By Liz Doup, South Florida Sun Sentinel
December 30, 2009
cheeca.com; 305-664-4651; 800-327-2888
Back story: When a New Year's Eve fire closed this historic lodge in 2008, it torched more than a building. The lodge has a long and storied history in the Florida Keys, rooted in the Olney Inn, which opened in 1946 and boasted Harry Truman as a guest.
In the mid-'60s, new owners added the lodge to the Olney Inn's 22 bungalows and gave it the Cheeca moniker. Cynthia Twitchell, an A&P grocery chain heiress, combined her nickname "Chee" with her husband Carl's to come up with Cheeca.
Purchased by businessman Jeremy Johnson and the Johnson family in 2003, the buildings and grounds underwent extensive renovation. Then, after the fire, the lodge was completely rebuilt and opened in December.
Though it's a new, modern lodge, it kept some of its old flavor. Guests still enter the lodge through a sweeping, palm-studded porte cochere. Pass through floor-to-ceiling glass doors and you're at the ocean-front tiki bar, where tiki torches illuminate the night.
Decorated in warm woods and rich tropical colors that remind you of papaya and mango, the luxury resort sprawls over 27 acres and includes 212 guestrooms, bungalows and suites scattered about the property. The lodge itself includes 62 suites, each with an open-air soaking tub.
Located on the Atlantic and secluded from the main highway, the four-story resort emanates luxury without feeling stuffy. It's the laid-back Keys, after all.
Just for fun: The 525-foot wooden fishing pier is a signature attraction. The resort also includes two freshwater pools and a saltwater snorkeling lagoon. Jack Nicklaus designed the 9-hole golf course. For pampering, a full-service spa is available. For kids, there's Camp Cheeca, designed for 5- to 12-year-olds. The camp includes lagoon swims, pier fishing and arts and crafts.
Sleep well: Rooms have West Indies-inspired décor and are equipped with plasma screen TVs, mini refrigerators and in-room safes. The lodge's rooms are 840 square feet with balconies and floor-to-ceiling glass walls that open to views of the ocean or the resort property.
Rooms in the outlying buildings range in size. Example: a traditional double queen room: 361 square feet. A traditional one-bedroom suite: 681 square feet.
The 2,000-square-foot penthouse suite includes two bedrooms, two baths and a 360 degree view that takes in the ocean and the island.
Eat, drink and be merry: Waterfront restaurants include the Nikai Sushi Bar serving such specialties as truffled tuna and escolar carpaccio. The Atlantic's Edge offers seafood and Kobe steaks. About 150 bottles of wine are displayed on a wine wall.
Celeb cache: As a reminder of the hotel's past, historic black and white photos line the resort's halls, including photos of George H.W. Bush, who first visited Cheeca Lodge in the '70s. An avid angler, he's returned over the years, co-founding the George Bush-Cheeca Lodge Bonefish Tournament in 1994.
In the past, the Cheeca has hosted numerous notables, including Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Jack Parr, Ted Williams and Jack Nicklaus.
Attractions: Islamorada, located mid-way between Miami and Key West, is known for fishing; several charter boat services are available. Other nearby attractions include Theater of the Sea (a dolphin encounter), Indian Key Historic State Park and John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.
Prices: The lodge offers more than a dozen room arrangements. Regular rates on the website range from $249 to $699. Penthouse suite: $5,500. Tax: 12.5 percent. Resort fee: $39 daily per room.
Special packages are featured on the website, including spa, Valentine's Day and snorkeling packages.
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