The Cheeca Lodge & Spa in Islamorada was already the premier hospitality property in the middle Keys, but recent additions have augmented the one-time fishing camp's attractiveness for luxury visitors to Florida.
In March, the 27-acre resort acquired 10 stand-alone homes and associated facilities from the Moorings, its neighbor resort to the south.
It also acquired two restaurants on the bay side of U.S. 1 that were under the same ownership: Pierre's, a two-story fine dining restaurant serving Creole-style French cuisine, and Morada Bay Beach Cafe, a more casual venue with an extensive sand beach.
On a recent trip through the Keys, I had a chance to tour the entire Cheeca property as well as the houses, which Cheeca has rebranded as the Casitas.
"It's like a village, it's like a little neighborhood," said Cheeca Lodge's general manager, Paul Scott. "It's a campus that's very different from a hotel resort environment. It's a little more spread out. You have your own domain.
An interior view of one of the Casitas recently acquired by the Cheeca Lodge. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
"We've had families come down and rent the entire space. It's all yours, and it's completely private," Scott said. "That's really where the diversification comes in, [a feature] that a general purpose resort just doesn't have."
The Cheeca acquisition includes eight two-story houses away from the beach and two one-story villas with oceanfront views. The Casitas beachfront, tennis courts and a premium pool will remain exclusive to Casitas guests, but those guests can now seamlessly use the complimentary facilities at the Cheeca Lodge, including watersports, golf, a spa and fishing from a 525-foot-long pier.
Strolling the grounds of the new property I got the feeling of something more laid-back and less crowded than the Cheeca property, which now has 214 accommodations. The Key West-style Casitas range from 750 to 2,100 square feet and include large, furnished porches; kitchens; bathrooms with rainfall showerheads and large soaking tubs; and a washer and dryer.
Butler service and private chefs are also available. The nightly rate on the Casitas in July, a high season for the Keys, is about $1,400.
Guests at the Casitas can use all of the amenities at the Cheeca Lodge such as its 525-foot fishing pier. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
The Cheeca Lodge's Atlantic's Edge seafood restaurant already enjoys a reputation as one of the top dining spots in the Keys, but Scott said the atmosphere is more family-friendly and less formal than Pierre's, which is distinguished by the complexity of its menu.
"Pierre's, you'd probably feel like you'd want to be a little more dressed. It's a little more romantic, more ambience, subdued lighting, florals, things of that nature," Scott said.
Morada Bay's signature has been a monthly full-moon party on its sandy beach, which has been curbed since March by coronavirus concerns. Nonetheless, a large outdoor seating capacity should help it during the pandemic.
The bayside location also offers a sunset view, an important restaurant draw in the Keys. Both restaurants will provide new venues for Cheeca's social and corporate events.