FLORIDA KEYS — The spirit of the holiday season comes alive in the Florida Keys & Key West with holiday happenings and festive functions spreading cheer in a subtropical climate. From Key Largo to Key West the calendar is packed with events designed to celebrate the holiday spirit — including festive lighted boat parades featuring vessels whose decorations range from traditional greenery to offbeat salutes to the season. Listed here are some holiday highlights, all spiced with a characteristically Florida Keys flair.Now through Saturday, Dec. 22 Holiday Photos with Santini (or another dolphin) at Dolphin Research Center (Marathon)
At Dolphin Research Center, mile marker (MM) 59 bayside on Grassy Key, visitors who participate in the Meet the Dolphin program also can pose with the dolphins for a holiday photo. Visitors can select holiday-themed props to pose with, and DRC’s experienced photographers will shoot the pictures using high-resolution digital cameras. The program is offered several times each day on a walk-in basis and costs $25 per person in addition to general admission prices. The photos are available on a disk for $15 for one person or $30 for two to six people in the same shot. Print prices vary depending on the number ordered. Contact: 305-289-1121 or dolphins.org
.Wednesday, Nov. 21, 6 p.m., throughout the holiday season The Lighting of the Harbor Walk (Key West)
The harbor walk along the Historic Seaport at the Key West Bight, stretching from Greene Street to Grinnell Street, is to be festively lit from rooftops to the sea for the holiday season. Celebrate with holiday events, browse at unique island shops and galleries, and relax at waterfront restaurants and watering holes. Part of the Key West “Bight” Before Christmas Holiday Celebration, the festivities are presented by the Key West Bight Preservation Association. Contact: KeyWestChristmas.org
.Friday through Sunday, Nov. 23-25, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Holiday Arts & Crafts Festival (Islamorada)
Postcard Inn Resort & Marina at Holiday Isle, MM 84 oceanside, hosts the annual craft show, a perfect opportunity to do some holiday shopping for original artwork and unique and handcrafted items. Admission is free. Contact: Christy Cockrell at 305-433-9935 or email@example.com
.Saturday, Nov. 24, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Big Pine & Lower Keys Island Art Festival (Big Pine Key)
Experience the joys of art and music at this winter festival to be held on the wooded grounds of the Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce, MM 31 oceanside. Family fun highlights include live music by favorite local entertainers, exhibits and booths featuring the original work of artists and craftsmen, raffles of artwork and vendors offering food and beverages. Parking and admission are free. Contact: 305-872-2411 or lowerkeyschamber.com
Friday though Sunday, Nov. 30 – Dec. 2, varying hours Christmas in the Keys (Duck Key, Middle Florida Keys) This deliciously themed and decorated event includes food, specialty drinks, family activities, games and a live local music entertainment lineup staged at the Hawks Cay Resort marina at 61 Hawks Cay Blvd., MM 61 oceanside. Planned attractions include a decorated boat display, treats and cocktails, and gifts for purchase from local artisans and craftspeople. Contact: christmasinthekeys.com.
Saturday, Dec. 1, 6-9 p.m. Light Up Key Largo (Key Largo) Sponsored by the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce, holiday happenings with live music, decorations, food and drinks are to spark the holiday spirit. The annual tree lighting is to be held at the Murray E. Nelson Government and Cultural Center, MM 102. Eggnog, caroling, holiday cookies and stocking stuffers are guaranteed to get everyone in the festive mood. Contact: 305-451-1414 or floridakeys.org.
Sunday, Dec. 2, 4-7 p.m. Annual Tree Lighting Celebration (Marathon) An early evening event in the parking area outside Fishermen’s Community Hospital gathers the Marathon community to light the tree atop the hospital. Holiday entertainment includes a “special guest” appearance, raffles, activities for kids, jazz and tap dancers, music, cookies and punch. Contact: 305-743-5533.
Sunday, Dec. 2, 8 p.m. “The Messiah” (Key West) As many as 90 singers from around the Florida Keys participate in the annual performance of George Frideric Handel’s holiday masterpiece. Directed by Dean Walters, the 30th consecutive production is to be staged at Key West United Methodist Church at the corner of Eaton and Simonton streets, and admission is free. Contact: 305-745-1409.
Friday, Dec. 7, 8 p.m. Keys Chorale 2012 “Fall-iday” Concert (Key West) The Keys Chorale will present a “Fall-iday” concert at the Key West United Methodist Church, corner of Eaton and Simonton streets. Tickets are $20 for general admission. Contact: 305-296-1520 or visit keystix.com.
Friday, Dec. 7, 4-10 p.m. Eighth Annual Holiday Festival (Islamorada) This extravaganza features a tree-lighting ceremony at Founders Park, MM 87, a holiday parade with decorated floats and a 20-ton mountain of snow for mitten-clad munchkins. Other attractions include a Vino Village with gourmet food and fine wines, seasonal contests, a Santa Paws Pet Parade and live music and dance performances. Contact: 800-322-5397 or islamoradachamber.com.
Friday, Dec. 7 and 14, 6-9 p.m. Key West Holiday Historic Inn Tour (Key West) Discover the holiday spirit and Key West’s architecture and history by touring beautifully decorated island inns. Hosted by the Key West Innkeepers Association, the tours include mouthwatering cuisine from Key West restaurants, vintages from Opici Wine Co. and other holiday refreshments. For cost and ticketing information, visit kwholidays.com. Contact: 305-295-1334.
Saturday, Dec. 8, 5 p.m. Boot Key Harbor Lighted Christmas Boat Parade (Marathon) At this favorite Middle Keys holiday event, dinghies, mega-yachts and vessels in between cruise the harbor in a sparkling procession. Best viewing sites include Lazy Days South, Marathon Marina, Sombrero Dockside Lounge and Burdine’s Waterfront, around MM 47-50. Contact: 305-849-0285 or bootkeyharbor.com.
Saturday, Dec. 8, 7 p.m. Key Largo Boat Parade (Key Largo) Blackwater Sound is to shimmer as decorated boats parade along the shoreline in a celebration of the holiday season themed “Deck the Hulls.” New this year is a create-your-own-theme contest where the top entrant wins a prize and his or her 2012 theme becomes the overall theme of the 2013 parade. The best viewing and libations are to be found at Sundowners, Jimmy Johnson’s Big Chill, Senor Frijoles, the Marriott Key Largo Bay Resort and Caribbean Club, all at MMs 103-104. The parade is free to enter; one grand-prize winner and one randomly selected lucky boat each receive $500. Contact: 305-394-3736 or keylargoboatparade.com.
Saturday, Dec. 8, 7 p.m. Key West Holiday Parade (Key West) The island city shows its holiday spirit with this annual hometown parade. Featuring marching groups and motorized and nonmotorized floats, the festive procession traditionally draws entries from churches, civic organizations, businesses and neighborhood and school groups. Starting at Truman Avenue and White Street, it proceeds down Truman to Duval, where it takes a right and continues on to Eaton Street. Contact: 305-809-3881 or visit keywestcity.com.
Sunday, Dec. 9, 6 p.m. (dusk) Key Colony Beach Lighted Boat Parade (Marathon area) Christmas lights on outriggers, Santa’s elves and brightly lit deck displays highlight the festivities during the Key Colony Beach Boat Parade, set to begin at the 7th Street canal. The parade is open to all boats, and the route visits canals and cuts and passes city hall three times. Great viewing spots include Sadowski Causeway at MM 53.5 and the dock area behind city hall and the post office. The public is welcome. Contact: 305-743-7214 or click here.
Saturday, Dec. 15, 4 p.m. Pops in the Park Holiday Concert (Plantation Key, Islamorada) The Keys Community Concert Band is to perform a free holiday concert titled “A Very Merry Band Concert” at Founders Park, MM 87 bayside on Plantation Key. Performances are outdoors and attendees are invited to bring blankets or lawn chairs. Contact: Donna Heiner at 305-853-7294 or keyscommunityconcertband.org.
Saturday, Dec. 15, 7 p.m. Lower Keys Lighted Boat Parade (Lower Florida Keys) All boats are welcome to enter the parade including deep-sea cruisers, dinghies, kayaks and canoes. Santa and Mrs. Claus are expected to arrive and hand out candy to the kids. The best recommended viewing is from Pine Channel Causeway or Parrotdise Waterfront Bar & Grille, 183 Barry Ave. on Little Torch Key. Contact: Steve at 305-923-5370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saturday, Dec. 15, 8 p.m. Schooner Wharf Bar & Galley/Ultimat Vodka Lighted Boat Parade (Key West) Tiny rowboats, tall ships and everything in between proceed around Key West’s Historic Seaport and harbor areas. Before the 22nd annual boat parade, at 6 p.m., Gerald Adams Elementary School’s Steel Your Heart Band will welcome spectators with songs of the season, followed by the popular family band, The Doerfels. Holiday revelers can watch and applaud from bars, restaurants and resorts in and around the Historic Seaport. Contact: 305-292-3302 or schoonerwharf.com.
Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 15-16 Wednesday through Saturday, Dec. 19-22 “Nutcracker Key West” (Key West) This island-flavored version of the holiday classic features professional dancers, talented Keys kids and characters, and sets depicting Key West’s history and coral reef environment. Evening and matinee performances are scheduled, with all shows staged at the Tennessee Williams Theatre, 5901 College Road. Contact: nutcrackerkeywest.com or keystix.com.
Sunday, Dec. 16, 1-3 p.m. Christmas on the Farm 2012 (Stock Island, Key West) Kids and adults can visit the furry, fluffy and feathered residents of the Animal Farm and get a photo taken with Santa. The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Animal Farm is situated at the county’s detention center just outside Key West at 5501 College Road. This event is free and open to the public. Contact: Jeanne Selander at 305-293-7300 or click here.
Sunday, Dec. 16, 3 p.m. Southernmost Christmas Tree Celebration (Key West) Holiday revelers enjoy free conch chowder then board Conch Tour Trains to proceed to the continental United States’ Southernmost Point to set up the southernmost Christmas tree at sunset overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The event is an annual community thank-you party presented by the Monroe Association for ReMARCable Citizens. The fun starts at 1401 Seminary St. Contact: 305-294-9526.
Saturday, Dec. 22, 5 & 8 p.m. Marathon Community Theater presents a Christmas Concert (Marathon) Two shows are slated to ring in holiday cheer for Marathon-area audiences. Tickets are $5 for adults and $2 for children. Contact: 305-743-0994 or marathontheater.org.
Thursday and Friday, Dec. 27-28, 4-8 p.m. 53rd Annual Key West House & Garden Tours (Key West) Presented by the Old Island Restoration Foundation, the annual self-guided tours showcase festively dressed Key West homes and gardens. Tickets are $30 and proceeds benefit the Old Island Restoration Foundation’s museums, collection and education, grant and scholarship programs. Contact: 305-294-9501 or visit oirf.org.
Monday Dec. 31, just before midnight Key West New Year’s Eve Celebrations (Key West) The Southernmost City celebrates New Year’s Eve with a “conch shell drop” at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, 201 Duval St.; the descent of a super-sized red high-heel shoe carrying drag queen Sushi at the Bourbon St. Pub/New Orleans House complex, 724 Duval St., and the descent of a pirate wench from atop a tall ship’s mast in the island city’s Historic Seaport. Contact: 305-296-2388, ext. 121, for Sloppy Joe’s conch shell drop; 305-293-9800 for the high-heel drop; 305-292-3302 for the descent of the pirate wench.
Monday, Dec. 31, midnight New Year’s Eve Fireworks on the Beach (Islamorada) Fireworks on the beach are planned at Pierre’s Restaurant and Morada Bay Beach Café, MM 81.6 bayside. Live music and cocktails are available for purchase to add to the celebration, but coolers are not allowed. Contact: 305-664-8414.
Monday, Dec. 31, midnight New Year’s Eve Fireworks on Blackwater Sound (Key Largo) The back bay in Key Largo is to be the setting for the annual New Year’s Eve fireworks extravaganza hosted by bayside restaurants Sundowners, Señor Frijoles, Cactus Jack’s, Gus’ Grille at the Marriott Key Largo Beach Resort and the Caribbean Club, all located around MMs 103-104. Contact: 305-451-4502 or visit keylargofireworks.com.
Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013, 8 a.m. Village New Year’s Day Celebration (Islamorada) The annual 5k Run, Walk and Crawl is slated to start at 8 a.m. Jan. 1 at Founders Park, MM 87 bayside in Islamorada. For the less athletically minded, festivities follow with the 10 a.m. blessing of the fleet at Whale Harbor Bridge, MM 84 oceanside. Contact: 305-853-1685.
Florida Keys events calendar: fla-keys.com/calendarofevents
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS
Social: Facebook • Twitter • YouTube