Island Time at Casa Marina

By: Lisa Codianne Fowler

A romantic getaway at the Casa Marina in Key West gives this traveler a much-needed resort vacation.

"Are jackets required for dinner?" We asked the concierge to help us get the lay of the land. "Nowhere!" he replied emphatically.

We were in Key West, the let-your-hair-down, anything-goes capital of Florida. But Casa Marina Resort, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, exudes an elegance that compliments its laid-back, Key West attitude. Its antique-filled lobby has rich pine floors, cypress beamed ceilings and a row of French doors leading out to a 225-foot veranda facing the Atlantic.

This "House by the Sea" was built in 1920 by railroad magnate Henry Flagler and provided an escape for the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Rita Hayworth, Rudy Vallee, Cornelius Vanderbilt and "Black Jack" Bouvier (Jacqueline Kennedy's father).

Jennifer Lopez, Cher and John Glenn are among the recent guests who have enjoyed not only striking views and an array of amenities, but also a level of service that harkens back to a bygone era.

We experienced it within minutes of our early morning arrival. Check-in wasn't until 4 p.m., so Aaron helped us plan our daytime itinerary, providing a map, sightseeing recommendations and reservations for a romantic sunset cruise the following evening.

It was a sunny, breezy day, perfect for a walking tour. Storybook gingerbread houses lined the residential streets leading to town. Famous Duval Street, jam-packed with restaurants, bars, galleries and shops selling everything from Florida kitsch to flawless diamonds, took us to the Historic Seaport at Key West Bight Marina. We strolled the boardwalk (called the Harbor Walk) alongside moored sailboats, powerboats, pelicans, leaping fish and plenty of waterfront restaurants. Alonzo's Oyster Bar had the best selection of Key West fare: conch salad, conch fritters, oysters, calamari, lobster burgers and more. We were in seafood heaven.

After lunch, we headed back to the Casa Marina, finally settling in to our sprawling oceanfront suite. We stepped outside our sliding glass doors to a pretty, palm tree-lined beach and sunk our toes into white, silky sand. Two piers stretched into the multi-hued Atlantic, its color changing from rich cobalt blue to bright seafoam green. The scene looked like a postcard and felt like a fantasy. Casa Marina's Flagler's  Beach is the only natural beach on the island and, for us, it was love at first sight.

Even so, as "thin-blooded" Floridians, we found the Atlantic in March a little cool despite the sun's warmth. So we ambled over to one of the resort's two heated pools, stopping for complimentary beach towels, Popsicles and chilled washcloths to cool our brows.

Turns out that Casa Marina is also a popular family destination. Children splashed and laughed and Barbie dolls floated in the pool. It was heart-warming, but we'd come for romance. No problem.

We headed to Sun Sun Pavilion, a pool, beach bar and restaurant where we ordered Piña Coladas, a tradition that officially signals you're on "island time." We strolled back to our private patio and drank in the spectacular ocean view, sharing it only with an island cat that happened by.

The resort also offers rentals of bicycles, waverunners, sailboats and windsurfers, as well as parasailing, sailing, fishing, snorkeling and scuba excursions. Guests can also arrange for these rentals, as well as seaplane flights or bi-plane tours of the Keys at the concierge.

We rented bicycles and explored back roads, beaches and residential areas, stopping at the Southernmost Point for a Kodak moment.

 We ended the evening with a moonlit walk on the pier. Waves lapped the shore and palm fronds rustled in the wind. The night air was cool but comfortable, and it was definitely no jacket required.

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