Published on Thursday, March 24, 2016

If it's good enough for Ray Liotta

Rachel Roberts just can't resist the giant breakfast pancakes at the four-star Cheeca Lodge & Spa, in Islamorada in the Florida Keys. Apparently, they're as big as your head.

At just over an hour and 40 minutes' drive from Miami, Islamorada is roughly half way down the series of islets and bridges that make up the iconic Florida Keys, so you could equally use the hotel as a base to explore the famous spit of land or just while away the time in the resort.

First impressions
Cheeca boasts 214 colonial-style guestrooms, oceanfront suites and bungalows, all dotted around 27 acres of immaculately tended grounds and with two pools (one just for adults) and six tennis courts. But unlike other vast resorts, where you need a Sat Nav to find your way around, it doesn't feel overwhelming. In fact, considering its size, it feels surprisingly cosy, warm and welcoming. What's more, there are shiny stylish bikes to help you get around when you do need to get somewhere a little faster (like that urgent spa appointment, for example). That's as soon as you've mastered the no brakes/no gears situation. And you know you're in trusted hands when you see the hotel's 'wall of fame' inside the main lodge, covered with celebrities who have stayed here, including Ray Liotta and Steve Martin.

Wining and dining
There are several restaurants to choose from, including Italian eaterie Limoncello, where we inhaled a bowl of divine Lobster linguine. For more of a treat, reserve a table at Atlantic's Edge. Put your glad rags on for this seafood restaurant and try the local hogfish - or have your own catch cooked if you got lucky out at sea earlier in the day.

We lucked out with one of the resort bungalows, just yards away from the briny Atlantic Ocean. There were many lovely touches in our accommodation - a seriously spacious double room and en suite decked out in West Indies style of dark mahogany, tropical artwork and a colonial-style palm-leaf ceiling fan.

That American reputation for customer care that goes above and beyond the call of duty greets you at every turn at Cheeca. Employees, like our super-friendly waiter, a Haitian called Walter, who took our orders for those giant pancakes every morning, and the smiling beach tender who made sure the 1200 metre square private stretch of white sand was pristine every morning.

Leisure time
Located in the Sportfishing Capital of the World, Cheeca Lodge is magnet for serious anglers, lured here by the rich marine life that can be found in the 'sweet spot', where three other bodies of water join the Atlantic - the Gulfstream, Florida Bay and The Gulf of Mexico. The nine-hole, par-3 Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course is beautifully-maintained and close by are the tennis courts for those who want to play from sunrise to sunset and beyond. Add to that an extensive activities list, including beach yoga and snorkelling, and you'll soon work up an appetite. For those who want a more chilled out time, there's an elegant spa with 11 treatment rooms. Here, you can experience a Signature Hot Lava Shell massage, where polished Tiger Clam shells are heated and used to invigorate and soothe the body. Heaven. And, thanks to Camp Cheeca, there's plenty to keep kids occupied too, from scavenger hunts to lagoon swimming and snorkelling.

Definitely the screened balcony in our bedroom. On our first night, an almighty storm ripped through the night skies, and we threw open the balcony windows to watch the drama unfold. As the lightening forked and crackled, we felt as snug as bugs in our super-comfy king-sized bed. It was the perfect excuse to snaffle the home-made Key Lime cookies that had been left in our welcome pack.

The after-effects of the cookies and giant pancakes, which I'm still trying to shift. Also, the hot water in our bathroom was a little bit temperamental. If we'd stayed longer than two nights, the lukewarm showers would have been more of a problem. And unless that pair of new shorts or bikini is a real SOS, give the resort's super-pricy Signature store a swerve.

This is a great option for holidaymakers looking for a real retreat from the world. You can simply flip-flop from your room to the beach or to the spa, and with four restaurants to choose from, there's really no reason to venture outside until it's time to leave. It would be a good choice for families too - Camp Cheeca will keep the little 'uns busy (and noise levels down) so you can work on that all-important tan. And for those who are after a bit more action, it could also work to combine a stay with a few days in Miami.

Resort rooms start at $296.

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