Hidden Gems: Little Palm Island Resort & Spa

Recently, my wife and I spent a long weekend in Florida’s Lower Keys. Often overlooked in favor of their more famous neighbors (Marathon and, of course, Key West), the Lower Keys offer untamed landscapes, brilliant beaches, outdoor adventure, and the best stargazing in Florida. Personally, we were there to participate in the Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival.

In an effort to increase the “special quotient” for our weekend, I made reservations for us at the Little Palm Island Resort and Spa, which Zagat rates as the best Hotel Dining Room in the Southeast and the third best in the Nation. The Resort is so exclusive, visitors are ferried to the Resort in the all-teak Miss Margaret. If you want to have a romantic, memorable dinner in the Keys, this is the place to go.

Visitors to the Resort park their cars on Middle Torch Key, near mile-marker 28.5 and enter a small, lavish waiting area. Immediately outside the waiting area is a canal from which the Miss Margaret departs.

We were a little early, so we waited outside before boarding the ship.

The ride to the Resort lasts about 20 minutes, and it’s quite nice. On the starboard side of the boat, beautiful homes line Middle Torch Key; on the port side, the great, big Atlantic Ocean rolls off into the distance. As the boat approached the Resort, everyone craned to see the island. Rooms here start at $750/night, and everyone was interested in seeing what the hub-bub was about.

As we got closer, the captain of the boat explained that the Island was landscaped with 150 kinds of palm trees, and the lushness was noticeable immediately. We really couldn’t see the Resort’s rooms from the boat. In fact, even after we docked, we could only see a roof here, or a private dock there. It was very, very private.

Upon docking, my wife and I were escorted briskly to a waiting table. We were informed that our dinner pass only entitled us access to the restaurant and the adjacent bar, and wandering around the property was strictly forbidden. Although I had asked for a beach-side table — where the chairs are, in the photo above — we were informed that the recent stormy weather made this impossible.

The Resort hosts weddings on an almost-daily basis. In fact, as we ate dinner, one young couple exchanged vows on the beach, as the sun set, about 50 yards from our table. Paparazzi-like, I snapped this photo as proof.

Okay, okay…so it’s not a great photo. In case you’re wondering, the couple and the preacher are just to the left of the crooked tree.

We ordered a half-bottle of wine and some appetizers, including grouper ceviche — “cooked” with key lime — and jumbo lump crab cakes. As we sat there, enjoying the gentle breeze and the fading sunlight, a key deer popped into view. Standing roughly two feet tall and weighing between 45 and 80 pounds, key deer are cousins to the Virginia white-tailed deer, but much, much smaller. Officials estimate that only 800 of them remain. Unfortunately, because of all the palm trees, ferns, and other wildlife in the way, I couldn’t snap a photo of a deer there before it ran away.

Soon, it was time to order another half-bottle of wine. (Man, those things go fast.) Shortly thereafter, dinner arrived. I enjoyed perfectly grilled grilled mahi mahi complemented by smashed purple potatoes. The fish was excellent, and I am happy to report that , although I’ve never before eaten purple potatoes, they were very nice, too. My wife ordered snapper, but I didn’t take a picture of her plate.

Although we were full from our appetizers, two half-bottles of wine, and our meals, we couldn’t leave without sampling dessert. I’m a key lime pie fanatic, so there was no way I was going to try anything else. My wife loves mango-flavored things, so when the waitress mentioned that they had mango sorbet, she was sold.

We also ordered dessert wines. After all, it was a special evening.

Stuffed, we paid the bill, and made our way down to the dock.

The last boat from the Resort to the mainland leaves at 10. We were on it. Overall, we had a very good meal at a very memorable location. I’d recommend a meal at Little Palm, however, keep these things in mind:

  • If you’re a man, you can wear shorts, but you must wear a collared shirt.
  • The mosquitoes in the Lower Keys are as big and as mean as vultures. Do NOT forget your mosquito repellent.
  • Although the atmosphere at Little Palm Island is “island casual,” it’s not terribly laid-back. Guests pay a lot to stay here, and management likes to encourage classiness. In other words, don’t plan on having a crab-cake-eating contest, or asking if you can sit in with the band, just for this one song.
Since dinner is pricey — our bill came to around $300! — consider visiting the Resort for Sunday brunch. The restaurant offers an appetizer buffet, and limitless, individually prepared entrees. At $59/person, it seems like a bargain. If you’re interested, the boat from the mainland leaves at 10:30am and 11:30am.

Have you ever visited Little Palm Island? What did you think?