81801 Overseas Highway, Islamorada, Florida; cheeca.com.
The Cheeca Lodge & Spa, a storied Florida Keys hotel where presidents and celebrity athletes have fished and basked for decades, reopened March 30, six months after Hurricane Irma decimated the sprawling property with its powerful winds and 8-foot surge. The storm wrecked the lobby, dock, pools, restaurants and landscaping. But $25 million later, the lodge, which is no stranger to hurricanes, is back, with a redesigned look.
The new breezy lobby has a modern vibe (some repeat guests we spoke with called it a downgrade), the 525-foot dock stretches into the horizon once again, and the Tiki Bar beckons with sugar-laced mojitos and rum-soaked mangoladas. As of May, post-hurricane kinks remained, though, a sign that the reopening may have come too quickly. Phones and televisions weren’t working properly in all rooms, according to some visitors. The nine-hole golf course looked downtrodden. Construction noise intruded on paradise. And while the food was wonderful, service sometimes stumbled.
Gorgeous. The Cheeca Lodge & Spa sits on the Atlantic Ocean on Upper Matecumbe Key, about two hours from Miami. The site is nirvana for fishing enthusiasts and boaters. The beach is small and pleasant but not idyllic (few are in the Keys).
Our 415-square-foot bungalow on concrete stilts, one of the cheaper options available, was cool, quiet and comfortable. It stood by the swimming pool and offered a partial view of the beach. The vaulted ceiling made the room feel spacious. The polished wood floor was a treat, considering most rooms are carpeted. A simple king-size bed frame held a plush, inviting mattress. A television hung on the wall with a DVD player underneath. My favorite spot was the screened-in porch with two unfussy brown wicker chairs and a small table, where I indulged my favorite pastime: gazing at the ocean.
Among the features is a large shower with a rain showerhead and a spray hose. (There was no tub.) The glass door didn’t shut tightly, so water dribbled out. Two stand-alone sinks ensconced in chocolate-colored vanities sat across from each other, looking a bit scuffed.
The hotel’s signature restaurant, Atlantic’s Edge, lets guests dine by the beach or inside by the lobby. The chef, Phillip Lowd, serves seafood, much of it local, with a tropical twist, as well as steaks. The Tiki Bar offers food, too, and I devoured my yummy lobster quesadilla, but maybe that’s because it took 45 minutes to arrive. Next door, Mia Cucina, a new pizzeria, caters to families. Another upscale eatery, Nikai Sushi Bar and Restaurant, reopened in April on the second floor.
With the Atlantic as a backyard, fishing, swimming, snorkeling and sailing are the crowd favorites. Kayaks are free to use (but the translucent one costs money to rent). Guests can also play tennis, and golf on a par-3, Jack Nicklaus-designed course. For those wishing to brave the heat, beach cruisers are free. A small but lovely spa offers extra relaxation; my facial was superb.
Kudos to the Cheeca Lodge for its comeback from adversity and for keeping its employees on the payroll as it renovated. But the hotel may have rushed its reopening and at the moment falls short of the luxury standards that many guests had come to expect.
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