Any self-respecting beachcomber will gladly tell anyone listening about the allure of the Florida Keys. With turquoise-blue waters, warm and deliciously humid days filled with sun, and a laidback atmosphere found in islands dotting the American Caribbean, visiting the Keys is a first-class ticket to ultimate beachside relaxation. And a visit to the Cheek Lodge & Spa in Islamorada will make you feel like royalty.
Paradise Found at Mile Marker 82
Located just little more than an hour’s drive from Miami and its international airport, Cheeca Lodge is a hidden trove of stress-free vacation days and offers one of the longest and more delightful private beaches in Florida. Leaving Miami’s traffic behind, the drive to the Keys is part of the adventure. Passing “alligator crossing” signs — and yes, there really are alligators living in the canal lining the two-way U.S. 1 highway — visitors leave behind the traffic jams and skyscrapers as they drive through mangrove-filled flats of land until water begins to appear from every angle and sand-topped roads emerge. Once in the Keys, mile marker reference points of interest, and Cheeca is located at mile marker 82. But blink and you’ll miss it, because Cheeca isn’t advertising its presence with neon signs. Rather, a small sign nearly covered by palm fronds alerts visitors they have arrived in paradise.
The resort, which has been hosting visitors for 70 years and is a Four Diamond resort, prides itself on its ability to eliminate stress from anymore walking through its automatic double doors. Entering its gates, a greeter welcomes visitors and calls ahead to alert staff of your arrival. Friendly valets are ready and waiting to assist you in checking in, opening your door and referring to you by name with big smiles but the over-eager attitudes found when parking at the latest “in” spot. Registration knows you’ve arrived and has a package of information and keys all ready for you when you walk up, then bellhops whisk you away to your room. In a matter of moments, vacation has begun in oversized rooms overlooking the ocean or lush garden areas and decorated in a sophisticated tropical decor with cherry wood, palm-decorated prints and a down-covered bed facing a large flat-screen TV.
Scattered throughout every turn of the main resort are large chairs topped with cushions so big and comfortable you can’t help but fall into one and decidedly stay put, allowing servers to bring food and beverage so you don’t do a single thing but sit back and enjoy the ocean breeze. While the crushed-shell beach beside a 525-foot fishing pier allows for entry into the warm blue sea, a salt-water lagoon pool is much more luxurious, again with servers at your beck and call, and clear-blue water, without having to immerse your suntan-motioned skin in sand. As you walk down the steps leading to the pool chairs, clutching your straw hat so as not to lose it in the wind, singers crooning tunes like “Stormy Weather” will make you feel as if though you were stepping into a bygone era. An adults-only pool is tucked away in an oasis of palms, providing a lap pool in which to exercise (should your vacation require such a thing) or to sit in comfort in Adirondack chairs under large umbrellas or one of the many cabanas. Located beside the resort’s spa, the cabanas offer the the ultimate in luxury by providing spa services in your own tropical space.
Finding Time to Do Nothing
Whether you choose to escape on a romantic getaway or bring the kids for an action-packed vacation, Cheeca is both couple- and family-friendly. Destination weddings often occur right on its beaches, with honeymooners returning for anniversaries year after year. Meanwhile, a children’s camp, playground, kid’s pool (more a mini water park) and babysitting services are available to entertain your little ones. For those looking for more than just wasting away on a beach, bikes and kayaks are available for cruising by land or by sea. A Jack Nicklaus-designed par-3 golf course will keep him happy on the links, while you receive a Swedish massage in the spa. Still, don’t let the family-friendly title fool you. Sans kids, you’ll hardly notice the families playing on the grounds. Cheeca is so large — 27 acres, to be exact — that it somehow provides a sense that vacations are personally tailored for each guest to enjoy, with or without families.
Residents and guests alike will end their lazy, seaside days dining in one of the Key’s best restaurants, the Atlantic’s Edge. The restaurant features large windows overlooking the ocean, as well as a covered patio where you can listen to the waves softly lap while the Lodge’s “adopted” stray cats peek out from the bushes in hopes of generous strangers slipping them some seafood. Fresh fish caught daily is served up hot and delicious, including the over-roasted twin fresh Florida lobster tails served with mango butter, or the scallops the size of silver dollars, or the highly recommended land-lover’s dish, an 18-ounce bone-in prime ribeye with garlic mashed potatoes.
If lazy days being pampered at Cheeca aren’t enough to float your boat, Islamorada doesn’t offer much, although you can swim with dolphins at Theater of the Sea. Forget shopping and action-packed days and give in to actually doing nothing on your vacation. When relaxing becomes taxing, however, you’re in luck as boating, fishing, snorkeling and other water activities are the joys of the Keys. The resort will provide deep-sea fishing and sunset cruises or you may rent your own sail or fishing boats to add excitement. And be sure to head across the street to visit one of the best places to catch the sunset. Lorelei Cabana and Bar may look tacky — its sign is a 20-foot high mermaid that has survived numerous hurricanes over the years — but its bayside beach location affords uninterrupted views of the sunset. Casual attire is expected as you pull up one of the many chairs facing the water along a sandy stretch of beach, and glider booths allow you to rock away any remaining stressors that may have followed from the main land. As the darkness surrounds you, hundreds of twinkling stars begin to take shape in the sky above. Then return yourself to Cheecsa to fall deep into sleep. Repeat daily until its time to leave this “Jewel of the American Caribbean.”