411: Escape to the Keys

Not that we would ever think to complain about living in the place where the rest of the world loves to vacation, but, during the “dog days of summer” when our social calendar is fairly open, it becomes necessary to consider venturing out to nearby destinations for a little change of scenery and to recharge before the busy season ahead. This summer, we got the chance to check out a few terrific resorts in the Keys- just steps away from home. Each distinct in its unique atmosphere and offerings, all three provided the perfect place to unwind, recharge and create special memories with the family.

Cheeca Lodge & Spa: 81801 Overseas Highway, Mile Marker 82; Islamorada, Florida.   Cheeca.com

One of the most luxurious resorts in the Keys, considered the “Queen of the Florida Keys,” Cheeca Lodge & Spa is set on a 27 acre private estate in Islamorada, the “Sportfishing Capital of the World.” This gorgeous tropical paradise boasts classic Florida Keys architecture, chic West Indies décor, and “barefoot elegance”- a term coined at Cheeca.

Cheeca houses 212 gorgeous guestrooms, suites and bungalows, including 62 enormous Premier Oceanfront and Island View Suites that offer panoramic ocean or island views, expansive private lanais, open-air hot tubs on the terrace and posh amenities.

While Cheeca is luxurious and extremely romantic, it is also a great spot for the whole family, as there are lots of fun activities in which to engage. Children of all ages will delight in the resort’s signature 525 foot wooden fishing pier, which extends so far into the ocean- you’ll feel as though you are on a fishing expedition. Cheeca provides complimentary fishing rods and sells bait so that fishing enthusiasts can spend hours on the pier. One of the highlights is feeding the friendly pelicans who hang out on the pier, excitedly waiting to snag your catch.

Those who prefer to get up close and personal with marine life in the water will enjoy Cheeca’s saltwater snorkeling lagoon, with room for only fish that are smaller than its human guests. Cheeca’s also got a children’s environmental activity program, bicycles with which to explore the island and a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course.

What struck us most on our recent visit, in contrast to past stays was the quality, variety and elegance of Cheeca’s restaurants. Nikai Sushi Bar serves outstanding, fresh sushi- quite possibly the best in the Keys and a unique selection of Japanese sake and wine. Atlantic’s Edge is an elegant restaurant with a seasonal fine-dining menu of fresh local seafood, prime steaks and organic local produce. Don’t miss the crab eggs Benedict for breakfast or the breakfast buffet, which is also a bargain. For casual, traditional Italian fare, Limoncello, serves up cuisine inspired by the Tuscan countryside. All three restaurants boast excellent service and are perfect for couples, groups or families.

The expanded Spa at Cheeca includes 11 treatment rooms, which join the poolside cabanas, Tahitian-style Spa Lagoon, adults-only lap pool and an oceanfront tiki hut for al fresco treatments. There are also shops and a rooftop bar to enjoy and a conference center. It comes as no surprise that Cheeca has earned the distinction of being the Crown Jewel of the Florida Keys.

Parrot Key Resort: 2801 N. Roosevelt Boulevard; Key West, Florida. 855.732.0172 or ParrotKeyResort.com

The biggest problem with staying at the beautiful Parrot Key Resort in Key West, is that you will not want to leave your cozy, yet elegant 3-story beach house- chock full of amenities and surrounded by private pools- to go explore the fun of Key West. Yes, the resort is THAT nice.

Parrot Key Resort, is designed in classic Key West-style with modern amenities and is set up as a private garden oasis. This newest luxury waterfront hotel in Key West is located on the Gulf of Mexico among five acres of award-winning landscaping. The location is ideal for exploring the Old World charm and excitement of Key West or just enjoying the privacy of a luxury resort.

This waterfront hotel includes 148 boutique hotel rooms and suites; four tropical mineral cleansed pools, lush, verdant sculpture gardens, poolside bar and dining at Café Blue- which serves terrific seafood- don’t miss the smoked fish dip or the key lime pie. There’s also a fitness center and a private sunning terrace with powder soft sand. A complimentary shuttle takes guests to and from Parrot Key’s private beach club at Smather’s Beach, just a short distance away.

Postcard Inn: 84001 Overseas Highway; Islamorada, Florida. 305.664.2321 or holidayisle.com

Those of us who spent a good portion of our formative party years at the legendary Tiki Bar, Holiday Isle, may cringe at the thought of actually staying there. After all…. (feel free to fill in the blank). Enter the Postcard Inn Resort & Marina at Holiday Isle- which, thanks to a recent $10.5 million renovation has transformed said “Tiki Bar of our youth” into an adorable ocean side beach bungalow that’s as welcoming for families as it is for revelers.

The Postcard Inn includes 143-guest accommodations, many of which directly face the longest white-sand private beach in Islamorada. Postcard’s guests can also enjoy swimming in the two pools, fishing off of the docks, kayaking, paddle boarding, jet skiing, diving and snorkeling trips to North America’s only living barrier reef and an abundance of other water sports, just steps from their room.

Part of the rebranding of the Postcard Inn Holiday Isle Beach Resort & Marina is its appeal for the whole family. Each of the quaint and stylish renovated guest rooms showcase a boathouse-chic design accented with a marine color palette and furniture evoking a nautical theme. All rooms include flat-screen televisions. The 14 Lanai suites, located on the ground-floor, open up to their own semi-private front yard facing the Holiday Isle beach and those on the upper floors feature open-air balconies.

Those of you with a nostalgic affinity for the World Famous Tiki Bar – the legendary Islamorada bar, fear not- the Tiki Bar is alive and well- in fact, better than ever. You can still enjoy its original Rumrunner drink, among many, many others and party until the early morning to dance music. There’s also a weekly Karaoke night.

Another noteworthy improvement is Postcard’s food and beverage program, which boasts two great restaurants: Jaws Raw Bar and Shula Burger. Jaws is located on the ocean and serves fresh food that’s as fabulous as its views in a casual, Florida Keys atmosphere. Service is exceptional as are the fish dip, soups, raw bar and grilled fish sandwiches. It is open for lunch and dinner daily.

For fine dining or delicious burgers and appetizers, head to Shula Burger, right on the property. More than just a burger joint, this lively restaurant is the first fast- casual burger concept by coach Don Shula, featuring gourmet burgers, appetizers, salads, fresh seafood, full bar as well a full breakfast menu daily.

The Postcard Inn also houses Rumrunners Island Bar – a cross between a Swiss Family Robinson hideaway and the top of a pirate ship’s crow’s nest, and the Wreck Bar – located oceanside. Transient dockage, boat rentals, diving and snorkeling trips, and a large charter boat fleet are all available at the marina.

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