We were near Boca Raton, Fla., leisurely making our way to the Florida Keys, when we realized we'd have to get up at 6 a.m. to make it: The shark tooth dig was at 10 o'clock, and my 6-year-old son had been talking about it for days.
The dig is among a plethora of activities offered at the Isla Bella Beach Resort, which opened up on 24 acres last year in Marathon, in the Middle Keys.
A resident manatee at the Isla Bella Beach Resort’s marina in Marathon, Fla. Photo Credit: TW photo by Johanna Jainchill
During my visit in March, just as the Covid-19 pandemic was causing panic around the U.S., families at the resort were busy having fun. Aside from the shark tooth hunt, my son took part in hermit crab races, a coin diving contest and coconut painting. He was also thrilled to realize there was a friendly manatee pair, a mother and calf, living in the resort's marina.
There was also plenty for older kids to do, like cornhole, pingpong and oversized Connect Four and chess, and organized adult activities like a paint-and-sip class and beach yoga.
The 199-room property was built at the site of a former RV park, and every room has Atlantic Ocean views from a deck with comfy, white wicker furniture. Each of the three-story accommodation complexes has its own pool behind it, in addition to the large main pool, which has a bar and lunch menu.
Catching the sunset on the waterfront at Isla Bella, which features a 200-foot beach. Photo Credit: TW photo by Johanna Jainchill
An Isla Bella standout feature is its 200-foot beach, not easy real estate to come by in the Keys. The sandy strip has shaded daybeds and loungers. With the beach, five pools and so many activities, guests are naturally distanced around the property, and no one area was ever crowded.
That changes around dusk. Isla Bella's Beach Bar is the place to be at sunset, and if you want a good viewing spot, arrive early. Low-slung tables and chairs offer terrific views of the sun dipping into the Gulf of Mexico behind Seven Mile Bridge.
Also important is to book early for a table at Il Postino, the resort's main restaurant. It fills up quickly during prime time, especially its outdoor patio, which also offers sunset views. The Italian eatery specializes in brick oven pizza and local seafood.
Bicycles for guests at Oceans Edge. Photo Credit: TW photo by Johanna Jainchill
Oceans Edge Resort
Our last stop in the Florida Keys was near the end of the road.
Oceans Edge Resort & Marina Key West opened in 2017 as one of the first resorts on Stock Island, sometimes called the last of Old Key West and known for being an artsy, laid-back counterpart to its boisterous neighbor to the west. An hourly shuttle to downtown Key West offers guests the best of both worlds.
It seemed like not a guest was absent for sunset at the Beach Bar at Isla Bella Beach Resort in Marathon, Fla.
Oceans Edge does not specifically focus on young children, but there is plenty to do with six saltwater pools and poolside games. Older children will love the many activities, such as biking, stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking, all offered right from the resort's marina.
The ambience is also relaxed and friendly. Its main restaurant offers an inventive Asian and Keys-inspired menu and felt both refined and family-friendly. One local was even able to bring her parrot to the bar, the highlight of my son's meal.
Every room at Oceans Edge has a balcony facing the sea, by night offering warm views of the lit-up, 165-slip marina.
And for those whose family vacation isn't complete without having the four-legged, furry ones in tow, Oceans Edge is very dog-friendly and even has a waterfront dog park, so they can enjoy the views, too.