Cheeca Lodge creates 'a village'

Cheeca Lodge creates 'a village'
Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

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.
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.
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.


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