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Festive events in the Florida Keys for the Holidays

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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 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 Sunday, Dec. 22
Holiday Photos with a 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 bring their 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 supplied on a flash drive for $20 for one person or $35 for multiple people in the same shot. Group size is limited to four people. Contact: 305-289-1121 or www.dolphins.org

Friday, Dec. 13, 6-8 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 and other holiday refreshments. Contact: 305-295-1334, www.keywestchristmas.org or www.keywestholidayfest.com

Saturday, Dec. 14, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Big Pine & Lower Keys Island Art Festival (Big Pine Key)
Experience the joys of art and music, and find some unique holiday gifts, at this festival 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 artisans, raffles and vendors offering food and beverages. Parking and admission are free. Contact: 305-872-2411 or www.lowerkeyschamber.com

Saturday, Dec. 14, 6 p.m.
Boot Key Harbor Boat Parade (Marathon)
At this Middle Keys holiday event, vessels from dinghies to mega-yachts are to cruise the harbor in a sparkling procession. The best viewing sites include Lazy Days South, Marathon Marina, Sombrero Dockside Lounge and Burdines Waterfront around MM 47-50. Contact: www.bootkeyharbor.com/christmas_parade.htm

Saturday, Dec. 14, 7 p.m.
Lower Keys Lighted Boat Parade (Lower Keys)
All boats are welcome to participate in this favorite Lower Keys holiday event sponsored by the Lower Keys Rotary Club. Santa and Mrs. Claus are expected to arrive and hand out candy to the kids. Best viewing spots include the Old Wooden Bridge Guest Cottages & Marina, No Name Key Bridge and Big Pine Community Park, all off U.S. Highway 1 at MM 31. Contact: Steve at 305-923-5370 or bigpinenews@aol.com

Saturday, Dec. 14, 7:30 p.m.
Key Largo Boat Parade (Key Largo)
Boats will be "rocking" in Key Largo's Blackwater Sound as the parade theme of "Christmas Rocks!" adds a rock 'n' roll twist to the lively holiday procession of vessels. Great viewing spots can be found at Sundowners, Jimmy Johnson's Big Chill, Señor Frijoles, the Marriott Key Largo Bay Resort and the Caribbean Club at MM 103-104. Sundowners is to host the Winner's Party at 10 p.m. after the parade. Contact: 305-451-4502 or www.keylargoboatparade.com

Saturday, Dec. 14, 8 p.m.
Schooner Wharf Bar & Galley Lighted Boat Parade (Key West)
Festively decorated kayaks, fishing craft and schooners are to glitter in Key West's Historic Seaport during the 23rd annual Schooner Wharf Bar Lighted Boat Parade. The Gerald Adams Elementary School Steel Your Heart Band kicks off the festivities at 6 p.m. singing holiday favorites, followed by popular family band The Doerfels. Spectators can view the dozens of participating vessels from resorts, bars and restaurants in and around the Historic Seaport. Contact: 305-292-3302 or www.schoonerwharf.com

Sunday, Dec. 15, 1-3 p.m.
Christmas on the Farm 2013 (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 www.keysso.net/miscellaneous/animal_park.htm

Sunday, Dec. 15, 3 p.m.
Southernmost Christmas Tree Celebration (Key West)
Holiday revelers enjoy free conch chowder and 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. 21, 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 "Holiday Happiness" 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 www.keyscommunityconcertband.org

Saturday, Dec. 21, 5 and 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 www.marathontheater.org

Friday and Saturday, Dec. 27-28, 4-7 p.m.
54th 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 www.oirf.org

Tuesday, Dec. 31, 12 p.m.
Annual Key West Dachsund Walk (Key West)
The procession of pooches begins at noon at the corner of Whitehead and Fleming streets in Key West's historic downtown. The walking route, deliberately kept brief to cater to the dachshunds' short legs, includes a portion of the downtown area and a block of Duval Street. Many dogs wear offbeat costumes or accessories. Contact: keywestdachshundwalk@gmail.com

Tuesday, 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.; the splash of a huge replica Key lime wedge into a massive margarita glass at Ocean Key Resort's Sunset Pier 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 the conch shell drop; 305-293-9800 for the high-heel drop; 305-295-7005 for the Key lime splash and 305-292-3302 for the descent of the pirate wench.

Tuesday, 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. Admission cost is $30 at Pierre's Restaurant and $20 at Morada Bay Beach Café. Contact: 305-664-8414

Tuesday, Dec. 31, midnight
New Year's Eve Midnight Fireworks Show at Cheeca Lodge & Spa (Islamorada)
Cheeca Lodge & Spa, MM 82 oceanside, is staging a New Year's Eve celebration and midnight fireworks display. Attractions include live music, dancing on the beach and a gourmet dinner. Contact: 305-517-4580

Tuesday, 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 MM 103-104. Contact: 305-451-4502 or www.keylargofireworks.com

Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, 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: www.fla-keys.com/calendarofevents
Florida Keys visitor information: www.fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS
Social: facebook.com/floridakeysandkeywest · twitter.com/thefloridakeys · youtube.com/FloridaKeysTV

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