The Animal Lover’s Guide to the Florida Keys

From red-shouldered hawks to six-toed cats, unique residents inhabit nearly every corner of the Florida Keys. It’s no surprise that this tropical archipelago is a favorite travel destination among animals lovers.

At Cheeca, in keeping with our commitment to eco-friendly tourism, we encourage our guests to seek out humane local organizations—such as wildlife rescues and rehabilitation centers—that allow visitors to appreciate the animals without disrupting their natural habitat. (Although, in the case of the Hemingway House cats, cuddles are encouraged.)

Learn more about our top picks for unforgettable Florida Keys animal experiences below.

The Turtle Hospital in Marathon

Located in Marathon, The Turtle Hospital first opened its doors in 1986 with a mission to “rescue, rehab, and release” injured sea turtles. This veterinary center offers guided, 90-minute educational tours that include a presentation on sea turtles, a behind-the-scenes look at the rehabilitation facilities, and an introduction to the permanent residents. Reservations are highly recommended.

Location: 2396 Overseas Highway, Marathon, Florida 33050

Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center

Open to the public 365 days a year, the Laura Quinn Wild Bird Sanctuary provides a humane, natural, and protected refuge to hindered birds. Permanent residents include Leopold the barred owl and Charlie the turkey vulture, among many others. Alongside the sanctuary, the Mission Wild Bird (MWB) center features three wings: administration, education, and an avian hospital.

Location: 92080 Overseas Highway, Tavernier, Florida 33070

National Key Deer Refuge

The 8,542-acre National Key Deer Refuge is most well-known as the home of the endangered Key Deer, unique to the lower Florida Keys and a subspecies of the White-tailed deer. However, the Key Deer share this refuge with a number of other endangered species, including the Barram’s hairstreak butterfly and the Lower Keys marsh rabbit. Stop by the Visitor Center in Big Pine Key for tips on where to observe the wildlife.

Location: 179 Key Deer Boulevard, Big Pine Key, Florida 33043

Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum

Travel a bit further south to Key West and get acquainted with the many polydactyl (six-toed) cats that reside at the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. The 40-50 cats that live on the property grounds are believed to be the descendants of Ernest Hemingway’s cat, Snow White. Following a tradition started by Hemingway, each of the beloved felines is named after a famous person.

Location: 907 Whitehead Street, Key West, Florida 33040

Ready to explore? Book your stay at Cheeca Lodge & Spa and check out these (and other) popular Florida Keys attractions.

The Legend is Back: Cheeca Lodge & Spa to Reopen on March 30, 2018

Mark your calendars: It’s almost time to Live the Legend. Cheeca Lodge & Spa is set to reopen on March 30, 2018, and we can’t wait to welcome guests back to our iconic—and completely renovated—Florida Keys resort. Months of hard work by General Manager Bob LaCasse and the entire Cheeca team have resulted in a completely reimagined experience, albeit one that delivers the same thoughtful service that generations of visitors have grown to love.

Our resort has come a long way since September:

The upcoming March reopening will reveal a number of exciting property renovations, from a lobby redesign to refreshed meeting and event spaces. Guests are encouraged to check out our new bistro dining concept, Mia Cucina; renewed Jack Niklaus-designed golf course; upgraded water sports and fitness offerings; and more. In addition to our many facility enhancements, we’ll also be introducing new services and amenities that can be enjoyed throughout the resort.

Alongside these changes, and perhaps one of the more symbolic representations of our #KeysStrong spirit, our beloved 525-foot wooden fishing pier (the longest in the Florida Keys) will be completely rebuilt.

Feeling inspired? Fortunately, you can still book our limited-time reopening offer through March 7. This exclusive deal includes up to 20% off your stay in Islamorada, plus a credit to help you enjoy everything our updated resort has in store!

Whether you are a loyal guest or plan to visit Cheeca for the first time, we invite you to experience the best of the Florida Keys at our legendary resort.

The Legend Lives On: Stories from Our Team

Following the destruction left in the wake of Hurricane Irma in September 2017, the team at Cheeca Lodge & Spa in Islamorada was faced with the difficult task of rebuilding our beloved Florida Keys resort. And each individual—some facing their own, more personal devastations as a result of the Category 4 storm—rose to the challenge. Under the expert guidance of General Manager Bob LaCasse, our staff has spent the last several weeks restoring and upgrading this legendary resort, and all with an admirably positive attitude. From taking on new roles at the property, to helping neighbors in the community, the team has worked together to reopen one of the best resorts in the Florida Keys.

Here are just a few of our stories:

 

“On my first day back at the resort, I couldn’t believe the devastation. I was walking in with one of my coworkers and we were walking slowly, looking around, and we were crying. Then Bob [LaCasse] drove up on a golf cart and stopped to pick us up—he told us don’t worry, it’s all going to be ok, we’re in this together, cry if you need to, but we’re coming back strong.

I couldn’t believe that our general manager took the time to personally comfort us like that. It stays with me to this day.”

Yolanda Aguiar, Laundry Supervisor

Yolanda Aguiar has been with Cheeca for two years. Since the hurricane, she has helped with inspecting rooms, counting inventory, and more. When she’s not at Cheeca, she can be found volunteering at her church.

 

 

“I’ve been doing special projects, cleanup, pressure washing, painting, working on safety, whatever I can do to help move the reopening along. Now that we’re getting closer to reopening, I will help the Director of F&B prepare the banquet team to start welcoming our groups back!

It’s so nice to see people from all different departments coming together to maintain the resort.  It’s wonderful that everyone is willing to do any project, whatever it takes . . . It’s going to be a good year.”

Ismael Sandoval, Banquet Supervisor

Known by many team members and guests as “Smiley” due to his warm smile and sunny disposition, Ismael Sandoval has been with Cheeca for 13 years and has over 25 years of hospitality experience.

 

 

“I have been really impressed, not just with how everyone is working together every day, but how caring everyone was after the storm. Everyone was looking after each other and making sure everyone was ok on a personal level . . . I lived in employee housing on property and although I didn’t really lose any personal belongings, I lost my home. Thankfully, the resort provided me with a room and I feel very fortunate.

It’s been a ride, and we’re so proud of the community, but we’re all ready to get back to our ‘normal.’ Bring it on 2018!”

Taryn Brown, Lead Reservations Agent

Taryn Brown, the “Booking Queen,” has been with Cheeca for almost 10 years. Although this is her first luxury hospitality position, she has spent many years previously in guest services and call centers.

 

Thanks in no small part to the dedication of these and other team members, Cheeca Lodge & Spa is set to reopen on March 30, 2018. Reserve your stay today and look forward to the return of a legend!

Cheeca Goes Green: Discover Our Eco-Friendly Florida Keys Resort

The Florida Keys are one of the most pristine and environmentally sensitive regions in the world. The tropical climate, living coral reefs and vast array of marine life are precisely the reasons why tourism is the biggest industry in the Keys.

Cheeca Lodge is dedicated to becoming the eco-friendliest resort in the Keys. As a steward of our environment, we have launched a number of programs to make our resort more environmentally sound:

  • Cardboard: Cheeca recycles 100% of its cardboard, which has reduced garbage disposal costs. According to our recycling company, Cheeca produces and recycles the most cardboard in Islamorada.
  • Glass: Cheeca also recycles its glass.
  • Water: Cheeca’s wastewater treatment plant recycles 31,000 gallons of water each day through a water reuse plant. This grey water is used for irrigation of the gardens and golf course. When the new lodge was built, water cisterns were added under the lodge to collect rain water from the main lodge tower roof and the air-conditioning drain lines. This water is pumped into the irrigation lake.
  • Scrap Materials. Scrap metal, wood pallets, golf cart and car batteries are recycled. Fluorescent light bulbs, small batteries, old paint and chemicals are taken to the Monroe County Landfill for recycling.
  • Cheeca Lodge does not allow jet-skis and other thrill craft in the waters surrounding the resort. They destroy sea grasses and endanger marine life. They are also a source of noise pollution.
  • Cards in rooms encourage guests to save water and detergent by giving them the option of how often they would like their sheets changed and their towels replaced.
  • Our Camp Cheeca Environmental Awareness Program for children ages 5-12 teaches campers about the fragile Florida Keys environment with a wide variety of entertaining and engaging activities.

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  • A sign at the end of the resort’s trademark fishing pier encourages “catch and release” fishing, discourages discarding fishing line and garbage into the water, explains proper fishing etiquette and instructions on who to call if an injured bird or other sea life is spotted.
  • Cheeca uses biodegradable and low-phosphate cleaning products whenever possible.
  • Our restaurants limit the use of disposable items like Styrofoam cups and plastic utensils whenever possible.
  • Cheeca Lodge supports numerous local, regional and national environmental conservation groups like the Turtle Hospital and the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center, among others.

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  • The resort dims and limits the use of outside lights on the beach during turtle nesting season.
  • Cheeca is changing all lighting throughout the property to LED which consumes up to 90% less power than incandescent bulbs.

In our next post, we will highlight some ways you can help protect the Florida Keys’ ecosystem and wildlife on your next visit to paradise!

Team Building…Island Style

When we host a corporate group or retreat at Cheeca Lodge & Spa, we know that team building is an essential part of any successful meeting. Our Guest Adventures and Group Sales teams have taken team building activities to the next level with a special Cheeca twist. With a mixture of fun and just the right level of competition, our team building activities are sure to be a hit with your group!

Below are some of the unique team building activities Cheeca is proud to offer to groups:

  • Coco-Bowling: This is bowling, island style! With rules similar to traditional bowling, players roll real coconuts down the lane to knock down pins. The player or team with the highest points wins. Coconuts may be painted in your company or team colors.
  • Raft Race: Teams must cooperate and strategize in order to build a seaworthy raft out of limited materials, then board their craft to navigate a marked course near shore.
  • Paddle & Run Relay: Two members of each team (4-10 participants each) launch sea kayaks from south beach, paddle around Cheeca’s 525’ fishing pier, then continue on to north beach where they must carry (or drag) the kayaks back on land and race back to the starting line. Teams must work together to determine individual strengths and create complementary pairs. The relay continues until all team member pairs complete the relay.
  • Balloon Tower: Teams must work together to carefully build a freestanding tower cannot be anchored down – made exclusively from 100 balloons and a roll of masking tape. How creative can you get?
  • Island Scavenger Hunt: Teams of 4-8 participants each will be given a time frame and clues to find a checklist of items that could be located anywhere on Cheeca’s 27 lush oceanfront acres. Teams utilize mobile devices (or Polaroids) to document their expedition.

To learn more about all of Cheeca’s unique and fun team building exercises, contact our Group Sales team at (305) 517-4449 or submit an RFP online.

Experience the Culture of the Florida Keys at Morada Way

The Florida Keys have always been a unique natural paradise…but did you know they’re also becoming a renowned cultural center? That’s thanks in large part to the Morada Way Arts & Cultural District in Islamorada, a thriving creative community just steps away from Cheeca Lodge & Spa that is drawing artists, musicians, and tourists of all ages to the beautiful isle.

A six-block corridor bounded by the iconic Green Turtle Inn and the Hurricane Monument, the district, which was established in 2010, is attracting more and more attention thanks in large part to its Third Thursday ArtWalks. This indoor/outdoor street festival, held throughout the year from 6-9pm on the third Thursday of the month, draws over 1,000 visitors who come to enjoy the live music, performance artists, and shops and galleries that stay open well into the night on this special evening. There’s also plenty of eating and drinking to be done as you soak up the local culture—the district is home to some of Islamorada’s best spots, including Chef Michael’s and the Florida Keys Brewing Co. Guests of Cheeca Lodge & Spa can catch a free Island Time Trolley ride right from the resort to the drop-off at Hurricane Monument.

Want to check out this exciting new Islamorada destination this fall? Cheeca is offering a range of special offers to make a vacation at Islamorada’s most legendary resort even better, including a $200 resort credit for select suites based on a minimum four-night stay.

Now is the perfect time to check out all that the Florida Keys have to offer with a getaway at Cheeca. We can’t wait to welcome you!

5 Reasons Why the Florida Keys Are the Ultimate Spring Break Escape

Spring break is right around the corner, and no matter how you define a “dream vacation”—from whiling away the hours sipping margaritas in the sun to exploring everything there is to see and do—the Florida Keys offer something for literally everyone. Here are five reasons why they’re a must-visit escape from the dreary days of winter this year.

  1. They’re a watery wonderland. An archipelago forming the southernmost portion of the U.S. and home to the country’s only living-coral barrier reef, the Florida Keys are an unrivaled destination for all kinds of aquatic adventures, from swimming to diving to boating and literally everything in between. And don’t even get us started on the incredible fishing. Islamorada is officially known as the sportfishing capital of the world because the Gulfstream, Atlantic Ocean, Florida Bay, and Gulf of Mexico converge here, making it an ideal habitat for over 500 types of fish.
  1. The cuisine can’t be beat. Foodies of all ages will love the scrumptious fare they’ll find throughout the Keys. From local specialties like stone crabs, cracked conch, pink shrimp, and irresistible Key lime pie, to restaurants that span a range of international flavors, you’ll be spoiled for choice from Key Largo and Islamorada all the way to Key West.
  1. Their colorful history is waiting to be explored. Besides enjoying long days of fun in the sun, visitors have plenty of options to immerse themselves in the Keys’ fascinating history and singular environment. In Islamorada, the History of Diving Museum tells the story of one of the Keys’ favorite past-times, while Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park provides a glimpse into Florida’s history going back two centuries.
  1. There’s lots of fun stuff for kids. The whole family, especially little ones, will love feeding tarpon by hand at Robbie’s Marina, or swimming with dolphins and sea lions at the Theater of the Sea marine mammal park in Islamorada. Kids and young teens can even enroll in day camps and educational programs at the Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key to learn all about these friendly sea-dwellers.
  1. They’re a romantic getaway for couples. Whether you’re honeymooners or empty-nesters, the Florida Keys offer couples countless opportunities for making lifetime memories: taking a romantic boat ride for two, driving across the world-famous Seven Mile Bridge in a convertible, or spending a luxurious day at the world-class, 6000-square-foot spa at Cheeca Lodge, to name just a few. And there may be no better place on earth for watching the sunset over cocktails.

Celebrating its 70th anniversary this year as a legendary beachside getaway, Cheeca Lodge & Spa is a laid-back escape perfect for exploring all that the Keys have in store for couples, multigenerational families, and groups alike. Our 1,100-foot private beach, two heated swimming pools, nine-hole golf course, wide range of watersports, three delectable dining options, and family-friendly activities like a daily kids’ camp and weekly movies under the stars offer a relaxing and rejuvenating “Keys” experience for every visitor on beautiful Islamorada.

This spring, discover your paradise at Cheeca with these special three-night and five-night promotions. We can’t wait to see you at Cheeca Lodge & Spa this Spring!