Here’s a dirty, little secret: My family doesn’t like Disney. We don’t like the lines or the crowds or the food. Call us snobs but, well, we are New Yorkers. So, when we decided to take a trip to Florida this summer, Orlando didn’t factor in.
Instead, we decided to visit the Cheeca Lodge & Spa in Islamorada—a sweet, sleepy village which encompasses six of the Florida Keys and which, unfortunately, was pounded by Hurricane Irma last summer. The resort, which is known for its stellar sportfishing, oceanfront locale, and preppy style, reopened its doors this March after a $25 million renovation.
The grand old dame of the Florida Keys, Cheeca has been host to Presidents (Truman and H.W. Bush), celebrities and sports figures since it opened in 1947 as the Olney Inn. And though Its brand of tropical luxury is austere and tranquil, children are meant to be heard as well as seen.
Stretching over 27 acres, there was plenty for us to do. The family pool is the main attraction, especially in the high temperatures of the summer, and you can easily laze away the hours under its replanted palm trees, watching the kids splash. A full menu of snacks, lunch and drinks are available throughout the day.
Want to get sporty? A Guest Adventures facility houses equipment for the Jack Nicklaus-designed nine-hole par three golf course, which subtly meanders over the property, and the six, lighted tennis courts. You can also grab a bicycle to explore if you have larger ambitions. We hit the golf course early to escape the debilitating afternoon heat and though three out of the four of us were beginners, it was a fun and laid-back way to swing a club.
The centerpiece of the resort is the bustling, 525-foot fishing pier which juts over the clearest, calmest water you’ve ever seen. There were times we couldn’t tell where the ocean ended, and the sky began. Rods are included in the resort fee, though you’ll have to purchase bait—and for our NYC kids, this was all a revelation.
It was here, on the lingering pier, where they met their vacation pals, learned how to bait a hook, release a catch and, most importantly, wait patiently for a bite. Collectively reeled in throughout the week were barracuda, grouper, bonefish, a 5-ft nurse shark and one day—even a greedy cormorant. My husband and I enjoyed more than one romantic meal at Cheeca’s oceanfront restaurant, and even a trip to the adult pool on the secreted Spa Island, thanks to these adventures.
Our two boys are aged 12 and 10 so we decided not to use the kid’s club, dubbed Camp Cheeca, though the environmentally-friendly focused programs looked as entertaining as they were educational. You can choose to do a half-day morning or afternoon for $50 or do a full day for $80. And if you’re not ready to leave your kids on the pier just yet, a Kid’s Night Out is also offered on Friday and Saturday nights.
The buildings themselves are low, with a total of 214 guestrooms. Our large, suite-like room resided in the main lodge and included two queen beds, a pull-out couch, sitting area and even a mini-fridge for grab-and go breakfast, snacks and a cold bottle of wine. A perfect size for our family of four. But the real kicker was the giant, round, bathtub which sat on our lanai overlooking the golf course. Plenty of end-of day showers were happily usurped for this flamboyant feature.
Though there were lots of activities for the kids, adults can also pop in for treatments and relaxation in the 5700-square-ft namesake spa or workout out in the fitness center. I also took early morning yoga by the beach, where, lucky me, I got an unexpected private class.
Though we enjoyed our time at the resort, we did make a few day trips. The Dolphin Research Center is just a few miles down the road in Marathon, and it’s a peaceful, educational way to interact with rescued dolphins, sea lions and even parrots. Though the beach was closed due to hurricane debris, we also spent a few hours snorkeling in the bay at the stunning Bahia Honda State Park in Big Pine Key. And no trip to the Keys would be complete without lunch and hand-feeding giant tarpon at Robbie’s, Islamorada’s No. 1 tourist extravaganza.
To learn more, visit cheeca.com!