If you have not heard of Little Palm Island, I would not be surprised. I had been wandering the Florida Keys for years before I noticed it on the chart and decided to take a closer look. Should you follow the same course, you may find that paradise is a lot closer to home than you imagined.
While you might not recognize the name, the island’s swaying Jamaican palms and white sand beach (sand is a rare feature in the Florida Keys) may be familiar. The island was once groomed to serve as the setting for the film “PT-109”, the story of John F. Kennedy’s war exploits starring Cliff Robertson. A small collection of artifacts, photos and a set map of the island will amuse movie buffs.
The island’s first inhabitant, Charles Newton Munson, planted the palms and built a house and cistern in the 1920s. A concrete hurricane house was built later and now serves as the island boutique. Years later, U.S. Senator John Spottswood bought “Little Munson Island. The island was a favorite of Bess and Harry Truman and over the years has attracted the attention of a long list of notables.
Electricity arrived at the request of Joseph Kennedy to facilitate his son’s visit to the island during filming in 1962. Following its Hollywood debut, it languished until it opened as a resort (Little Palm Island) in the 1980s. Noble House Hotels & Resorts purchased the island in 1996 and created its current upscale flavor to attract couples seeking a romantic getaway (no kids under 16 allowed) and notables escaping the public eye.
There are just 14 boat slips and 30 thatched-roof villas, so even though the island is small it is never crowded. Guests have access to a fleet of water toys including kayaks, canoes and sailboats. Several 13-foot Boston Whalers and pontoon boats are available at no charge for fishing, snorkeling or exploring the shallow flats surrounding the island.
Little Palm Divers offers dive and snorkel trips to nearby wrecks and the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary-one of the finest dive destinations in the Keys. One and two-day scuba courses are offered. Offshore and backcountry fishing and eco-tours can also be arranged. A concierge is available to assist you in sorting out these opportunities.
The island features Noble House’s SpaTerre, a compete spa that offers a cross-cultural relaxation and massage experience designed for individuals or couples. The spa is finished in Indonesian teak and has four rooms and two private Ofuro-Japanese soaking tubs. There is also a beauty salon and a fitness center. For the less ambitious, there is a heated, freshwater swimming pool and a patio bar-I recommend the cold Heineken and the mahi sandwich for lunch. The library is well stocked and worth a visit.
Fine dining is a prime focus for Noble House and Little Palm Island’s executive chef Anthony Keene’s Floridian, Caribbean and pan-Asian influenced creations are memorable. Fresh local seafood is featured, and fresh herbs are grown on the island. While most guests enjoy the attractive dining room or the terraced porch overlooking Hawk Channel, candle-lit dining on the beach should not be missed. In-room dining is also offered, and the chef is available to create personalized menus. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served.
Naturalists will find Little Palm Island quite amazing. Carefully groomed pathways lead through lush subtropical vegetation, and birdlife includes a variety of herons and egrets that seem almost tame. The highlight of our visit was an encounter with the rare and endangered Key Deer. Full grown, these Bambi-like creatures are a fraction of the size of mainland species and are unique to the area. During our stay, several swam to the island each evening and paid us a visit.
I have enjoyed Little Palm Island both by land and sea-both approaches are worthwhile. Those arriving by car at the island’s shore station on Little Torch Key (120 miles from Miami) are greeted by the resort’s friendly staff and whisked to paradise aboard one of two lovely mahogany launches.
Once on the island (about a 15-minute boat ride), you are escorted to a villa that is identified by a placard with your name. Following the island’s signature “Gumby Slumber welcome drink, this signage is quite useful. There is also personalized stationery. After two days on the island, my wife, Nelia, and I were ready to take up permanent residence.
The 28 550-square-foot Bungalow Suites (rates from $695 to $1,595 per night) are finished in traditional South Seas island flavor and have a living room, a porch and a whirlpool bath. Each also has an adjoining private outdoor shower, which is truly a luxury. Two 1,000-square-foot Island Grand Suites (rates from $995 to $2,395) have his/her baths and are finished in British Colonial furnishings. Several vacation packages are offered.
Those visiting the five-acre island by boat will find it little more than a blip on the radar about two miles south of Ramrod Key. While there is no breakwater other than the offshore reef, docks on the northeast and northwest sides of the island offer relatively good protection. The docks are in first-class condition and can accommodate boats up to 130 feet. There is 30, 50 and 100 amp shore power, fresh water, showers and laundry service. I’m pleased to report that there is no cable TV or phone service! Dockage is $7 per foot (per night) or a minimum of $350. There is a 25 percent discount for BoatUS members.
According to dock master Mike Mims, the approach from Hawk Channel is well marked and has six feet of water. If you have any questions, contact him on VHF channels 16 or 9. Boaters are welcome for breakfast, lunch or dinner (dockage is free) but reservations are required.
While I could argue the merits of each season in the Florida Keys, early spring and late fall are my favorites. If I were staying ashore, I would probably opt for the cooler months. Staying aboard, the summer is the fairest for boating, given there is no tropical weather in the area. It’s really hard to miss no matter what time of year you visit.
It’s surprising that so many boaters that I have met cruising South Florida have never heard of or visited Little Palm Island. I suspect most have selfishly kept it a secret. Should you visit the island you will probably do the same-enjoy!
Contact: 800-3-GET-LOST, or, 305-872-2524; www.littlepalmisland.com.
THINGS TO DO
Relax (an excellent choice) Enjoy the spa and fitness center Dive and snorkel the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary Enjoy backcountry and offshore fishing Take a day trip to Key West (22 miles) Take a seaplane tour to the Dry Tortugas Take an eco-tour