I’ve called Florida home for several years now and, surprisingly, have yet to make the trek to the southernmost point—to the land of famed authors, deep sea fishing and arguably the best Key lime pie served. I will get there eventually. But until then, a stop at a lesser-visited Key enticed me.
West of Overseas Highway and off the coast of Buttonwood Sound lies the newly opened Bungalows Key Largo. While its sister property, Little Palm Island Resort & Spa, offers an all-inclusive option, this property marks The Keys’ first true luxury adults-only, all-inclusive resort. It was designed by renowned hotelier Jerry Johnson who pays homage to his favorite eastern and western destinations around the world throughout the exterior and interior design details.
Past the gates, the secluded 11.2-acre property is home to a network of private bungalows—135 to be exact—that include either waterfront views of the bay or a private garden oasis. Quaint living spaces come with verandas and outdoor soaking tubs and rainfall showers, and beach chic interiors are done in cream and gray with coastal touches like sea life artwork. The remainder of the property features bespoke aqua accents, bringing pops of color to its otherwise calming undertone.
My trip began with a quick drive through South Florida (Bungalows is just 63 miles south of Miami), but future guests can arrive via helicopter or by a 35-minute seaplane ride offered from Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport.
Perhaps the best part of each day was waking up to a serene view. With sailboats anchored in the distance, it was like an oil painting had come to life. Adirondack chairs created the perfect place to enjoy the fresh breeze before a quick walk near the pier to get to Fish Tales, one of the resort’s restaurants, for a breakfast buffet complete with a bloody mary and mimosa bar.
How to spend the rest of the day is never far reach from reach. There are two pools for soaking up the sun; paddleboards and kayaks for exploring nearby Pelican Island; and beach cruisers for roaming the property. And, seek out a number of Buddha statues inspired by Bali, one of Johnson’s favorite spots. There’s one that portrays a woman sleeping, which Johnson’s niece designed. His 2-year-old daughter lovingly refers to it as “lady night night.”
I made an appointment at the Zen Garden Spa, complete with four outdoor treatment cabanas, a steam room and a Himalayan salt room. Black bamboo commonly found throughout Bungalows is woven into the outdoor spa’s relaxing room with yet another Buddha statue as a focal point.
For avid snorkelers, the property is a short distance from John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, and soon, the resort will offer all-day fishing and snorkeling excursions.
It’s been nearly two years since Hurricane Irma rocked the Keys, and proof like the Bungalows shows things are picking back up just fine. I confirmed this to be true during an afternoon on a Duffy electric boat while zipping through the mangroves to spot dolphins and manatees in the bay.
While out on a floating tiki bar, captain Glen Davis shared tidbits about Key Largo’s vibrant past. He’s quite the island man, having lived on several since the ’80s. This upper Key is dotted with crayon-colored houses and motels that have called this piece of land home for decades. Passing by locals out and about, the lifestyle here could be summed up by a popular song’s lyrics: “No shoes, no shirt, and no problems.”
Back on land, an aperitif in the grand Hemingway Bar was calling my name. Bartender James whipped up a “Love Potion No. 9,” just one cocktail specifically crafted for a permanent stay on the menu at the writer-influenced hangout. A six-course dinner and wine pairing followed at Bogie & Bacall’s with dishes featuring seasonally caught fresh fish.
As developer Johnson intended, Bungalows is all about the sunsets. I toasted to the evening and watched as golden rays sunk behind the bay.