Key West Post-Irma: What's Open for Cruisers on a Port Call?

Empress of the Seas docking in Key West, making it the first cruise ship to call at the destination following Hurricane Irma
Royal Caribbean International's Empress of the Seas' is shown at Key West, FL, which officially "reopened" for visitors over the weekend. Hurricane recovery efforts continue throughout the Florida Keys, but many Key West businesses are welcoming tourists.

The drinks were flowing once again on Duval Street over the weekend, a positive sign that Key West, FL, the land of party fun, the former haunt of author Ernest Hemingway and a popular cruise port of call, is back in business after Hurricane Irma. 

"Live" video captured by a Miami television station showed evening activities on the famous street. Yes, fewer people were out strolling, but inside the venues that were open along Duval, locals and tourists alike socialized and celebrated the return of Key West for tourism.  

Cruise ships began returning to Key West on September 24, but the destination officially "reopened" for tourism this past weekend. Still hurricane recovery continues.

So what's open and what's not for those going ashore for a port call? Here's a sampling of attraction updates.  

Open for Business

The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum: The home and museum are open for touring, and yes, the six-toed cats are still in residence. While no reservations are required and tickets may be purchased at the main entrance, right now the museum is only accepting cash – no credit cards. 

Old Town Trolley Tours: Popular with cruisers, both independent explorer and those on shore trips that include a ride, the trolley tours are back. This is an easy way to get around the destination as cruisers just hop on and off at stops along the route. 

Audubon House & Tropical Garden: The home weathered yet another hurricane with virtually no damage, says the attraction's Web site. It's open for cruisers to visit.

Key West Aquarium: This family-friendly attraction is open to the public once again. Cruisers can peruse such exhibits as American Alligator, Atlantic Shores, Jellyfish, Sea Turtles Conservation, plus watch shark feeding and try the touch tank.  

Harry S. Truman Little White House: The late President Harry S. Truman loved Key West, and his house reopened to tourists this past weekend.

Last week, the historic attraction shared this quote from Truman to its Facebook page readers, noting it was representative of the islands' recovery efforts: “America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination, and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.”

The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum: Highly popular with cruisers, the maritime-focused museum has re-opened. The Spanish gold coins and shipwreck artifacts await. 

Fantasy Fest: This whacky, outrageously creative and fun annual event is “still on” for October 20-29, according to event organizers. 

Open? Partially, at Least 

The Southernmost Point Marker: Taking a selfie in front of this iconic marker, which proclaims that's it's only 90 Miles to Cuba, is just something most cruisers "have to do." The marker, adjacent to the ocean, was battered and damaged.

Repainting/repairs are in progress, but the damage hasn't deterred many visitors who continue to line up. Check out the Key West live Web cam.

Beaches: If cruisers are hoping for a beach day in Key West, they should check the latest conditions just prior to arrival. Some beaches are open, others not, based on water quality testing. Visit the Florida Keys’ recovery site, operated by Monroe County (FL) Emergency Management for the run-down of beaches that are open or closed.

Yet, the site also stresses: “Even in areas where test results have come back good or moderate, out of an abundance of caution it is advised to avoid swimming at public beaches in the Keys at this time due to potential effects on water quality related to Hurricane Irma.” 

Dry Tortugas National Park: This U.S. National Park reopened last week, ferry service to the park resumed on September 29, but visitors should expect partial closures inside Fort Jefferson.

But while marine waters are open, the park service says "extreme caution" is advised for snorkelers, swimmers and divers as the waters surrounding the fort have not been inspected. 

Closed to Visitors 

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park: Popular with cruisers for swimming and its historic significance is Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. According to Florida State Parks, “Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is closed until further notice due to Hurricane Irma."

Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden. The 81-year-old native forest was hit hard by Hurricane Irma. Many trees were broken or blown over, and the garden says it will take months of work for recovery. Currently, it's closed to visitors. 

Back in Business

As of today, both Keys airports are open, the Florida Keys Overseas Highway is accessible for its entire length and the Monroe County Tourist Development Council, the Florida Keys’ official tourism promotion agency, has launched a $1 million advertising campaign to promote the return of visitors. 

That campaign is themed, “We Are 1,” referring to U.S. Highway 1 that runs through the Keys, and is being supplemented by targeted sales and public relations efforts. 

As the recovery efforts throughout the Florida Keys continue, stay tuned here for more updates. 

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