FLORIDA KEYS WEDDINGS 101
The Florida Keys are an amazing location for a destination wedding. Even if you’ve been to the Keys before, having a wedding here is different than many other parts of the country.
No doubt you’re considering a Florida Keys wedding because you love the area, or you’ve dreamed of coming here. You love the laid back vibe, the endless sunshine, and of course, those amazing sunsets.
I’ve photographed weddings all up and down these Keys, and what you may not know is that the Keys all have personalities of their own. Planning the right wedding in the right Key is the (pardon the pun) key to the success of your event.
Let’s dig in and talk about the different attributes of the Keys to consider for your wedding, including some great wedding venues that you might not know about!
For clarity, the 125-mile chain of islands referred to as The Florida Keys is divided into five different parts: Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine, Lower Keys, and Key West. Most weddings take place in the Upper Keys and Key West, and I’ll get into why in a bit.
FLORIDA KEYS WEATHER
What can we say, the weather here is mostly glorious year-round. With temps rarely dipping below 70 and rarely going above 90, it’s pretty temperate here. The difference is the humidity level.
Because of the tradewinds, Key West is generally not as humid as the Upper Keys. But when I say “not as humid,” take into account that Florida often has humidity levels as high as 95% on the mainland. So, even though we have an average of around 76 %, it’s still humid.
Hate the humidity? Then you may want to consider a wedding during our least humid part of the year, November-April. The downside? Much higher prices during peak season. However, it’s still warm enough to swim (even in January), and something is always blooming.
Hurricanes. Yep, we get them. It’s a concern, so be aware that technically our hurricane season starts June 1 and ends November 30. Historically though, most of our hurricanes have hit between August 15 and October 1.
If you plan a wedding in September/October, a heads up that some local businesses and restaurants shutter up for a few weeks during that time; it’s kind of unofficial summer vacation here.
Also, look into wedding insurance. Read the coverage thoroughly, though, because hurricanes are considered an “Act of God” by many insurers and are not covered.
UPPER KEYS WEDDINGS; ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW
The Upper Keys have a diverse landscape of private homes and resorts for a destination wedding. It’s perfect for couples who want a laid back, group-centered wedding.
Because there are many more options than the Lower Keys to rent a vacation home or do a full buy-out of a resort, you and your guests won’t have to do as much shuttling around to be in one place.
If you’re considering having a large wedding (that’s anything over 150 people around here), then you might be hard-pressed to find a venue and lodging together for everyone in Key West. The Upper Keys have many more options for you in this regard.
Travel is generally easy to the upper keys; you can fly into Ft Lauderdale (FLL) or Miami (MIA); both are within a two-hour drive of the Upper Keys. It’s easy to secure rental cars or shuttles in these airports, and parking is much less of an issue than the Lower Keys.
The vibe in the Upper Keys is one of a luxe, laid back, island feel. Think of it like Miami’s more chilled out cousin. Still all the amenities and beauty, with a little less nightclubbin’.
If you’re also coming to Florida for destination fishing or diving, you’ll want to spend some time in the Mid to Upper Keys; it’s a fisherman’s paradise. Even if you’ve never put a snorkel to your face, you’re going to want to get out on that water and check it out. Just gorgeous!
There is still the option to take a quick day trip to Key West! Come on down to the Southernmost City, visit Duvall Street, and experience all the wonder and weirdness of Key West.
Then, you can return to the more serene beauty of the Upper Keys in just a few hours on one of the prettiest drives in the world.
Here are some of my favorite wedding venues in the Upper Keys.
Located in Key Largo, this upscale resort is crazy beautiful. Not only does it have a gorgeous white sand beach to get married on, but it also offers opulent ballrooms and tented weddings outdoors.
You can rent a private beach house bungalows with your own pool if you have a group or reserve one of their luxurious suites. The food is fantastic too, they’ve really thought of everything here.
13 acres of white sand beaches and a stunning view of the Gulf of Mexico are just a few things you’ll find perfect when considering a wedding at Bakers Cay in Key Largo.
This is a Hilton property, but it most certainly does not feel corporate (and you can get your Hilton rewards points, so BONUS)
The property is expansive, open, and lush. My favorite part of Baker’s Cay is the amazing hardwood hammocks, a great place for portraits. This resort has every amenity including on-site waterfalls.
The staff is top-notch and on-point, there for you at every turn, but it never feels stuffy. Highly recommended.
If outdoor Florida marine life is your thing, this is your resort. Located in Islamorada, this resort has Caribbean inspired homes and a pier that goes on forever with instant water access for jet skiing.
Swim, snorkel and fish, and then enjoy your private home with its wrap-around veranda. These bungalows are decked out with everything you need.
For weddings, it’s a perfect spot for small weddings, up to 90 or so guests. It has a real rustic old Florida feel that I just love. Get married right between the palm trees and sunset, and night photos on the pier are a must.
The property can be tented with a clear tent for the reception, which is just so cool! If you’re getting married in the Keys, it’s nice to feel like you are outside as much as possible, even when you’re inside.
Cheeca Lodge and Spa Located right next door to The Caribbean in Islamorada, this resort is a lush island paradise. You can get married along the shores of the Atlantic, on their private beach and then choose from one of their event spaces.
Cheeca offers both ballrooms and suites, as well as their main lodge. What I love about this property is that it’s so well designed from indoors to outdoors. The indoor spaces have soaring ceilings and beautifully draped windows so it feels seamless going from inside to outside.
The property has an impressive private garden/rainforest feel, so that combined with the ocean and sunset views means photo ops are endless.
Cheeca can accommodate weddings from very small to up to 120 guests, and they are well known for their amazing cuisine and their luxurious spa. It’s also very family-friendly!
If Mykonos and the Keys had a baby, it would be Isla Bella. Crisp white architecture meets the deep blue sea, and each room at this contemporary resort has a room with a view.
They also have plenty of things to do if you love watersports like kayaks, snorkeling or fishing, and a great view of the 7-mile bridge in the distance.
Isla has a full mile of sandy beaches, and a beautifully constructed hardwood deck to have your ceremony on overlooking the ocean. Isla specializes in intimate weddings from 4 to 30 guests, and big big celebrations of up to 150 people.
I love how they’ve kept the landscape of this resort wild and full of native plants and natural sand dunes. When you’re out on this piece of the property for photos, it feels a world away from everything.
KEY WEST WEDDINGS; PARTY IN PARADISE
There’s no place in the United States like Key West. Sometimes called “The Conch Republic” because of a tongue-in-cheek secession in the ’80s to bump up tourism, Key West is an island on to its own.
When you are here, you have this feeling of being very, very far away from the rest of the country. So far, that the nearest Wal Mart is farther away from us than Cuba. (Don’t worry, we have other stores)
It’s an island full of music, light, and some of the most interesting people you will ever meet. If you’re looking for a wedding filled with sun, fun, and adventure, then Key West is your perfect destination.
There’s a ton of stuff to do on this 8-mile square island. Key West is four miles long and only two miles wide; it’s a tiny little island that packs a big punch. Weddings here are festive, high-energy affairs, and there are so many places to keep the party going after hours.
Then, of course, there are the sunsets. While you can get a pretty good view most anywhere in the Keys, the unique position of Key West means the sunsets are panoramic and otherworldly, making for some fantastic photo opportunities.
Logistically, Key West is more challenging than the rest of the Keys because it takes over 100 miles and 47 bridges on a one-road highway to get here. Luckily, Key West Airport (EYW) is adding direct flights almost yearly as demand grows.
Lodging in Key West is pricier, and because of local ordinances, you won’t find AirBnB’s here. Some hotels will offer blocks on smaller weddings, and rentals often have a 7-14 day required stay. If your wedding is larger, your guests may have to be split up over the island to accommodate them all.
However, as I mentioned, this is a small island, and you don’t need a car. Parking is at a premium here, and driving can be crazy, so I always tell people to skip bringing a vehicle if possible. There are a ton of ways to get around with cabs, bike and scooter rentals, buses, and rickshaws!
Though I’ve been photographing weddings in Key West for over a decade, the beauty here still surprises me, and the people are some of the nicest you will meet.
Here are some of my favorite Key West wedding venues:
They say you never forget your first! Ft. Zachary was the venue that launched my career, so it has a special place in my heart. It’s also one of the most interesting and diverse venues on the island, with the best locations for photography.
You can have your wedding ceremony on The Point, where the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico combine as cruise ships and sailboats go by. I love the symbolism of the two oceans and hearts combining.
There are 54 acres of sea and tropical vegetation in this area. Beach, palm trees and sea grapes converge, and there’s the coolest little field that gives an entirely different look to photos.
The fort itself is an old Spanish war fort, so if you’re a history buff, this place is a dream. There’s a field where you can lay down the dance floor, and the acoustics are amazing!
Palm trees, killer sunsets, brick fortresses…Ft Zachary has it all!
Of all the wedding venues in Key West, I think Casa Marina is one of the most iconic and romantic.
Casa is a property that lives up to the Waldorf Astoria Resort designation, as their attention to detail and grandeur of the property is unmatched.
Situated near Higgs Beach and away from the hustle and bustle of Duval Street, Casa is old Key West ambiance at it’s finest. You can still get to Duvall quickly, but this part of the island is a little bit quieter.
The grounds have reflecting pools, stately palm trees and gorgeous views at sunset. The ballroom has tons of windows and natural light overlooking the property, yet still has a distinctly Key West feel.
The staff and food are outstanding, and there are hundreds of reviews online that say the same. Casa can accommodate up to 200 guests and can provide room blocks for guests depending on occupancy.
In 2018, Little Palm Island was decimated by Hurricane Irma. There were a lot of moments during Irma that was awful, but the loss of this resort hit me hard. The owners are true stewards of the land, and the island is truly a piece of old Florida.
I didn’t expect them to restore and rebuild it, but they are, and it’s going to be better than ever. The renovation is in progress and Little Palm Island is back open for business in 2020.
I guarantee that if you are looking to have a wedding there, they will treat you very very well. It’s a special place and perfect for a truly out of the way wedding.
Every evening at Sunset, people gather at Mallory Square to watch the sunset. Just a half-mile away, you can see the island of Sunset Key. Only accessible by boat, Sunset Key has some of the most stunning private homes in Key West.
Secluded island ambiance is the name of the game in Sunset Key. There are no stores, no cars, no bars. Though only an 8-minute boat ride away, It’s a lovely escape from the hustle and bustle of Key West.
Many people opt to rent the Sunset Key Cottages Paradise Cottage and have a wedding on the beach and a tented reception. Photographically, it’s a wonder at sunset; the light hits this part of the Keys in a way I can’t quite describe. Maybe it’s the intimate feeling there, but the small private beaches along the shore are some of the prettiest in the area.
KEY WEST WEDDING PLANNERS
I’m not going to sugar-coat it; you need a wedding planner if you are thinking about a destination wedding in the Keys. Planners will save you so much time and stress.
They will help you with logistics, help you with timelines, help with coordinating vendors, and will remind you to use sunscreen and hydrate.
In all the years I’ve been photographing weddings in the Keys, I’ve never had a client regret hiring a planner. 100% worth the money spent.
If you’re planning a once in a lifetime wedding in a place like this, you want to relax and enjoy your day, and these are the ladies you should call.
All of them produce stunning events, and they work all over the Keys; some as far as up to South Florida in no particular order.
KEY WEST WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY
When you are considering a photographer for your Florida Keys wedding, you want to do your research. We’re not all alike!
My style is best suited for couples who are adventurous, creative, and want their wedding photos to focus on moments. They admire visual storytelling and fine art, and they don’t have preconceived notions of what their photos “should” look like.
I’m not comfortable in the role of only being your “vendor,” many of my clients have become life-long friends. When I know you, I can tell your story more accurately.
You might think that’s difficult seeing that most of my clients don’t live here in Key West. But through the magic of technology, we get to know each other to plan the wedding day both by having conversations about the wedding, but also about you as a couple. If this connects with you, let’s talk.
If you have Keys-specific questions about weddings, that I didn’t cover in this article, I’m happy to chat. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org