The Most Romantic Private Island Resort In America: Little Palm Island

With international travel virtually shut down for most of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, travel lovers have been searching far and wide domestically for new and unique destinations, experiences, and adventures within the U.S. In search of a “special” stateside destination myself for a recent wedding anniversary trip, I found the perfect spot on a private island in the southernmost corner of the country – the ultra-luxe (and adults-only) Little Palm Island Resort & Spa in the Florida Keys.

Located just a 3-hour drive from my hometown of Miami, and half hour north of Key West on Little Torch Key, Little Palm Island is easy to get to, yet at the same time provides a true escape – the type one might fly to the Caribbean or Tahiti or Bali to experience under different circumstances.

A member of the Noble House Hotels & Resorts portfolio of luxury properties, Little Palm Island reopened in March after sustaining severe damage during Hurricane Irma in 2017. Noble House used the closure to update the aesthetic and functionality of the property, while taking great pains to retain the charm, character, and authenticity of the iconic resort. Just weeks after its long-anticipated reopening, however, Little Palm Island had to shut down a second time as a result of COVID-19. In June, the resort was able to reopen again and has been at capacity or near-capacity ever since. For its lucky guests, many of whom have been repeat customers over the years, the return of Little Palm Island could not have come at a better time and was well worth the wait.

Visitors to Little Palm can arrive to the island via seaplane, private boat, or, as most do, on one of the resort’s two ferries – the Woodson or the adorable Truman (a nod to the past presidential guest), which launch from a private Shore Station reception area.

Arriving guests are greeted with the Little Palm’s signature cocktail, the Gumby Slumber, a delicious mix of fruit juices, coconut, and rum. Drink in hand, it is just a quick 10-minute boat ride to a slice of paradise.

Following a quick island tour, guests are led to one of only 15 beachfront thatched-roof bungalows, housing 30 suites and a maximum of 60 resort guests. The exquisitely redesigned bungalows – inspired, says the resort’s website, by a “British West Indies aesthetic” – start at $1,500 per night and feature vaulted ceilings, plush elevated four poster beds, large copper tubs, and private outdoor showers.

The feel is very romantic, to say the least with personalized touches such as champagne on ice and your last name carved in a wooden sign hanging at the entrance of your home away from home. The bungalows also provide private sundecks, and some feature private pools, jacuzzis, and firepits, for those looking to spend the majority of their time within the secluded confines of their own living space.

What they don’t include, however, are televisions – there is only one on the island, in the resort’s seldom used Great Room.

The beautiful spaces and upgraded amenities on Little Palm Island provide ample reason, however, to leave one’s bungalow. The resort’s pool is lined with private cabanas and features the poolside Palapa Bar for those looking to socialize with other guests.

Just a few steps away is the small but picturesque Little Palm beach (don’t worry, no need to fight for beach chairs or an oceanfront spot here). The two-story SpaTerre provides a serene retreat with a lovely interior courtyard atrium and offers a vast array of massages, facials, and other beauty services.

And the island’s fitness center is not only stocked with brand new equipment, but spacious and airy enough to make even the most nervous social distancers comfortable about working out in the presence of others. The island’s revamped boutique is also well worth a visit.

Water activities at Little Palm Island are relatively low-key – complimentary options include snorkeling, paddle boarding, kayaking, catamaran sailing, and fishing (which was made decidedly more exciting in my case by the presence of a large barracuda) – but adrenaline junkies can arrange a host of off-island excursions ranging from wakeboarding and waterskiing to skydiving via the resort’s concierge.

The island’s vibe, however, is unmistakably relaxed and refined, exemplified by Little Palm’s long-standing tradition of limiting phone use in public spaces. As best I could tell, most of Little Palm’s guests were interested in less distraction, not more, wanting nothing more than to live out the resort’s proud motto – “Get Lost.”

Finally, a resort of the quality of Little Palm Island would be incomplete without a superlative dining option, and the Dining Room provides just that, whether you’re dining in-room, poolside, or taking in the spectacular ocean views from the reinvented restaurant.

Don’t be fooled by the nondescript moniker – talented Chef Daniel Ganem (formerly of Miami’s Betsy Hotel) sources the best seafood and produce the Keys have to offer, and creates a new menu daily of what he terms “contemporary Florida cuisine.” Ganem’s favorite culinary creation, however, “Foie Gras Creme Brulee,” is always available. The Dining Room will soon be offering an intimate six-person Chef’s Table experience.

Perhaps the highlight of our stay at Little Palm Island – and an absolute must at least once during any stay – was our sunset dinner on the beach, just steps from the ocean’s water. Surrounded by tiki torches and a breathtaking view, this culinary experience on the night of our anniversary was nothing short of magical.

While the Little Palm Island Resort is certainly reason enough to venture down south to the Florida Keys, for those with the extra time (especially first-time visitors to the Keys), I would recommend pairing Little Palm Island with a visit to nearby Key West.

We did just that, spending a few nights at the Little Palm’s sister property, Noble House’s Ocean Key Resort & Spa. While Ocean Key is a different sort of resort – it lacks the exclusivity and world-class luxuriousness of its sister, to be sure – it has a homey charm all its own.

Located in the heart of Old Town at the very start of historic Duval Street (its address is actually zero Duval Street), Ocean Key Resort is the perfect base from which to explore the history, culture, and irreverent character of Key West.

What it does have in common with Little Palm Island are epic sunset views (best viewed from the hotel’s Sunset Pier), exceptional service, and good food. Breakfasts and dinner at the resort’s Caribbean-inspired signature restaurant, Hot Tin Roof, far exceeded our expectations.

For a change of pace, hop on their quick ferry just across the water to picturesque Sunset Key, and grab lunch or dinner in the ocean breeze at award-winning Latitudes Restaurant. Make sure you make reservations well in advance as it books up fast.

The Florida Keys have a lot to offer, even with the limitations imposed by the pandemic. But a word of advice for those supplementing their visit to Little Palm Island with a stay at Ocean Key or any other local resort – be sure to make Little Palm Island Resort & Spa your final destination, as you’ll want to save the very best for last.

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