The last thing I expected to see on my first visit to an all-inclusive resort was a room with a full, separate kitchen.
But there it was, here at the year-old Key West Luxury Village at Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort Villages, which May 18 held a grand opening ceremony.
The 157-room village joins the resort's Caribbean Village, French Village and Italian Village and brings the resort's room total to 770 over 85 acres. (Click here or on the images for more photos from Key West Luxury Village.)
Key West, so named because of the architectural style of the villas and suites, was opened in what is the former Veranda resort adjacent to Beaches. Sandals Resorts International acquired the property in December 2012.
The interiors of the one- and two-bedroom suites, studios and villas were refinished in 2013 to make them more kid- and family-friendly and given a simple, neutral decor designed to have a Key West and Cape Cod feel.
Because the former project was built as condominiums, all accommodations besides the studios have full kitchens. But Butch Stewart, founder and chairman of Sandals, admitted that people aren't going to be slaving over the stoves here.
"Nobody's going to do any cooking," he said. "We wouldn't have put them in, but they are there."
However, he said, families do appreciate the refrigerator and being able to make coffee in the morning. I myself was grateful to be able to refrigerate snacks for my 1-year-old and to have a kitchen sink to wash his cups and utensils.
A testament to how little actually cooking is done: My stove was not plugged in, and the cabinets contained just one plate and a couple of spoons.
And there's little reason to cook here; Beaches added three restaurants to the village during the renovation, giving the resort a total of 19 places to eat.
The separate living and sleeping areas of the one- and two-bedroom units is a huge plus for families, especially with little ones who nap during the day. And the spacious living room easily accommodates a crib without having to remove any furniture.
All accommodations at Key West have either terraces or balconies.
Besides the studios and suites in the Veranda House, Key West has eight 2,847-square-foot beachfront villas. Each white villa with blue trim has a private plunge pool and a grassy front yard surrounded by a white picket fence, evoking the look and feel of a Key West home. Villas include butler service.
The village's three al fresco eateries are Bayside Restaurant, offering an international cuisine buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner with evening entertainment; Sky Lounge, located on the roof above Bayside and open for breakfast and dinner, offering Italian and seafood specialties with sweeping views of Grace Bay Beach; and Neptunes, a cozy restaurant next to the beach meant to emulate a seaside bistro on Italy's Amalfi coast, specializing in seafood tagine and bisque.
Key West is the most upscale village at Beaches and has the highest price point of the four, a position formerly occupied by the 162-unit Italian Village. As Stewart said, Beaches has never had trouble attracting high-end clientele, and Key West is another option for that market.
"The Italian Village elevated it, and Key West elevates it some more," Stewart said of the Beaches experience.
Key West marks Beaches' first major expansion since the Italian Village debuted in 2009. The resort and Turks and Caicos have both come a long way since Beaches opened with the Caribbean village in the mid-'90s and had to charter its own flights to get its guests to the island, back before there was a paved road from the airport to the property.
Since that time, CEO Adam Stewart said, Beaches has learned a lot about children.
"When we first opened Beaches, it was a Sandals with coloring books; we were wondering why the children were so temperamental," he said jokingly. "Now it's the best all-inclusive for children in the world."
Among the singular experiences children can have at Beaches, Adam Stewart pointed out that it is the only resort that offers in-pool-only scuba diving for children as young as 8 years old.
In addition, the resort has partnered with Sesame Street for 10 years, offering breakfasts, reading hours and dancing with Big Bird, Elmo and the rest of the characters. Even cooking with Cookie Monster, Adam Stewart pointed out.
The company is in the process of unveiling 17 new concepts for children, including a BMX biking experience and blacklight bowling.
Key West room rates start at $460 per person per night; rates for the oceanfront villas begin at $1,640.
Follow Johanna Jainchill on Twitter @jjainchilltw.