I recall the days when a trip to Islamorada meant your first beer was at Alabama Jack’s and your second was after you scored a very inexpensive mom-and-pop motel within a three–mile radius of the Lorelei, where you would have your third beer. In those days, it was a simpler weekend getaway of fish sandwiches, boiled shrimp, maybe fishing out of Bud and Mary’s and a Key Lime pie from Manny and Isa’s.
These days, in a combination of post-Irma redevelopment and a growing affluence among homeowners and visitors, Islamorada has come on up, as the Jeffersons might have said, with the next generation of getaway lodging: island-y chic, top-notch amenities and a cool contemporary vibe. Not quite luxury, but very close—and night and day from the quirky island motels we used to frequent.
Amara Cay is a prime example. This 110-room boutique resort on the ocean side has both style and content, with a beautiful freeform pool, a lobby that evokes the South Pacific (complete with living air plant wall, suspended rattan chairs, tropical greenery) and an open vista to the beach and turquoise seas beyond. There is a tiki bar, thatched huts and hammocks on a white sand beach (rare in the Keys) and a seaside dock/sunbathing deck. An outdoor game lawn has jumbo Jenga, foosball and ping-pong, and at night the fire pits are lit so guests can relax in Adirondack chairs with a nightcap in the soft ocean breezes.
Dining at Amara is breakfast and lunch at the Reelburger just off the lobby and lunch outdoors, at the tiki bar. It’s not gourmet dining but it’s good—and perfect when you just want to stay put. Our retired food critic, who lives in Key Largo, thinks dining in the Keys has gone by the wayside, but we think you can still get a great dinner at Ziggie and Mad Dog’s, Pierre’s and Kaiyo. More casual spots are M.E.A.T. Eatery & Taproom and Ciao Hound at the Postcard Inn (a sister property of Amara Cay) or Lazy Sands, which has a great waterside view.
Amara Cay has a clean simplicity mixed with a whimsical island vibe; two-plus hours door- to-door and you’re in the Keys, the place where everything begins to make sense again, and troubles really do seem to melt away. This charming resort is an excellent spot to get all that going, and then some.
Amara Cay Resort, 80001 Overseas Highway, Islamorada; 305/664-0073