Lucky guests of the lauded, exclusive and pricey (funny how those three things so often go together) Little Palm Island Resort & Spa are welcomed into the elegant Shore Station where bags are whisked away, cars are parked (you won’t need them where you’re going) and hands are filled with a glass of champagne or a refreshing Gumby Slumber—the resort’s signature rum punch—made from coconut rum, spiced rum, pineapple, orange and cranberry juice topped with a “shot" of shredded coconut that’s been marinated in 151 proof rum.
And you haven’t even reached the island resort yet.
To do that, you board one of three petite wooden-hulled yachts that the resort operates for its guests. After a sunny and smooth 15 minute ride on The Truman (which has leather seats in a shade of blue-green that’s just slightly darker than the color of the crystal clear water), I disembark on the dock at Little Palm which occupies a five acre island three miles from the Shore Station in the midst of the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary.
Although I know there are 30 thatched roof cottages here (28 one bedrooms at 550 square feet each and 2 suites at 1,000 square feet each), it’s so silent and peaceful that I feel like I’m the only one on the island. Adding to the pleasing sense of being stranded alone in the lap of luxury are a surprising number of secluded, almost hidden nooks and crannies around the island each outfitted with benches and the resort’s wonderful landscaping that somehow manages to tame the natural flora without crushing its spirit.
The fauna seem to like it too and the place attracts exotic birds as well as a few intrepid key deer who swim and island-hop their way out to Little Palm where they vex the gardeners (but delight the guests) with their constant munching. There’s so much wildlife on and around the island that every bungalow comes stocked with a pair of Bushnell binoculars and a blessedly concise bird guide.
“Do nothing” is Little Palm’s motto and the serenity of the place makes it an easy rule to follow, though a few “activities” vie for your time and attention. In addition to a gorgeous white sand beach with comfy lounge chairs, umbrellas and the attentive service needed to take full advantage of the real estate, the resort also has a shady and intimate freshwater pool that’s kept at 85 degrees and a shop well-stocked with everything from island essentials like Lily Pulitzer tees and Ralph Lauren swimsuits to giftable buys like one of a kind jewelry and handcrafted wooden bowls.
Then there’s the resort’s serene Spa Terre with a full menu of products and services which can even be booked in a unique outdoor treatment bungalow nestled quietly in the Zen Garden, featuring a Vichy shower and outdoor hot tub along with an authentic Indonesian reclining bed and a Ofuro-Japanese soaking tub. Bliss.
Dining is also serious business at Little Palm Island with an award-winning restaurant that creatively and consistently turns out everything from a pool-side Ceasar salad to a serano ham pizza snack to homemade sorbet served to beach-goers every afternoon as a refreshing pick me up. Dinner, served inside, on a covered patio or on the beach, includes an array of entrees for every palate, though ala carte prices are high ($64 entrees and $25 salads are not uncommon), so consider booking your stay on a full board rate (about $200 per person per day).
Whatever you do, make sure your stay includes a Saturday or a Sunday so you can experience the resort’s rightfully famous opulent yet casual weekend brunch. Just be prepared to make some hard decisions. Prawns or oysters? French toast or poached eggs? And start training now for the open DIY bloody Mary and mimosa bars which feature ingredients so fresh and varied (a half dozen different types of salt, fresh fruit purees) that a cocktail almost constitutes a meal and no one can have just one.
Bungalows 15 and 16 are the most recently renovated and the resort is considering adopting the new cleaner, more modern look and feel in every bungalow. All accommodations, however, have an indoor and outdoor shower, a private deck and really irresistible beds but no telephones no TVs (except for one recently and reluctantly installed in the library for guests desperate for sports scores), no alarm clocks and certainly no cell phones— throughout the resort grounds discarded devices can be seen nailed to boards with the words “Can you hear me now?” scrawled below them.
Other surprisingly playful touches include the Fish Cam, an old metal diving helmet mounted on the Sunset Dock and equipped with a monitor inside the mask that relays real-time images of the fish swimming around below your feet.
Little Palm consistently earns a place on the world’s best “best of” lists (best design, most romantic, best suite, best restaurant) including being named one of the “World’s Best Places to Stay” on the 2008 Conde Nast Traveler Gold List, improving on its 2007 ranking by seven points. But the resort is not content to rest on its laurels. In keeping with the times and customer eco demand, Little Palm is currently considering a switch to marine bio diesel fuel for all of its yachts and the spa offers an innovative three night Sleep Sanctuary program, in conjunction with Sleep Garden, that incorporates everything from aromatherapy, music, bedtime rituals and spa treatments to addresses one of guests’ biggest wellness issues. Some places really do deserve to be lauded, exclusive and pricey.
Little Palm Island Resort & Spa
28500 Overseas Highway
Little Torch Key, FL 33042
Phone: (800) 343- 8567
In April, 2006 peripatetic journalist Karen Catchpole left her job as deputy editor of SHOP Etc. magazine in New York City and embarked on the Trans-Americas Journey, a three year, 150,000+ mile working road trip through North, Central and South America. When she's not reviewing luxury hotels, resorts, ranches and B&Bs, she can be found enjoying the nearest campground. .
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