Tired of run-of-the-mill luxury vacation destinations? Looking for something extraordinary and exotic for that very special occasion? We have found a world-class tropical resort - in the United States - that will have you talking about your getaway for years to come. Here's the story of Little Palm Island in the Florida Keys.
Driving south from Miami, it took us about 2-hours to cover the 120-miles to Little Torch Key and to reach mile marker 28.5 on scenic US1. There we found Pirates Road and the Little Palm Island Welcome Station (aka resort check-in and transport dock).
The vibe for this destination resort is South Seas Island elegant and the Welcome Station fits right in. The Station building is a high-peaked thatched roof structure that is nestled against a lazy mangrove lagoon. The lagoon is where passengers board the shuttle boat to the Little Palm Island Resort and Spa.
As we entered the door of the Station, we were greeted by a Little Palm Island employee who quickly and efficiently arranged for our luggage to be removed from our auto and placed on a bell cart to await transport to the island.
Registration was an unfussy affair that was made enjoyable by a complimentary beverage - we chose a refreshing rum punch - very tasty. Check-in went quickly - no doubt attributable to the fact that there are only 30 guest quarters at the Little Palm Island Resort.
We parked our rental car in the lot adjacent to the Station, and proceeded to the Gift Shop, which was chock-full of interesting objects including sundry headgear and upscale clothing.
It was a beautiful day, so we lounged on the outdoor patio while waiting for our motor launch ride to Little Palm Island. There are just two ways to get there - boat or seaplane. The island is only 3-miles from the Station, and the launch departs hourly, so the choice of transport was an easy one.
Everything done in style
At first glance, we thought our transportation to the island was a sleek 1930s Chris Craft motor launch - but it wasn't. In reality, it is a 1990s built replica that looks and sounds like the real thing.
Before we knew it, we were being whisked away by a uniformed four-stripe captain in a classic motor yacht to an offshore island paradise.
As we approached the dock of the lush palm-laden island, we would not have been surprised to see Tattoo in his little white suit shouting "De boat, de boat."
Instead, we were greeted by a very cordial island guide in smart tropic attire. He told us that our luggage was already waiting for us in our elevated thatched palm roof "Sandpiper" suite. The bungalow suites are harmoniously named after tropical birds - and that is so very fitting in this Audubon haven.
Speaking of birds
One of our first introductions was to "Spencer" a dominant gray heron and distinguished character. Spencer lords over the shallows of the island. Our guide told us that Spencer could be occasionally cranky and territorial when it comes to other "big" birds eyeing his island for a roost. Later in the day, we were privileged to witness Spencer doing a ceremonious roust of a very big and lanky white crane.
Five acres of paradise
We toured the entire Little Palm Island in about 45-minutes. The meandering manicured white sand paths and thick tropical landscaping are ingeniously designed to ensure bungalow privacy. During our walk, we passed by the Spa Terre, the Library, the Zen Garden, the splendid outdoor pool, the outdoor chess set, the island gift shop, and the bar and restaurant.
Guests have free access to fishing rods, kayaks, beach boats, small sailing crafts, and romantic double umbrella shaded lounges that are strategically placed throughout the island.
Harry and Bess
There is much ado about the Trumans on the island, including two full-size oil paintings of the famous couple in the Library. The pride stems from the president's affinity for the isle when it was a private fishing resort. Admiral Bill "Bull" Halsey was one of the many famous island guests of the Trumans after the War.
More interesting information
Another president, JFK was on Little Palm in 1962 to watch the filming of PT109 - a movie about his heroic exploits aboard a PT boat in the Pacific during WWII.
Cue the deer
Just when we thought we had seen everything imaginable on this contemporary Fantasy Island, a tiny-toddler of a Lilliputian creature walked onto our white sand path. Here before us was a Key Deer fawn - so cute - and quite tame. Before long, the fawn's mom came along, happy to join in the photo op.
The Key Deer is an endangered species native to the Florida Keys, and the Little Palm Island mini-herd swims over from a neighboring island - maybe to nuzzle the various celebrities that populate the resort from time to time. It is illegal to feed these little guys, but a joy to commune with them.
Photographing our hut-suite
Each room in the Palm Island bungalows is like a character in a play. When combined, all the clever little things inside the suite add to the ethos of high living in paradise.
Our suite was #23, The Sandpiper Suite, and it is very much like the other bungalow suites on Little Palm - a good thing because all 30 bungalows were occupied. We only had an opportunity to photograph the inside of the suite where we stayed.
All the bungalows are South Seas castaway dream homes with a dash of British Colonial charm. Each thatched roof suite-hut is outfitted with a well-appointed living room with comfy woven-seagrass sofa and chairs, a softly humming ceiling fan, military style birding binoculars, a stand of old-fashioned umbrellas, and a replica antique telephone with which to communicate with the Quarterdeck (Concierge).
In the evenings, the large bedroom in each bungalow is softly lit by a simulated-candle that enhances the romance of the lavish room by casting exotic shadows on the wooden beams above. Your sleeping comfort is guaranteed by an elegant and uber-comfortable king four-poster bed complete with decorative netting and zephyrous ceiling fan.
Our suite also had a soaking tub, a large modern shower, and an attached outdoor bamboo shower room.
Of course, all the suites are fully air-conditioned. This is what present-day tropical luxury is all about.
Little Palm Island is a place of leisure. Go fishing, kayaking, listen to the birds or the quiet lap of the sea against the shore. Wait for a Key Deer to entertain while you sip a soothing beverage on your veranda, in the garden, or by the pool. Lounge on the beach or on one of the wooden walkways overlooking the sea - there are no bad choices on Little Palm Island.
Relaxation sometimes requires help. That is why the suites do not have Wi-Fi service, TVs, or off-island telephones - and there are no children allowed on the island.
If you must
If you are a tech-junkie some of the above might make you nuts, so there is limited Wi-Fi service in the Library, which is also called the Great Room. If you look hard, you will also see a flat screen TV among the books and games - it is the only one on the island.
The Spa Terre
Unlike many spa experiences that are a singular event in a busy day, the Spa Terre experience becomes an essential part of your total day on Little Palm Island.
We selected the ancient and deep Sacred Stone Massage - but perhaps you would rather a soothing massage on a table in the shallow water of a secluded beach.
Whatever your choice, you can continue the bliss by immediately entering the warm and tranquil sea or nearby island pool. Follow your dip with a shaded rest on one of the islands many comfortable lounges or couples hammocks. Now is the time for a contemplative assessment of the joys of living. Little Palm Island is about Elysian serenity - your personal Shangri-La.
Dining on the Island
Food plays a role of cardinal importance at the Little Palm Island Resort and Spa. Savor a focused cuisine of Latin ingredients and French techniques. The menu created under the influence of Corporate Executive Chef Luis Pous, and enhanced and orchestrated by Executive Chef Brendan Mica and his team is nothing less than superb.
Need we say more than Zagat rated the Little Palm Dining Room as the third best dining facility in the United States, and number one in the state of Florida.
The menu choices are both sophisticated and approachable, and reflect the location and relaxed atmosphere of Little Palm Island.
For our appetizer, we chose a uniquely presented shrimp cocktail.
Our main courses consisted of Key West Lobster accompanied by sweet corn, apples, fennel, onions, and Caviar Beurre Blanc and Rosemary Braised Short Ribs with a lavish medley of aged white Cheddar, creamed potatoes, mushrooms, truffle, and crispy shallots.
The night is young
As guests opened and closed French doors between the restaurant and adjoining lounge, we could hear barely audible conversations and laughter. Even with the doors closed, we enjoyed the faint familiar tunes being played by an entertainer on the lounge piano.
An after dinner digestif, accompanied by the murmured tinkling of piano keys in another room - and a sky full of seemingly touchable stars - it does not get more romantic than this. The late Paul Newman, and Marvin Hamlisch relaxed in this restaurant - we suspect they were equally captivated by the setting.
If you go
Little Palm Island Resort is the Florida address of the elite traveler. It has a cachet that will appeal to those with discriminating travel tastes. We recommend it to anyone wanting to experience the luxury of exclusive private island vacationing.
For more information about availability, services and rates, look at the Little Palm Island Resort and Spa website at http://www.littlepalmisland.com/
Wayne and Judy will be photographing, and writing more stories about Florida destinations in the future. If you would like to be notified by email the next time one of their travel articles appears, just click subscribe near their byline photo above.
© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff
Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff
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