Location The Cheeca Lodge is located in Islamorada on the Florida Keys, and is part of the Upper Keys, nearest the mainland, a few miles south of Key Largo, and just north of Marathon. Compared to much of the sleepy Keys – outside of the outré Key West, that is – Islamorada has more to offer in the way of good restaurants (Chef Michael’s is a must) and street life, which is almost absent on the Keys. Still, this is island life, not city life. Islamorada encompasses six islands including Plantation Key, Windley Key, Upper Matecumbe Key, Lower Matecumbe Key, and the offshore islands of Indian Key and Lignumvitae Key. The Florida Straits and the Atlantic Ocean, and the Gulf of Mexico flank Islamorada.
Lodging The Cheeca Lodge has a lot of history and it has housed many famous guests. That history began in 1946, when Mrs. Clara Mae Downey from Olney, Maryland, opened the Olney Inn. Mrs. Downey’s first guest was President Harry Truman. It became The Cheeca Lodge in the 1960s, when Cynthia, whose nickname was Chee, and Carl Twitchell took over. The name simply, and cutely, combines Chee and Ca. The Cheeca Lodge soon gained its own nickname as the “Queen of the Keys” and hosted movie and sports stars, and its own presidential guests. The resort is set on 27 acres and includes the largest private beach in the Keys. There are 212 rooms in 17 different configurations, from standard to private bungalow. On New year’s Eve 2009, a reveler in the upstairs bar, the Chart Room, dropped a cigar, which sparked a fire that destroyed the main lodge. The rebuild was the perfect excuse to modern and expanding the original lodge, and it reopened in 2011. The hotel is currently owned by Northwood Hospitality, which carries on the hotel’s traditions. The décor throughout the hotel is old plantation style, with heavy woods and warm rich colors. It feels lavish and cosseting.
View of a Room:308 There’s spacious and then there’s this enormous suite, with full couches and coffee table for that main Keys pursuit: relaxation.
This ocean view room’s bathroom is also very grand, with a double sink and a double sized shower, whose glass door opens up onto the balcony, where a Jacuzzi tub sits concealed from prying eyes, but allows views over the palm trees and sea. That is what you call luxury, baby. Or good design and planning. The balcony continues with seating for more of that relaxing. This room brings to mind the Eagles’ lyric in Hotel California, only reworded to, “Once you check in, you’ll never want to leave.”
Restaurants and Bars Cheeca Lodge has three restaurants: the main and signature Atlantic’s Edge, which has a spacious patio with beach and sea views. There are two newer niche spots: Nikai, a specialist sushi restaurant, and Limoncello, an Italian themed restaurant. On the second floor, the Chart Room is a former private bar, which is now open to all. Adjacent to the Chart Room, There’s a balcony bar and a modern clubby rooftop lounge complete with AstroTurf. A beach tiki bar completes the entertainment.
Sports and Spa The Spa at the Cheeca Lodge is an extensive facility with its own pool and relaxation station with loungers, which is accurately dubbed Spa Island. This is a no-kids spot, shaded from the rest of the resort by palms. The idea is relaxation, which should not be too difficult to achieve. There is also a Jack Nicklaus-designed 9-hole par 3 golf course, six tennis courts, beach sports, and water sports, including fishing, by arrangement.
Tech WiFi is easily accessed and complimentary.
Info Cheeca Spa & Lodge, 81801 Overseas Highway, Marker 82, Islamorada, Florida 33036. 800-327-2888. www.cheeca.com
Photo credit: The Cheeca Lodge/Hotel Junkie