As a travel journalist, people often ask me: “What’s the best place you’ve ever been?” Or, “If you could go back to one place, where would it be?” In the past half decade, I’ve been fortunate enough to visit many of the world’s most beautiful vistas and stay at some of the fanciest resorts in picturesque settings such as Italy’s Amalfi Coast, Ireland’s Ring of Kerry and Scotland’s remote highlands.
So it’s a challenging––and fun––question. Having given it serious thought, I have to say that if I could return to one resort out of all the destinations I travelled in the past couple years, it would be Little Palm Island Resort & Spa off the Florida Keys.
The private, 5-acre island resort off-shore from the southernmost tip of the United States offers its own unique slice of paradise. Countless factors make Little Palm Island stand out––it was named the No. 1 beach resort in the U.S. by Travel & Leisure––so I’ll do my best to highlight 5 reasons why it tops my list.
1. The Setting
You leave your car and main-land mentality behind at Little Palm’s welcome station near Key West, then take a 15-minute cruise onboard a 1930s-style motor boat to reach the private island. When my wife and I visited in October of 2013, we were immediately greeted at the landing dock by Renda, a blonde from Ohio who fell in love with the island a decade ago and is now a Little Palm Island manager. “Welcome! You must be Tony and Jodie! The staff will take your bags. Come with me, I’ll give you a tour of the island.”
We smiled in awe of the path Renda led us down––a West-facing dining room on the edge of the beach; a sequestered pool shaded by giant palm trees next to an outdoor bar; a marina with kayaks, paddle boards and motorboats for us to use whenever we wanted; a rustic library with a take-a-book, leave-a-book policy as well as the only TV on the island; an over-size chess board beside the trail to a plush spa; a Zen garden and a gazebo overlooking the ocean; and, finally, at the far corner of the island, our romance suite: a thatched-roof bungalow on the water complete with our own fire-pit, deck, outdoor Jacuzzi and open-air bamboo shower.
“The reason we’re consistently voted one of the top hotels in the world is because we truly embrace our mantra, ‘Get Lost,’” said Matt Trahan, the regional managing director of Little Palm Island’s parent company, Noble House Hotels & Resorts. “Guests get to disconnect from the real world and re-connect with each other, and the island has a very peaceful vibe in the lap of luxury.”
It’s a vibe similar to that found in the South Pacific or West Indies, and as amazed as I am that such a luxurious, jungle-island paradise exists anywhere on earth, I am almost equally surprised that all I had to do to reach it was jump on a plane to Miami and drive a couple hours. To me, that convenience and low-cost in reaching the resort scores it major points. It also makes it more desirable to return to Little Palm Island, since it’s not exactly easy to devote days to traveling to far-flung corners of the globe.
“Many people think that the serene ambiance of Little Palm can only be found thousands of miles away,” Trahan said. “With only 30 suites on a 5-acre island, privacy and solitude are definite. Of course, there are many activities to do, from deep-sea fishing to sea plane tours.”
2. The Service
Every Noble House Hotels & Resorts property I’ve ever visited has offered truly great service. Not the easy-to-claim “great service” you see plastered on the website of every hotel in the U.S., but the type of dedication by committed individuals, like Renda, who learn your name and your preferences, and who make your stay so much better that you remember them years later.
At Little Palm’s welcome station on the mainland, a greeter checking us in before the boat ride to the island had asked if there was any special occasion that brought us to Little Palm. Jodie had responded casually: “No, not really, but we’re kind of celebrating our anniversary.”
The next night we had dinner on the beach by the tikki torches. When we opened the menu, we saw a shocking headline at the top of the menu: “Happy 4th Anniversary Mr. and Mrs. Capecchi.” Even the banana split I ordered for dessert was adorned with a chocolate “Happy Anniversary” wish. All because of one comment my wife made. Now that, is truly great service.
With personal touches like that, it’s no wonder why guests return to Little Palm Island Resort & Spa as if it’s a religious pilgrimage. One couple was married at Little Palm Island 18 years ago (the island offers a wedding coordinator among its 110-person staff and celebrates 30 weddings a year) and has returned every year since. In 2014, the couple brought their twin daughters to celebrate their birthday with a Sweet Sixteen celebration on the beach.
3. The Fishing
It’s easy to see why Little Palm Island was once the favored fishing camp for Presidents Truman, Roosevelt and Kennedy. Besides the setting, the service and the food (which I’ll get to next), Little Palm Island is literally surrounded by fish. I caught close to 100 fish a day during my stay, including over half a dozen species that were new to me. Most of my fish came simply while fishing from shore while my wife sunbathed on the beach a few yards away, but my favorite highlight came catching a shark while fishing on a stand-up paddle board.
It was also quite entertaining to feed the fish I caught to Spencer, Little Palm Island’s resident heron. After tossing Spencer a few snappers, I became his new best friend and he took one fish literally out of my hand.
4. The Dining Experience
Dining at Little Palm Island is quite the experience. The Dining Room, created by distinguished executive Chef Luis Pous, was named “Best Hotel Dining Experience” in Florida and third best in the entire U.S. by Zagat Survey. For good reason, it received Zagat’s highest possible scores with an “extraordinary to perfection” distinction.
Pous’ Cuban heritage and love of the Caribbean have inspired him to create unique dishes such as Foie Gras Cuban sandwiches and Key West lobster with apple, truffle, tarragon and Key Lime risotto. The food is delicious, but the atmosphere is what takes the dining to another level.
I already mentioned the personalized dinner menu for our anniversary, but I failed to describe our table. It was on the beach, mere feet from the ocean. A key deer wandered up to our table, while a live pianist played in the background, and the stars above teamed with tikki torches to provide us with light. Unforgettable.
5. The Adventures
The quantity and quality of activities and adventures awaiting at Little Palm Island are amazing. My wife and I enjoyed a private sailboat ride on the LilyAnna, a sleek 38-foot Admiral-class Catamaran built in South Africa. Our captain brought us to the best snorkeling site we’ve ever enjoyed, plus we trolled along the way and caught barracuda and goliath grouper.
Every stay at Little Palm Island also includes complementary usage of stand-up paddleboards, Boston Whaler motor boats, fishing poles and shrimp for bait. The staff provides a helpful map and instructions on fun adventures you can go on yourself with the boats––for example motoring to nearby snorkeling hotspots or visiting one of Little Palm’s nearby vacant islands for birding or beachcombing.
It’s tempting to spend all day at Little Palm Island on the beach or in the pool with a drink in hand (and you should definitely do that for at least one day), but by the same token you could spend a month at the resort and never get bored with all of the adventurous possibilities.
Of all the places I’ve traveled to in the past couple years, Little Palm Island Resort & Spa is definitely the one place I’d most like to return. Lucky for me, I’ll have a chance to do just that in May of 2015! To say I’m excited would a huge understatement.
I rarely return anywhere twice because there are so many sites in the world I won’t get a chance to see even once before my one and only life is over, but Little Palm Island is a very, very special place. The more days I spend on that island, the better. And as the website says, it is “so close, yet so far away.”
I will be writing a series of articles on my adventures at Little Palm Island this spring, as well as shooting a daily video blog highlighting my life on paradise island. Who knows? Perhaps I’ll hook another big shark on a paddle board, or have a key deer buck walk up to me during dinner on the beach, or catch a giant barracuda while sailing into the sunset.
I do know this: It will be memorable, and I will have many great photos, videos and stories to share. So please wish me well on the adventure, and stay tuned for terrific tales of island adventure next spring.
The website for Little Palm Island Resort & Spa is www.littlepalmisland.com. To contact the resort, call 800.343.8567 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the Florida Keys and other fun things to do in the area, visit www.fla-keys.com.