The Keys for Freedom 55
By Chris McBeath
I felt as if I was in one of those ‘Freedom 55’ TV ads because this was exactly as they promised. The hammock swayed gently beneath the contours of my body. I drifted between semi-sleep and sips of iced lemon tea. Surf lapped over palm tree-shaded sands and somewhere in the recesses of my consciousness, were sounds of children playing in the distance - far enough away for me to extol their virtues.
Such are the pleasures of staying at Cheeca Lodge in the Florida Keys, and leaving reality at bay. ?Ah?, I thought to myself, ?so this is what freedom 55 is all about!?
Located on Islamorada, about half way down the Keys, Cheeca Lodge has evolved from a modest fishing bungalow, built in 1946, to a spectacular year-round resort spread across 27 lushly landscaped acres, and surrounded by waters that have earned the community the Sport Fishing Capital of the World. And no wonder. Just off the coast in the deep waters of the Gulf Stream, there are sailfish, wahoo, marlin, grouper, mackerel and shark; while in the shallow flats of Florida Bay, you can reel in bonefish, trout, snapper, tarpon, and snook.
Although fishing is certainly the big attraction to Cheeca Lodge (former President George Bush hosts a charity fund-raising tournament here each year), the resort has something for everyone. There is a myriad of activities from tennis, golf and watersports to the pampering delights of a first-rate spa, dining in oceanfront restaurants, or simply doing nothing but swing in a hammock and soak up Cheeca’s casual, unpretentious atmosphere.
Guests can choose rooms or suites in the main lodge or in low-rise villas that are scattered throughout the complex. Some fringe a 9-hole, par-3 golf course designed by Golf Force, a Jack Nicklaus company, and others are nestled beside meandering ponds, streams and lagoons. Oceanside rooms promise views of some stunning sunrises over the Atlantic.
I, however, was staying in one of Cheeca’s brand new beachfront bungalows where the resort’s credo for ‘barefoot elegance’ is epitomized. Rooms feature classic hardwood floors, a king-size two-poster bed draped with gossamer netting, and pillows too numerous to count.
A spiral staircase descends from the balcony to a private beachside garden which, at night, is lit romantically with twin tiki torches. Remarkably, it’s a romance that Cheeca doesn’t compromise by also being a popular destination for families. There’s plenty to do for older children, and for youngsters 6-12 years old, the resort runs an award-winning program of scavenger hunts, fishing, sand sculpting, snorkeling and environmental programs.
Venture further afield, and the Keys has even more to discover. The coral and man-made reefs that line this 156-mile long chain of islands provide unsurpassed diving and snorkeling, which attracts 800,000 scuba and snorkel aficionados each year. Kayaking and canoeing through the mangroves are a delight, especially because the Keys is a National Marine Sanctuary, one of only 12 such sites in the country, so wildlife abounds. At Pine Key, the thigh-high pretty Key deer are as tame as they are charming, and if you’ve children in tow, feeding the tarpon at Robbies is one of those must-do activities, if only to tousle with an army of pelicans with New York attitudes.
Then there’s the colourful community of Key West, an easy two-hour drive from Islamorada. Founded in 1823, it’s one of the oldest towns in Florida, it represents the southernmost town in the United States, only 90 miles from Cuba, and seems to attract the indolent, the adventurous and all manner of independent-minded souls. Consequently, Key West is a patchwork of historical sites such as Hemingway House and its six-toed cats, New Orleans styled cafes that jam into the wee hours, heritage B&Bs converted from turn-of-the-century cigar factories, and people-watching patio bars.
I had hit Key West on a cruise-ship day, which is not an easy thing to avoid, so Duval Street, the main thoroughfare, was a throng of looky-loos with cameras strung around their necks and grey-haired heads topped with Tilleys. And since this breed of ?freedom 55ers? weren’t a part of my television ad, I scurried back to the sanctuary of Cheeca.
My hammock rippled as a soft breeze drifted up off the water to the balcony and I wakened from my state of drousy bliss for another drink of tea. The ice had melted but the glass was refreshingly cool to my hand. Looking out across the Caribbean blue waters, an enormous frigate bird soared effortlessly overhead and took my thoughts under his wing. ?Mmmm, now this is what I call freedom?, I concluded, as I relished the moment. ?Pity I’m only 43?.
If You Go:
Cheeca Lodge & Spa
Po Box 527, Mile Marker 82
Florida Keys, FL 33036
Tel: 800/327-2888 or 305/664-4651
Web site: www.cheeca.rockresorts.com
Key West Visitors Bureau
Tel: toll-free at 800/FLA-KEYS
Web site: www.fla-keys.com
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