Hotel Watch: Casa Marina and Sunset Key Guest Cottages

Two Key West resorts offer two different island experiences.

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The Casa Marina Resort on Key West features two pools, a private beach and watersports. (Photo courtesy of the Casa Marina)

Inconsistent Washington spring weather got you down? The constant switch between 85 degrees and 55 degrees has been a bit maddening, which might make it a perfect time to head south to Key West. Though really, is there ever not a perfect time for a little jaunt to this super laid back island? My husband and I went on a getaway to Miami and Key West recently for my birthday—our first trip to the latter. On Key West, we had the opportunity to sample two of the island’s resorts, take the requisite photo at Southernmost Point, and experience the crazy fun on Duval Street. Whether your preference is poolside or beachside, lounging with a frozen tipple or cruising around the water on a jet ski, one of these two accommodations might just be perfect for, as Jimmy Buffett would say, changes in latitude, changes in attitude.

The Casa Marina is a Waldorf Astoria Resort on the island’s south side (a few blocks east of Southernmost Point). Opened on New Year’s Eve of 1920 and listed on the National Register for Historic Places, the resort boasts 311 rooms and suites, 2 adjacent pools and more than 1,100 feet of private beach. We stayed in a Traditional One-Room Suite. Though there was a large patio, there was no scenery to take in (upgrade to the Ocean Vista room category for a view of the ocean.) Rooms are generally well-appointed, with LCD flat-screen TVs, iPod docking stations, and mini-refrigerators. The $25 daily resort fee gives access to amenities including high-speed internet access, beach front activities like volleyball, bocce, toys and hammocks, beach chairs and towel service, and reciprocal privilege at sister resort The Reach.

Two oceanfront pools offer ample lounge chairs, and are joined in the middle by the resort’s casual restaurant Sun Sun, where you can grab lunch or dinner, or a pool/beachside cocktail. And for beer lovers, don’t miss the metal tubs of a variety of brews displayed on the bar during the late afternoon hours, for $5 or so a pop.

I had heard that Key West isn’t particularly known for its sandy beaches, but was intrigued by the Casa Marina’s statement that they have the largest private beach on Key West. While it is a decent size, with chairs, umbrellas and hammocks, be warned that the edge of the water is covered with large permanent shelf-like rocks and algae. You can step over the large rocks in order to swim, but you will still encounter smaller rocks and more algae—don’t forget your water shoes. There is a private dock with steps down to the water, but I thought the water here was murky at best–those accostomed to turquoise waters and sand upon entry will find the beachfront experience at Casa Marina to be a bit disappointing. But next door, Barefoot Billys offers all kinds of water sport rentals, from waverunners, kayaks and sun cat loungers, to windsurfers, Hobie Cats and parasailing. And the resort’s Spa al Mare features a variety of spa services, including massages in their studio or in a private nook right on the beach; the surf-side massage looked heavenly.

The Casa Marina offers 1,100 feet of private beach, but much of it along the water is rocky. (Photo courtesy of the Casa Marina)

If you head over to Southernmost Point from the Casa Marina to take that required photo to upload to Facebook, be sure to stop by Southernmost Beach Café for breakfast, lunch or a drink (or several). This casual but always busy restaurant right on the beach is part of Key West’s Southernmost Hotel Collection. We loved this spot so much we went there for breakfast two days in a row. Their beach is small but sandy and looked uber inviting. Hotel guests have access to the beach, towels and pools; non-guests can rent them for a nominal fee–but make sure to get there early for the best spots. We really liked the vibe of this place so much that we’re definitely considering staying there on our next trip to the island (and there will be another).

Casa Marina
Best for: Families, those who prefer the pool over the beach, spa fans with a penchant for ocean-front treatments.
Rates: Start at $249 plus tax and the $25 daily resort fee.
Website: www.casamarinaresort.com

Sunset Key Guest Cottages are on a private island adjacent to Key West and available via private ferry. (Photo courtesy of Sunset Key Guest Cottages)

The Sunset Key Guest Cottages, a Westin Resort, is located on nearby Sunset Key, a secluded 27-acre Florida Island. One, two, three and four bedroom cottages are designed in Key West architecture and offer garden or ocean views. To get to the resort, guests take a private ferry that departs every half hour from the Westin Key West Resort and Marina. The cottages feature equipped kitchens, and a living and dining area, as well as flatscreen TVs, stereos and DVD players, free wi-fi, a complimentary breakfast basket delivered to your porch each morning, and spacious verandas with Adirondack chairs and tables. The four bedroom cottages also have their own private plunge pool and washer/dryer.

The spa’s treatment rooms are adorned with tropical flowers, with private patios to enjoy post-massage or facial. A full bathroom in each suite is pre-stocked with sundries and a shower to use before or after your spa experience.  A spa relaxation room features hot teas, fruit-infused waters and shots of hot sipping chocolate. The newest treatment is the Island Bamboo Massage, which uses bamboo stalks of varying lengths and diameters to provide deep-tissue work, promoting circulation, sensory nerve perception and lymphatic drainage.

Though we didn’t stay at Sunset Key during our visit to Key West (the resort was fully booked that weekend), we did explore the resort and dine at Latitudes, which is right on the water and in prime viewing location for those famous Key West Sunsets. The service and cuisine were impeccable, especially the Duo of Tuna (tartare and seared, with wakami, wonton chips, miso aioli and avocado wasabi cream) and their signature dish, Butter Poached Florida Lobster Tail with saffron polenta, asparagus, Champagne beurre blanc, topped with caviar. Be sure to time your reservation with the sunset—during our ferry ride over to the island, we saw the throngs of people lining up on Mallory Square to watch the iconic sunset; at Latitudes, we enjoyed Champagne while witnessing the daily, can’t miss ritual. It was just an incredible Key West experience.

Latitudes restaurant at Sunset Key Guest Cottages is the perfect spot to watch the sunset over dinner. (Photo courtesy of Kelly Magyarics)

What I really liked about Sunset Key was that it offers the best of both worlds: a luxurious stay with a gorgeous, sandy beach that’s perfect for swimming or sunbathing; and access to the fun and craziness of the bars and shops of the island’s famous Duval Street. The regular ferry service stops mid to late evening, but it’s available by request for late-night revelers.

Sunset Key Guest Cottages
Best for: couples, groups of friends, fans of ocean swimming, those who prefer a quiet island experience
Rates: Start at $595 per night.
Website: www.westinsunsetkeycottages.com 

Kelly Magyarics is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter @kmagyarics.

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