Down South: The Florida Keys

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Casa Marina has the largest private pool in Key West. The hotel is part of the growing Waldorf Astoria Collection.

 

Casa Marina Resort has a primary oceanfront location on the tip of Key West, making it an exclusive reservation to nab in the country’s southernmost city. A creation of Henry Flagler, the resort was built in the 1920s and has hosted luminaries such as Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Rita Hayworth and Gregory Peck. After a recent renovation, the National Historic Landmark has become part of the burgeoning Waldorf Astoria Collection.

Luxury Travel Advisor recently paid a visit to this “Old Florida” AAA Four Diamond resort and was impressed with its tropical beachfront offerings, luxury service and tranquil setting, just steps away from the excitement of Key West’s Old Town.

If your VIP is looking to hunker down in premium Key West style, we suggest they book a 600-square-foot Ocean Vista One-Bedroom Suite. If they’re traveling as a group or the clan wants to stay close together, opt instead for an Ocean View Loft Suite. For a touch of history, request a Casa Grand Ocean Vista Room, which is set in the original 1920s building; they have nine-foot ceilings, dark hardwood floors and very spacious private balconies.

All rooms can be reserved via the GDS, but luxury travel advisors can contact Charles Konopinski ([email protected]; 305-293-6223) for those who need attention to special details. (The resort is run by General Manager Kevin Speidel). Casa Marina Resort is pet-friendly, as long as your pet can front a $125 nonrefundable deposit.

Clients flying into Key West International Airport (EYW, just two miles away) via private helicopter can contact Island City Flying Service (305-296-5422). If you want to reserve luxury transfers for your VIP, reach out to Keys Limo Service (www.keyslimo.com; 305-294-2800).

To reserve a top table at the resort’s open-air Sun-Sun Bar & Grill (we suggest a Toes in the Sand table), contact the resort’s Director of Food and Beverage Yunior Rodriguez ([email protected]; 305-296-3535, ext. 7755). Hint: Be sure to reserve 24 hours in advance to get optimal seating, especially if your client is anxious to experience Key West’s spectacular sunsets and suggest they try the mahi mahi—it’s to die for.

Concierge Ronald Smicker ([email protected]sorts.com; 305-296-3535, ext. 7744) is an artist when it comes to arranging a memorable private seaplane-ride to Dry Tortugas/Ft. Jefferson National Park. He can also arrange a deep-sea fishing experience for your client and follow up with a “fish concierge,” who will help your client cook their catch. Scuba diving and snorkeling is another key attraction for the resort, since Key West sits near the third largest coral reef system in the world. If your A-lister wants to simply relax and soak up the sun, Smicker can charter a sailing vessel for them to explore the area. Feeling even more mellow? There’s always a historic tour of Key West’s Old Town.

Don’t forget the nearby Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, especially if you’re a fan of felines; more than 60 cats, descendants of Hemingway’s pet, reside at the home. Many have six toes, as Hemingway’s original cat did.

The resort’s oceanfront setting makes spa-going an exceptional experience; in fact, the most popular treatments are administered in a thatched hut. There’s only one other treatment room, and that’s inside, so be sure to reserve your clients’ treatments well in advance (ask for John, he’s the top massage therapist). Contact Graziella Gaspari ([email protected]; 305-296-3535, ext. 7785), director of spa services, with questions or special requests. Note: Massages are available to guests of all ages at the resort.

Note: Luxury Travel Advisor did not have the opportunity to check out Casa Marina’s sister property, The Reach Resort, whose 150 guest rooms include 78 suites. However, the Waldorf Astoria Collection positions it as an “intimate and chic retreat for couples.” It shares the amenities of its larger Casa Marina sibling.

For local dining within Key West, Ken Neibaur at Cardoza-Bungey Travel tells us that Louie’s Backyard is an old favorite of his and that “Michael’s is ideal for romance and special occasions; the outdoor dining area is the prettiest in Old Town.”

Be aware that Key West’s festivals tend to draw many, many visitors, so be sure to book ahead. For Fantasy Fest, which is held annually the weekend before Halloween and New Year’s Eve, you should book at least six months in advance. Parrot Heads Festival in the first week of November is another busy time.

 

 

Key West offers deep-sea fishing, scuba diving and sunset watching, to name but a few activities.

 

Within the heart of the city, the Hyatt Key West Resort and Spa is worth a visit. The “Key West casual” hotel has a prime location just steps away from the city’s top restaurants, as well as its active street scene—but within the confines of the intimately sized resort, guests will find a true oasis with the ambiance of a fun country club. A compact swimming pool area has a friendly bar with excellent seating area, and SHOR American Seafood, with great indoor and outdoor seating, serves up great Cuban paninis and blackened mahi mahi and some of the tastiest Bloody Marys in town. Just steps away from all of this is the Gulf of Mexico’s shoreline, which serves as a venue for parasailing, snorkeling and scuba diving. A recent renovation to the hotel added the lovely Jala Spa. The hotel has no suites, but its top accommodations are the 500-square-foot King Salons.

North of Key West, another historic hotel has undergone a renovation. Cheeca Lodge & Spa reopened in Islamorada in December, following a fire that shut it down nearly a year ago on New Year’s Eve. Now, the resort is up and running again with its original barefoot elegant vibe and a spiffy new main lodge, which houses the resort’s top Oceanfront Premier Suites. These quarters are a healthy 850 square feet in size, with floor-to-ceiling glass walls that serve up panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean. New, private lanais are an added amenity, as are the large, oh-so-modern bathrooms, which have glassed-in rain showers for two.

Have a family traveling together? Sacrifice the ocean view for the 1,042-square-foot Luxury Resort View Two-Bedroom Suite. Why? A private screened-in balcony makes for some fun, old-fashioned card-playing in the evening. Then there’s the full kitchen with a breakfast bar. The resort claims the suite can comfortably accommodate up to two adults and two children (16 and under).

 

 

A Two-Bedroom Ocean Vista Suite at Casa Marina includes a loft bedroom.

 

Cheeca’s new main lodge also houses two new restaurants: Nikai Sushi Bar, with its neat selection of Japanese sake and wine, and the fine-dining restaurant, Atlantic’s Edge, which serves local seafood, steaks and organic local produce.

Cheeca Lodge sports a spacious spa; the seven-room facility serves up all sorts of treatments, but we hear that the Signature Lava Shell Massage (ask for Kristin) gets the most requests. Reservations can be made at [email protected], but if you have specific questions, contact Spa Director Tricia Bannister ([email protected]; 305-517-4485). Insider Tip: If your client desires a customized Organic Facial, be sure to ask for Shanti.

The resort is still ramping up on its customized concierge services, but front-desk personnel can arrange activities focused around Cheeca’s signature 525-foot wooden fishing pier, its saltwater snorkeling lagoon, the Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course and Camp Cheeca children’s environmental program.

Cheeca has drawn everyone from past presidents and sports heroes to Kevin Costner and Salma Hayek. Jeffrey Baldasarre (305-517-4528), director of sales & marketing, is the luxury travel advisor liaison.

 

 

A Premier Suite at Cheeca Lodge, which reopened in December, has floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

 

Fly into Florida Keys Marathon Airport, which is just under 40 minutes away from the resort. Private car service can be arranged by the resort (305-517-441) or via Emerald Transportation (305-852-1468). Have a VIP flying in by helicopter? They can land right at the resort, but be sure they call ahead first. Cheeca Lodge is run by General Manager Jeremy Johnson.

The resort hosts the annual Cheeca Lodge Presidential Sailfish Tournament at the end of January, so reserve well ahead of time, as well as for the holiday season.

 

 

Cheeca Lodge’s spa lagoon is nestled among gardens,pools and cascading waterfalls.

 

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