By Kara Franker for the Orbitz Travel Blog
Imagine no traffic, no crowds and no noise--except the soft buzzing of a propeller and untamed gusts of wind. Wild blue waters rise and fall with each breath the Gulf of Mexico takes. You're soaring about 500 feet above the Florida Keys island chain. Various forms of sea life bob and weave through the waves: hammerheads, giant sea turtles, roly-poly manatees and tiny, silver-crested fish. Well, they look tiny from your perch inside a seaplane, but they're actually five-feet long tarpon.
That's just another day in the life of pilots Julie Ann Floyd and Nikali Pontecorvo, co-owners of Key West Seaplanes. "Every single day I soak it in, " says Julie. "It's a daily escape from the ground below. So peaceful and quiet. Just the water, wind and the seaplane."
You've done the South Beach party scene and you've completed the ultimate road trip down to the Keys. Now it's time for a new vantage point, one you can't see from the highway.
Pack your bags, we're going island-hopping around the Florida Keys by seaplane...
Technically Key Biscayne isn't part of the Florida Keys, but it's a great place to start because it's only 15 miles from Miami International Airport. And unlike the rest of the action-packed city of Miami, the island of Key Biscayne exudes a more tranquil vibe. Now you're officially on island time.
Where to Stay: The Ritz-Carlton on Key Biscayne is a luxurious beachfront resort with a welcoming, family-friendly atmosphere. And because of it's proximity to the Crandon Park Tennis Center, this hotel is where all the great pro tennis players like to stay every year during the Miami Open.
Where to Dine: You won't have to go far for casual Mexican food, a collection of 110 types of tequila and drop-dead gorgeous beach views. Cantina Beach is located on-site at The Ritz. Nearby, 100% Natural offers tasty, health-conscious options including fresh-squeezed juice. For excellent Indian food, check out Ayesha at the Galleria Shopping Center across from the Key Biscayne Library.
Where to Play: You have two impressive stretches of sand to choose from: Crandon Park Beach and Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. Sit back and soak up some sun, go stand-up paddle boarding, or for the truly adventurous, try kite-boarding. Climb up the Cape Florida Lighthouse and the panoramic vistas from the top will literally take your breath away. The lighthouse (pictured above) is open at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. every day except Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Seaplane Pick-up/Drop Off Point: After a few days enjoying the sand and surf on Key Biscayne, meet up with Julie and Nikali at No Name Harbor, which is tucked inside the southwest edge of Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. There's a waterfront restaurant there called Boater's Grill.
While most seaplane adventures will likely include a stop in Key Largo (and we definitely recommend doing so!), we're focusing on Islamorada because it's currently undergoing a creative renaissance. The sleepy fishing village is blossoming into a thriving community driven by a group of local entrepreneurs. And it's the picture-perfect backdrop for the hit Netflix show, Bloodline.
Where to Stay: The brand new Amara Cay Resort is an upscale boutique property located directly on the water in Islamorada. It was formerly a budget-friendly Hampton Inn, but the new owners executed an impressive multi-million dollar renovation. Or check out the new and improved Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina at Holiday Isle. Both properties are sporting excellent new face lifts.
Where to Dine: Oltremare Ristorante at Amara Cay is the perfect spot for a romantic Italian dinner. Other new, must-try restaurants in the area include oo-tray (a whiskey bar and gastropub), Bad Boy Burrito (originally a Key West outpost) and Chef Michael's (owned by Executive Chef Michael Ledwith).
Where to Play: Reenact your favorite scenes from Bloodline at Anne's Beach or Long Key State Park -- both locations appeared on the TV series. And head over to the colorful tasting room at the brand new Florida Keys Brewing Co. for a tasty local beer and live music.
Seaplane Pick-up/Drop Off Point: Once you've adequately re-introduced yourself to the new and improved village of Islamorada, hitch a ride with Julie and Nikali at the dock at the Lorelei Restaurant and Cabana Bar.