The first clue that our weekend at the newly remodeled Cheeca Lodge & Spa would be a relaxing one was when a late-summer sun shower washed over the resort during an early morning yoga session.
The rain prompted our six-person class to move from the coarse sand of the beach to the smooth carpet of a second-floor conference room. The instructor opened the room’s broad patio doors. We inhaled the fresh air and felt its warmth on our bodies. We could see the water and hear its waves lapping against the sand. Our flow remained uninterrupted as we worked through our poses and as the shower gave way to pure sunshine.
In paradise, a little rain isn’t going to ruin anyone’s good time.
Bouncing Back After the Storm
Islamorada, like much of the Florida Keys, endured a lashing from Hurricane Irma last year. The storm forced Cheeca Lodge to close for six months, during which the owners poured $25 million into renovating everything from landscaping to guest rooms to dining venues.
The result is a refreshed, modern feel throughout the property that encapsulates the unrushed-yet-refined vibe of the Keys’ best resorts.
After yoga, my wife and I took our 7-month-old for a stroll onto Cheeca’s completely rebuilt pier. I rented one of the hotel’s complementary fishing rods — also brand new — and lazily dangled some bait shrimp over the edge, feeding a school of small snapper that swam underneath the dock.
Feast on Fresh Fish and More
I didn’t catch anything worth keeping, but executive chef Phillip Lowd works with actual fishermen every day to keep Cheeca’s on-site restaurants stocked with the freshest local fish and seafood. You don’t have to be a pescatarian to enjoy Cheeca’s fare, but it’s hard to be in the sportfishing capital of the world and not try the fresh fish.
We wanted seconds of the spinach and crab toast that Lowd serves at Atlantic’s Edge, the resort’s signature restaurant. A brightly acidic lemon foam, crunchy radish coins and sweet pearls of passion fruit balanced all the flavors and textures of the toast, keeping the last bite as intriguing as the first.
At Nikai, Cheeca’s Japanese-inspired restaurant, local wahoo gets the tataki treatment as an appetizer — lightly seared and dotted with cilantro oil and a yuzu-ponzu sauce. The fish’s firm white meat also finds its way into a playful roll called the Keysey Japanesey, accompanied by a Key lime glaze and toasted coconut flakes.
At the family-friendly pool, the resort’s new Tiki Bar tempts you with an over-the-top lobster grilled cheese on thick-cut sourdough bread that oozes with brie cheese. For something a little more restrained and on the lighter side, mahi tacos have just the right amount of zip from shredded radicchio and sweetness from mango salsa.
Cheeca Lodge is Better Than Ever
Our room overlooked part of the resort’s chip-and-putt golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus; there also are six pristine tennis courts, for which Cheeca provides guests free racquets and balls. An outdoor spa tub on our balcony provided a perfect perch to soak away the day’s activities over a cool glass of sauvignon blanc.
Despite the resort’s size — there are 214 guest rooms spread over 27 acres — by Day Two the attentive staff was greeting us by name. When it was time to check out, we didn’t even have to hand the valet our parking ticket; our car was ready and packed for us by the time we stepped outside.
A six-month closure is long enough to knock some resorts down for the count. For Cheeca, it took the time off to get back up and return stronger than ever.
Cheeca Lodge & Spa, 81801 Overseas Highway, Islamorada; 305-664-4651; cheeca.com.