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The ‘Keys’ to Romance

An island honeymoon will unlock your unbridled enthusiasm for solitude.

After the balloons on the dance floor have deflated, the bar has shut down and the guests have stumbled home, you’re going to crave some serious “just us” time. Rushing off to Rome sounds divine—and it is—but the Big Pizza is a crowded, cacophonous city. What you’re looking for is seclusion in a balmy, seductive atmosphere, and there are few better places to find it than on a tiny island in Florida or in the Caribbean.

Privacy Is a Privilege

Looking for that ultimate honeymoon destination just outside of Florida? Less than two hours from Miami, just off Ambergris Caye in Belize, Cayo Espanto is a private island with just seven villas. Leonardo DiCaprio was so enchanted by the place he teamed up with the island’s owner to purchase his own island nearby, where he is building a Four Seasons Resort. The rates for Cayo Espanto are steep, but they come with a private butler, three gourmet meals daily, a motor launch to get you back and forth from San Pedro on Ambergris Caye and the use of a sailboat. Outstanding fly fishing, snorkeling and scuba diving are just offshore. The resort also organizes day trips to Caracol, the largest Mayan site in Belize, and other area attractions. Rates start at $1,295 a night for the Casa Ventanas, a one-bedroom bungalow built over the water at the end of a 150-foot pier, and range up to $11,000 per night for the entire island with accommodations for 18 guests. aprivateisland.com; 888-666-4282


 

Fly High on Duck Key

Nestled among 60 tropical acres on Duck Key about halfway between Islamorada and Key West, Hawks Cay Island Resort is a AAA Four Diamond hotel. The grounds are stellar, and you have your choice of a room, suite or villa in a variety of settings: dockside for easy access to fishing, harbor side near the saltwater lagoon, or in an ultra-private gated retreat. Some villas feature a private plunge pool or, in the Sanctuary, a private in-ground pool. There are also six resort pools, on-site fishing charters, snorkeling, kayaking, a dolphin swim experience, a marina and the award-winning Calm Waters Spa. There are plenty of restaurants within driving distance, but with five on-site eateries—including the highly regarded Alma helmed by the former chef of the Palace Hotel Gstaad—you won’t need to leave if you don’t want to. Hawks Cay does offer a discount to Florida residents; during the summer and fall you’ll pay between $195 a night for an island view room up to $399 nightly for a two-bedroom, two-bath harbor villa, with larger accommodations and special locations a bit more. hawkscay.com; 888-395-5539


The Key for Lovers

For years, the only way to get to this tiny scrap of land dangling at the south end of Fort Myers Beach was by boat. As it was said only lovers took the time to make the journey, the name Lovers Key stuck. Most of the key is now a state park, and little Lovers Key Resort takes full advantage of its isolated location. Its suites are located in a compact tower surrounded by miles and miles of undeveloped beachfront. There’s the requisite lagoon-style pool and a well-known waterfront restaurant, Flippers, on site. Aside from those gorgeous beaches, nearby recreation includes fishing, kayaking, bird watching and the more cosmopolitan attractions of Fort Myers (19 miles), Bonita Springs (12 miles) and Naples (23 miles). Prices vary by room and floor, but in the off-season from Memorial Day through Christmas expect to pay between $139 and $189 per night — a great price for this kind of solitude. loverskey.com; 877-798-4879


South of South Beach

Miami may not pop into your head as a place for peace and quiet, but the city offers more than pretentious party bars and salsa salons. Look just south of South Beach to find Key Biscayne, a little spit of heaven. The north and south ends of the island are parks (Crandon and Bill Baggs, respectively) and the Cape Florida lighthouse marks the island’s southern tip. In between is a tranquil strip that reminds us what much of Florida was like before the big population boom. Richard Nixon retreated to his Key Biscayne “Florida White House” more than 50 times during the Watergate scandal, and it’s still attracting those looking for a respite. The place you want to stay is The Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne, a AAA Five Diamond pleasure palace fronted by 1,200 feet of sand. Check into an 800-square-foot club level oceanfront suite and let the pleasures begin. You won’t really need to leave — there’s a 20,000-square-foot spa, world-class tennis facilities and a golf course five minutes away, and all of Miami is just a few miles west across the Rickenbacker Causeway. Shop in Coconut Grove, snorkel in Key Biscayne National Monument, club hop on South Beach or dare to go bare in the clothing optional section at Haulover Beach Park; there are a lot of ways to enjoy this paradise. Room rates, including tax, vary by season, but during the summer and fall expect $239-$729 a night for a standard double bedroom; $449-$999 for an oceanfront club level suite; and $3,000-$5,000 a night for the Presidential Suite. ritzcarlton.com; 305-365-4500


Ride Off Into the Sunset

There is nothing conventional about Key West. Formerly Florida’s largest city, it made its first fortune on shipwrecked merchant vessels, the next on smuggled rum and the one after that on drug running. The current golden goose is tourism, with thousands in town daily to gawk at the incongruous mix of Gilded Age grandeur and flophouse funk. All of those tourists keep Duval Street buzzing into the wee hours most nights, but you can be close to the madness without losing your sanity at the Westin Sunset Key Guest Cottages. Sunset Key is a 27-acre islet just off the cruise-ship dock in Key West Harbor. While the city always feels crowded, here you can spread out in an oceanfront cottage with a full kitchen; some with a private plunge pool. There’s a private sand beach, zero-entry pool and tennis on site, a spa, restaurant and hot, fresh muffins delivered to your cottage every morning. Because there’s no bridge, there are no cars on Sunset Key — you get to and from downtown aboard the resort’s 24-hour shuttle launch. So if you decide to hang with the crowd closing down Duval Street one night, you’ll have a way back to your cottage. Rates are seasonal, of course, but respective fall to summer ranges run about $635-$800 a night for a one-bedroom garden view cottage and $1,150-$1,380 nightly for an oceanfront two-bedroom. westinsunsetkeycottages.com; 800-937-8461


Go West, Young Lovers

The Gulf Coast is peppered with perfect romantic retreats. The Longboat Key Club & Resort just west of Sarasota is one of the best. This luxuriously renovated, 218-room beachfront beauty is on the Gulf overlooking the passage between Longboat Key and Siesta Key. With white sand tailor-made for long (really long) sunset strolls, the Resort & Club has the other expected amenities—golf, stellar tennis facilities, a 9,000-square-foot spa and restaurants. It also has ocean view suites with kitchens, its own marina (35 feet and up, please) and is just a few miles from the outstanding shopping and dining of St. Armand’s Circle. Tucked among the boutiques you’ll find Café L’Europe, a stellar Continental restaurant located in the 1926 real-estate office of circus impresario and Sarasota developer John Ringling. A visit to Ringling’s opulent estate, the Ca d’Zan, and the Old Masters paintings housed in the Ringling Museum of Art are a must, but the real romance is on that endless stretch of sugar-white beach just outside the Resort. Rates are at their lowest in summer and fall, but expect to pay between $189 a night for a base room up to $650 a night for a deluxe two-bedroom beach-view suite. longboatkeyclub.com; 888-237-5545


Siesta Time

Sarasota has more than its share of keys: The luxurious Longboat, laid-back Manasota, beachy Lido and the most relaxed of all, Siesta Key. The town, Siesta Village, has all of the necessities (restaurants, drug store, beach goods emporium, the Big Olaf ice cream shop) and block upon block of villas for rent. Most of these are not on the ocean, but The Palm Bay Club is. Technically, The Palm Bay Club has two waterfronts, as the property runs from the Gulf back to the bay. The villas are one- to three-bedroom condos in buildings scattered along the narrow rectangular grounds. While there are no restaurants on property, it’s a short drive to Siesta Key Village or any of the eateries along the beach road. The Palm Bay Club does have a fitness room, two pools, a hot tub, tennis courts, a fishing pier and—most important—a private beach. Rates are very attractive, especially in the off-season fall months, with one-bedroom units starting at $135 a night and three bedrooms topping out at $300 nightly. This is the place to go slow—and take plenty of siestas, pardon the pun.
palmbayclub.com; 800-725-6229


Get Lost

Perdido (Spanish for “lost”) Key is as far west as you can go in Florida. The island not only has some of America’s top-ranked beaches and two wildlife refuges, it’s also the location of the famed Flora-Bama Lounge, a bar that sits athwart the Florida-Alabama state line and hosts America’s only Interstate Mullet Toss. The upper-end choice here is a rental apartment in the Eden Condominium, a high-rise building directly on the Gulf of Mexico. One- to three-bedroom units overlooking the ocean are available and all have access to the Eden’s amenities: a boat dock, fitness club, spa, indoor pool (for the cooler months) and outdoor pools. The beach in front of the Eden is a paradise, and Johnson Beach to the east has miles of completely undeveloped sandy shoreline. There’s also excellent offshore fishing, kayak expeditions, snorkeling and golf nearby. If your idea of a grand honeymoon is strolling the sand by day and slurping down ocean-fresh oysters by night, Perdido is a winner. And if you’re getting married in April, make a note that the Mullet Toss is held the last full weekend of that month each year. There are four seasonal rates ranging from $140-$570 per night depending on the number of bedrooms and location of the units. edencondominiums.com; 800-523-8141  n

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