Those who have traveled to private islands know the allure well. Being on a sliver of beach with 360 degrees of water between you and civilization feels like a Crusoe-esque fantasy, with the added advantages of hyper-attentive service, indulgent cuisine, and accommodations with a true sense of place. Beyond the obvious luxe factor, isolating from the world and all its distractions, not to mention distancing from others during a pandemic, feels urgent right now.
But where to go? The Maldives? French Polynesia? The Fijian archipelago?
Between health concerns and travel restrictions, private island dreams are being shelved, but they don’t have to be. Not when there’s Little Palm Island, in our own Florida Keys. Even given a choice of exclusive islands worldwide, this reimagined gem should be at the top of the must-go list.
Closed for renovations since Hurricane Irma blew through Florida in September 2017, Little Palm Island has reopened with a new design that feels familiar but is much elevated. The design team, Rossi Architecture of San Diego and New York–based AvroKo, took a cue from No. 33—President Harry S. Truman famously spent time on the island in the 1940s—to create an exclusive social-club aesthetic with all the luxuries but none of the pretense.
The experience begins at the Shore Station at Little Torch Key, where guests await the boat launch, one of which is aptly named The Truman, amid British West Indies–style furniture and paddle fans. If that’s not enough to elicit a tropical vibe, the rum-rich Gumby Slumber will surely do the trick.
The four-acre island is only a 15-minute boat ride away, but it feels like a whole other world. Sandy paths lined with sea grapes and palms lead to thatched-roof bungalows reminiscent of treehouses. The bungalow suites range in size from 550 to 1,020 square feet and come with broad decks, made of wood planks and bamboo, and private beaches appointed with lounge chairs and, in some cases, fire pits and hammocks.
The new design is an updated interpretation of 1940s style, with vaulted bamboo ceilings, tactile fabrics, textures ranging from rush to rattan, and the sparkle of crystal. The four-poster beds, encircled by sheers, are the most comfortable this side of, well, anywhere. There are nods to a bygone era—a black rotary-dial telephone, for instance—and there are no televisions in the rooms, which is a clever way to make you feel like you’ve stepped back to a simpler time.
Which is not to say that the place lacks modern indulgences. Top among these is the dining program, helmed by Danny Ganem, previously with The Betsy in Miami. Using a cornucopia of local seafood and produce, Ganem crafts inspired island cuisine and continuously changes the menu to surprise and delight guests. There’s elegant indoor dining, but the real story here is the outdoor seating, particularly the coveted tables in the sand, right at the water’s edge. In the summer, you may have to share space with turtle nests, which just adds to the authenticity. For breakfast, opt for room service and let the staff lay out a gorgeous morning spread on your deck, where you can easily transition to that hammock or an outdoor copper tub.
With self-care such a priority at the moment, the new SpaTerre is a necessity. The treatment rooms are oriented around a two-story atrium that recalls the patina of an old Cuban mansion, with clay-tile floors, British Colonial furnishings, and tropical plants galore. Like the ambience, the services will put you in another state of mind. If the conditions are right, opt for the Madrugada, offered only at sunrise. The therapists place the massage table in the shallows, and for 80 blissful minutes you receive healing body work while listening to the sigh of the surf and the sounds of nature. It’s absolutely transformative.
For those who prefer to be active, the sky’s the limit. Choose among kayaking to the mangroves, paddleboarding, backcountry flats fishing, reef diving excursions, sailing, and Dry Tortugas day trips, to name a few. Whatever your pleasure, the Little Palm Island “personal escape planner” is only a (rotary-dial) phone call away.
Re-create the island experience at home with Little Palm Island’s signature drink
1 oz. coconut rum
1 oz. Captain Morgan spiced rum
2 oz. each orange juice, pineapple juice,
and cranberry juice
Fresh coconut soaked in Bacardi 151 rum
Fill a tall, 12-ounce glass with ice. Mix the coconut rum and spiced rum and pour into glass. Add the juices. Float with a teaspoon of rum-soaked coconut and garnish with an orange wedge, if desired.