Lots to do during summer days in the Keys

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Whether it's weddings with a twist, a museum marathon or a quiet retreat from modern life, the islands of the Florida Keys have something for just about everyone. Leisure travelers are in luck if they're looking for a place to get hitched -- in a lagoon, for example, with dolphins as bridesmaids -- or to simply get away from it all at a private, old-fashioned beach house.

The following are some of the latest developments and events taking place this summer across the archipelago.

Duck Key

Destination weddings, not uncommon nowadays, usually take place on the beach somewhere tropical, with family and friends in attendance. But how about a wedding ceremony that takes place waist-deep in water, accompanied by dolphin clicks?

Hawk's Cay Resort on Duck Key has launched a Dolphin Wedding package that lets guests tie the knot in its saltwater lagoon surrounded by dolphins from the resort's dolphin interaction program, Dolphin Connection. Formed in 1990 under the direction of the Chicago Zoological Society, Dolphin Connection is a research facility for bottlenose dolphins. The program is the only one of its kind at a U.S. resort.

The Dolphin Wedding package is $2,000. The ceremony lasts about 10 minutes, followed by another 10 minutes of picture-taking. The package includes images of the ceremony on CD and a souvenir Dolphin Connection Marriage Certificate.

The bride and groom wear wet suits but can bring accessories such as a short veil, bow tie, top hat and bouquets.

Couples who exchange vows on land can purchase a private photo session with the dolphins for $1,500, including a photo CD.

For more, call (888) 814-9104 or visit www.hawkscay.com.

Key Largo

The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo features a new U.S. Coast Guard-certified boat with custom-built facilities for disabled snorkelers.

The 46-foot Encounter has a specially designed ramp that provides wheelchairs direct, unencumbered access to the main deck from land and to rest rooms, as well. The boat's low diving platform also makes it easier for physically challenged snorkelers to enter and exit the water.

Disabled snorkelers travel free when another adult pays full fare. The same applies to the park's equally accessible, glass-bottom boat, the Spirit of Pennekamp.

A two-and-a-half-hour snorkeling tour is $28.95 per adult; kids under 18 pay $23.95. Masks, fins and snorkels are an additional $2 each. Glass-bottom boat tours are $22 for adults and $15 for children under 12. Call (305) 451-6300 or visit www.pennekamppark.com.

Key West

The Key West Attractions Association has launched a Twice the Fun, Half the Price promotion at its most popular attractions through Oct. 15.

The promotion offers two-for-one admission coupons to the Harry S. Truman Little White House, the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, the Pat Croce Pirate Soul Museum, the Key West Shipwreck Historeum and Ripley's Believe It or Not.

A new exhibit, "In Their Own Words: The History of Key West," opened at the Key West Museum of Art and History. Among the highlights are receipts for fishermen's foul-weather gear, yellowed death certificates and oral histories recorded by residents.

Highlights include a three-dimensional diorama representing a bird's-eye view of Key West as it was in the 1850s.

For more, visit www.kwahs.org.

Key West's Mel Fisher Maritime Museum launched "La Plata del Mar: Silver of the 1622 Galleons," an exhibition of silver and other riches from the Nuestra Senora de Atocha and Santa Margarita shipwrecks off the coast of Key West during a 1622 storm.

The exhibit kicks off a series of "silver anniversary" events marking the 25th anniversary of the founding of the not-for-profit Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society that operates the museum. Other activities will include a lecture series. Visit www.melfisher.org.

The Hilton Key West Resort & Marina became the Westin Key West Resort & Marina on Aug. 1. The affiliation applies to the resort's 178 guest rooms as well as to its 37 Sunset Key Guest Cottages, which are situated on a private island 500 yards offshore in Key West Harbor.

Located on the waterfront just one block from Duval Street and Mallory Square, the "new" Westin features a full-service 36-slip marina, a heated pool and more than 16,000 square feet of meetings space. Call (800) 598-1864 or visit www.westin.com.

US Airways kicks off service between Orlando and Key West on Sept. 6. Plans call for regional partner Republic Airways to operate the route aboard 72-passenger Embraer 170 jets.

Luxury motorcoach company TransFloridian has a new Key West boarding and disembarkation location: the Doubletree Grand Key Resort. The company is operating three daily departures from the Doubletree to other points in the Keys, Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Other pick-up and drop-off locations in the Keys include Marathon, Islamorada and Key Largo. Call (877) 246-4786 or visit www.transfloridian.com.

Marathon

A five-minute boat ride from Marathon lies Seabird Key, a 10-acre, private island retreat with an "Old Florida" beach house featuring expansive decks and porches, cathedral ceilings and a spiral staircase. A private sandy beach is a major selling point.

Marketed as an ecotourism getaway, Seabird Key features a solar energy system that provides power for all electrical needs, except air conditioning, which the beach house lacks. A 20,000-gallon cistern collects fresh water.

Weekly rates, for stays Saturday to Saturday, are $4,995 for up to four guests from July to mid-December; additional guests are $375 per person. Call (305) 669-0044 or visit www.seabirdkey.com.

Islamorada

Braza Lena is a new Brazilian steakhouse in the main building at Whale Harbor. The restaurant features traditionally dressed servers circulating around a dining room  decorated with abstract art. Servers offer carved meats such as garlic-topped sirloin, roasted leg of lamb and Brazilian sausage.

Brazilian side dishes and desserts and a large selection of wines round out the experience. A prix-fixe dinner is $39.95. For reservations, call (305) 664-4959.

In other Islamorada restaurant news, the owners of Bob's Bunz, famous for pastry chef Robert Spencer's sticky buns and pastries, opened Bob's Bunz Too, a family-style restaurant at Mile Marker 81.5, oceanside.

Dishes include fried chicken, beef stew and fried catfish with black bean salsa. Bob's Bunz signature pastries are on the menu.

Dinner is served daily from 4 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. For reservations, call (305) 664-8363.

To contact reporter Jorge Sidron, send e-mail to [email protected].

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