Cheeca Lodge in the Florida Keys, comprised of 27 private, lushly landscaped acres, is a destination of classic elegance that has attracted world-famous figures, as well as honeymooners and families since 1946. With more than 1,200 feet of palm-fringed beach, this AAA-rated Four Diamond resort is home of the George Bush Presidential Retreat and the Curt Gowdy Lounge. For many years, former President George H.W. Bush hosted an annual bone fishing tournament here to raise money for charity, with the late Gowdy, known as “the voice of the Boston Red Sox” and host of “The American Sportsman,” involved in the effort.
A key feature of this barefoot playground 75 miles south of Miami is a 525-foot-long wooden pier jutting into the ocean from which boats embark on fishing tournaments, diving and snorkeling trips, and sunset cruises. Situated in Islamorada at Mile Marker 82 on Route 1 in a town known as the “Sport Fishing Capital of the World,” here is where tarpon, snook, and bonefish are caught minutes away from the dock.
After undergoing a $30-million renovation in 2004, Cheeca Lodge now consists of 199 rooms and suites, oceanfront bungalows, and the Presidential Retreat, which I had a chance to tour. The 681-square-foot oceanfront suite contains priceless mementos, including books and photos signed by the 41st President of the U.S.
Amenities at Cheeca include six tennis courts, two swimming pools, cabanas with flat-screen TVs, stocked ‘fridges and personal butlers, a par-3 Jack Nicklaus-designed 9-hole pitch-and-putt golf course, and a 5,000-square-foot spa.
A daily resort fee of $39 allows the use of tennis courts and equipment, green fees and clubs and balls, fishing rods, kayaks, paddle boats, spa exercise classes, wireless Internet access and high-speed Internet stations in the lobby, in-room Starbucks coffee and bottled water, and DVD rentals. Windsurfers, catamarans, and motorboats are also available for rent.
A saltwater lagoon is stocked with native fish and the resort’s extensive tropical gardens highlight Cuban laurel and strawberry guava. CampCheeca caters to kids five to 12 with activities ranging from catch-and-release fishing on the pier and searching for wildlife in the lagoon to scavenger hunts and crafts programs.
When it comes to dining at Cheeca, many delights await. The lodge features a trio of eateries noted for their tropically inspired cuisine of exotic and naturally farmed meats and fish, and organically grown Florida produce.
Breakfast and lunch buffets are served in the open-air Ocean Terrace Grill, which has air-conditioned seating indoors and outdoor dining by the free-form family pool.
The Curt Gowdy Lounge offers stone crab, spiny lobster tail skewers and conch fritters. The walls of the oceanfront bar are adorned with trophy game fish and an extensive picture gallery of the many celebrities that have visited Cheeca. Prominent are photos of Gowdy and former President Bush.
Atlantic’s Edge, rated one of the most outstanding restaurants in the Florida Keys, is the fanciest on the property. Our party ordered several small plates to start, including stone crab pot stickers, spiny lobster dumplings, speck-wrapped diver scallops, braised short ribs, and ahi tuna. Following the advice of our friendly waiter, I selected the chef’s fresh catch creation – triple tail fish – which my companions said was a rare delight, a delicious, pearly white flaky fish similar in taste to hogfish. We enjoyed a bottle of Napa Valley Clos du Val cabernet sauvignon, followed by a couple of bottles of crisp, dry whites.
In addition to these delectable eating venues, Beach Tiki Bar, with its wide-screen plasma TV, serves drinks, seafood, pizza, and the renowned Cheeca burger. The champagne sunset cruise, which launches from the pier at Cheeca, includes a variety of appetizers.
Tucked away on Spaceland at the resort, Cheeca Spa is surrounded by a lagoon festooned with hammocks and lounge chairs set on wooden boardwalks on one side and the adults-only pool and cabanas on the other. You can unwind with your choice of treatments and locales, such as a Mother Earth massage, a gentleman’s facial or Thai table massage in the spa building, by the pool or in an oceanfront cabana.
My Cool Caribbean Body Elixir, designed to refresh skin after a day in the sun, begins with a stimulating rub with a dry loofah. Next, the therapist swirls into the skin sea tonic lotion, a minty gel enriched with a marine sugar extract. After ensconcing the feet in a self-heating mud mask, she gently rubs the face, scalp, and ears with a scented oil of your choice, warmed by her hands. More sea tonic lotion and later a quietly relaxing spell in a lounge chair by the water round out the elegant experience.
For more information on the luxurious accommodations at Cheeca Lodge, visit www.cheeca.com or call 800-327-2888.