July/August 2004  




f there is such a thing as a get-away-from-it-all state of mind, it can certainly be found in the Florida Keys, where folks have traditionally found sanctuary from grueling schedules or toxic lifestyles.

In the Keys, which are like a slice of the Caribbean on the American mainland, there’s an absence of negative energy and Type A overload—and that’s probably one of the reasons why the spas here are so soothing and healing even before a single massage is undertaken.

The first impression is “Robinson Crusoe meets Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”


Barefoot elegance—luxury and service without attitude--is the order of the day at Cheeca Lodge & Spa at Islamorada, a member of the exclusive Rockresorts collection. There are 203 accommodations in all on this imaginatively landscaped 27-acre property, with furnishings in a West Indies style--dark mahogany pieces, dolphin desk lamps, etched glass double doors between bathroom and sleeping areas. In some rooms the doors offer ocean views, so that a guest luxuriating in the deep soaking tub can gaze at the gorgeous blue sea. There are also beachfront bungalows with screened balconies and spiral staircases leading to private beach areas. All accommodations are equipped with such amenities as pillow-top mattresses and 42-inch plasma screen TVS.

High on the list of the resort’s attractions is the award-winning Atlantic’s Edge restaurant, where guests can enjoy fine dining in a relaxed, unpretentious atmosphere.

Under new ownership and undergoing a $30 million transformation, Cheeca is being positioned as a top luxury resort, with 96 units being offered as condominiums. This trend in condo-hotel conversion is especially appealing in South Florida, where oceanfront property is virtually nonexistent—and particularly in the Keys, where a moratorium on new development is strictly enforced in order to control growth.

The condo units—junior suites, as well as one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments--are known as the Cheeca Lodge & Club. Membership will include access to all resort amenities and programs. The Clubhouse is a members-only facility decorated in a Hemingway-esque Key West motif. Members also have access to private beach areas with “members-only” butler service, to exclusive concierge service, preferred pricing at the Jack Nicklaus Executive Golf Course, the Cheeca Lodge Tennis Center, Camp Cheeca for kids, ages 4-12, the adults-only pool (which has cabanas equipped with Internet access), and the Avanyu Spa.

The 5,000 square-foot Avanyu Spa (the name, from the folklore of the Tew Native American culture, means a mythical water serpent said to stimulate change and influence the restorative power of water) is nestled amid lush gardens, near the adults-only pool. There are 7 treatment rooms, an outdoor treatment center, facial rooms, a steam room, and a wet room with a Vichy shower for salt scrubs and wraps. The inviting relaxation room is comfortably furnished in the same colonial-in-the-tropics style and is a pleasant place to unwind before or after a treatment.

Massages and body treatments are first rate. Massage options include a half-hour neck, back, and shoulder massage ($75), the one-hour Avanyu Swedish Massage ($120), and the popular 90-minute Avanyu Rock Massage ($165).

The extensive menu of customized facials includes various anti-aging therapies, for both men and women. In addition, Avanyu offers a one-hour “Teen Terrific Facial” ($120), specifically designed for young faces, as well as in-room Swedish massages for kids (a parent must be present).

In addition to products bearing the Avanyu label, the spa uses such top lines as Phytomer and Babor.

There are plans to in place to expand the spa by taking over the space currently occupied by the adjoining fitness center, which will be re-located to a free-standing building. Overnight spa packages start at $269; full and half-day packages are also available. Cheeca Lodge & Spa
1-305-517-4485 or 1-800-327-2888


Hawk’s Cay on Duck Key is a self-contained world apart, a 60-acre island resort in the heart of the Keys. There are 269 villas (two or three-bedroom), complete with kitchens and laundry facilities, 177 Caribbean-style guest rooms in the inn; a pristine marina; multiple dining options (including a breakfast buffet at the Palm Terrace, the poolside Indies Grill, the Cantina, the dockside WatersEdge Restaurant); an attractive shop; and even a small convenience store that offers such necessities as coffee and early morning snacks.

At this family friendly resort, there’s so much to do, it would be difficult to exhaust all options during a brief getaway. Divers might explore the only living coral reef in North America; novices might get accredited at the Dive School. There is championship fishing, sailing, snorkeling, and parasailing. On land, enjoy volleyball, basketball, tennis, or the putting green. There’s plenty for the inner child—and for the real kids, a pirate ship, a tree house, a teen center.

Since a number of dolphins “live” at Hawk’s Cay, there are opportunities to create some special memories—either with a 30-minute dockside program that allows parents and kids to learn about dolphin training (and to participate as “assistants” to the trainer) or during a dolphin encounter, where participants get into the saltwater lagoon to interact with these bottlenose beauties.

And then there is the 7,000 square foot Indies Spa, the heart of the resort for anyone who takes a pro-active approach to relaxation and stress relief. The waiting room is spacious and soothing, a place to put up your feet and contemplate the pleasures of a massage yet-to-come—or to cool off after a eucalyptus steam or sauna.

Always on the search for new and unique treatments, spa director Laura Monroe recently introduced several winners, including the Upside-Down Margarita. During this treatment, tired feet are treated to a warm bubble bath and lower legs are given an invigorating salt loofa to increase circulation and exfoliate dead skin cells. While the toes are being polished, rejuvenated legs get a cooling tequila tonic treatment to seal in moisture and revitalize the skin. Needless to say, this is a treatment that leaves legs feeling refreshed and smooth.

Also new are a cellulite treatment that increases circulation and smoothes the skin and two add-ons: an eye treatment that uses marine-derived collagen to battle the effects of aging and a retinol lip treatment that plumps up the lip area and enhances moisture absorption at the cellular level.

As this is a resort that likes kids, it’s only natural that the spa follows through with appropriate treatments. Youngsters can have a massage, get their hair braided, their nails manicured and pedicured, learn the mysteries of makeup, or indulge in a package with a pal.

The 3-night Indies Spa Package start at $1650-$1850 (depending on season) for two adults in a water-view inn room; it includes a $300 spa credit per person, buffet breakfast daily, gift of a fluffy spa robe per person, access to the fitness center and spa, and a 10% discount on spa/salon items.

Hawk’s Cay Resort


Just three miles offshore in the Lower Florida Keys, where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Straits of Florida, is Little Palm Island, a 15-minute motor yacht ride from the guest welcome station on Little Torch Key.

The first impression is “Robinson Crusoe meets Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Though the island is far removed from the usual clutters of civilization, it is movie-star pretty, a hideaway dotted with thatched roof accommodations and hundreds of Jamaican Tall coconut palms. In fact, Little Palm Island made its movie debut in 1962, when it starred as the location of “PT-109,” the movie about JFK’s war exploits, featuring Cliff Robertson as the late president. In its early pre-resort years, during the Truman administration, the island had such distinguished visitors as John Foster Dulles, and Admiral Bull Halsey.

In this idyllic spot, with average year-round temperatures of 77 degrees, guests are housed in 28 bungalow suites and a pair of Island Grand Suites. Though the accommodations are certainly luxurious, furnished in the colonial style, with air-conditioning and private sundecks for soaking up the sun and the ocean views, there are no phones, no TVs (there is one in the common lounge, for those who simply must have their fix). There are, however, Internet connections for those who need to check email or surf the Web.

But why dwell on those distractions when there are canoes, sailboats, and snorkeling gear for exploring the crystal waters? A Zen Garden for meditation? A sparkling lagoon pool for swimming? Or a world of pampering at the SpaTerre, where therapies from East and West are offered in an atmosphere of: sublime tranquility?

The spa menu is long and varied, featuring several varieties of massage, including Swedish and Balinese, as well as a host of facials and treatments for nails and body, yoga sessions in the Zen Garden, and just about any sybaritic pleasure the imagination conjures.

And then there are the treatments that sound as delicious as the creations that come out of Little Palm’s kitchen. Considers the Javanese Lulur Royal Treatment, which takes its inspiration from the palaces of Java, and is literally fit for a queen. This takes almost two hours and begins with a Balinese Massage with Jasmine Frangipani-scented Flower Oil, then moves on to an invigorating skin scrub with turmeric, rice, sandalwood, and jasmine. There’s more: a cool yogurt splash, followed by an aromatic shower and soak in a tub infused with rose petals. The finale: the body is moisturized with Jasmine Frangipani lotions.

The Thai Kelapa Ritual is a tropical experience inspired by exotic ingredients found in Thailand. An aromatic coconut, rice and vetiver scrub is applied to the body, and while this is drying, the feet are pampered with a Thai style massage. After a refreshing rinse comes a lazy soak in a Japanese tub with fresh flower blossoms and lemongrass essences. The finale is a traditional Thai massage.

In such an otherworldly setting, one would expect a couples massage: here, it’s done at Palapa Point, which has a thatched covered rooftop and open pavilion space overlooking the ocean. Now, that is romantic.

Two-day getaways, meals included, range between $2510 and $3490 per couple, depending on season; other packages are offered.

Little Palm Island
1-305-872-1514 or 1-800-3-GET-LOST


Though Key West has a number of lovely resort properties, Pier House is the only one that includes a spa. No doubt that will change in time, but for now, the spa is just another good excuse to visit this well-known waterfront resort.

The Caribbean Spa has five treatment rooms, sauna, steam room, cascading whirlpool, and a user-friendly exercise room. Personal trainers are on site, and aerobics classes are available.

As one might expect in the Keys, some of the spa treatments relate to the sun: there’s an aloe treatment for those who lingered not wisely, but too long under the burning rays. For those who choose a wiser course, it’s possible to achieve the golden glow without damaging skin by an application of tanning activator. This is preceded by a gentle exfoliation to prolong the bronze look.

My personal favorite here was the “Signature Milk & Honey” treatment ($105 for 50 minutes) administered by Thekla, who reminded me that Cleopatra bathed in milk to maintain her beauty—and that honey is the perfect food (“it never spoils and it is a great hydrator”). So it was that I was exfoliated and then massaged, from the face down, with these ancient beauty products, and finally rinsed with a Vichy shower that left me as smooth as a baby’s bottom.

A close second was the Ultimate Spa Pedicure ($60, 55 minutes) that Yumi gave me as I relaxed in the best pedicure throne I’ve ever experienced; it not only reclined in various positions, it also administered a massage. This pampering interlude included a salt scrub exfoliation, lots of good leg and foot massage, a lavender scrub, and a peppermint marine mask. Cuticles were treated, nails were cleaned, shaped and polished with a knockout gold shade that was perfect with open sandals.

After my treatments, I relaxed outdoors near the cascading whirlpool. I could have had a room service meal delivered right to my lounge, but instead I just closed my eyes and thought how lucky I was to be here.

The Caribbean Spa menu includes several body wraps, customized facials, and various massage techniques.

Several packages are offered at Pier House. The Sail Package, which includes accommodations, continental breakfast, a 25-minute Swedish massage per person, and a romantic sunset sail for two, starts at $179 per person per night (upgrade to luxury accommodations at $225 per person).

Pier House Resort & Caribbean Spa
1-800-327-8340 or 1-305-296-4600




© 2004 Spa Review Magazine