys is expected to be fully operational again, only saying that “everyday it gets better”.
Despite ongoing recovery efforts, Serrate was steadfast in her message to travellers: “The Keys is open and up and running.” She credits the locals for staying positive and finding alternative ways to accommodate visitors.
“The owner of Pines and Palms Resort was so anxious to reopen after the storm that he bought his own backhoe, which he operated himself,” she said, also noting how Snappers Restaurant in Key Largo operated out of a food truck while renovating its main dining room. “All throughout the Keys, you’ll hear stories like these.”
Moving forward into 2018, the destination is putting much of its focus on “only-in-the-Keys” experiences, which include the annual Humphrey Bogart Festival, Fantasy Fest, stand up paddleboard yoga, and nighttime kayaking to view Florida lobsters.
Canadians, which rank #2 behind Germany among top international markets for the Keys, are encouraged to check out loveflorida.ca for discounts and incentives on flights, car rentals and hotels throughout the state.
For more information on travel to the Florida Keys, go to fla-keys.com.