As the massage therapist gently soothes the knots in my back, I can’t tell if the heady scent in the air is the salt scrub and essential oils she’s slathering on my skin or the aroma of the actual sea, sand and tropical flowers surrounding me.
One thing, however, is crystal clear as I lie under this breezy thatched cabana of Spa al Mare. Life at Casa Marina, an elegant Waldorf Astoria Resort in Florida’s sun-splashed Key West, is all about the beach.
A typical day starts with breakfast on Flagler’s Terrace, named after the American industrialist and oil tycoon Henry Morrison Flagler, who built and opened the hotel in 1920 as a testament to his abiding love of Florida.
After a dip in one of Casa Marina’s twin pools – the west pool for families, the east pool for adults only – it’s time to hit the beach and a workshop in the delicate art of sand sculpting.
Our teacher is the resort’s resident expert and Dutch transplant Marianne van den Broek, who, in a stroke of creative genius, makes a living from sculpting sand all day.
Under a cloudless sky, my “team” makes a passable rendering of the hotel itself from our oversize buckets of sand, before we all put down our tools for a dip in the sea.
Next up, a leisurely lunch at the casual Sun-Sun Beach Bar and Grill, followed by a quiet snooze in a hammock strung between palm trees, and the aforementioned massage in one of the spa’s beachside cabanas.
After a quick shower in my room, it’s back to the beach for a wonderful toes-in-the-sand dinner under a canopy of stars, and a final swim in the east pool before retiring to bed.
Perched on Key West’s largest private sand beach, and designed with two wings that seem to embrace the resort’s expansive terrace, pools and beach, Casa Marina is a successful marriage of old Florida ambience and contemporary style.
The resort’s 311 guest rooms and suites exude a languid, tropical charm that’s a perfect fit with a climate that fluctuates from the mid 60s to the high 80s all year round.
Fresh from a recent refurbishment, the main lobby offers a warm welcome with dark hardwood columns and a paneled ceiling offset with original Florida pine floors, and cream-and-gold soft furnishings with splashes of coral-hued cushions.
Pass through the resort’s signature arched windows and a striking Water Walk leads guests out onto the main terrace, past the twin pools, and down to 1,100 feet of secluded beachfront.
Many of the guest rooms and suites have balconies facing the beach and sea, which thankfully help take your eye away from some of the design flaws and hard knocks that the rooms have taken over the years.
My ground floor suite in the east wing offers lovely water views and a comfy new bed with crisp linens, but the cabinets and furniture in both the bedroom and living room have clearly seen better days.
But with so many alluring attractions in and around the resort, a vacation at Casa Marina doesn’t revolve around the rooms.
The food and service in all of the resort’s dining areas is of a high standard, with attentive pool and beach concierges delivering drinks, light meals, eucalyptus towels, and cooling mineral water sprays poolside in the heat of the day.
Guests can also enjoy the facilities at Casa Marina’s sister hotel The Reach, just next door, with its own private beach, swimming pool and excellent Strip House restaurant serving top-quality steaks with other American fare.
Both hotels offer an array of water sports from jet-skis to parasailing, snorkeling, kayaking and sunset sailings, but many guests hire bicycles from Barefoot Billy’s at the Casa Marina gate and set off to explore all of Key West’s numerous attractions, cafes, restaurants, shops and bars.
Those who prefer to relax can enjoy a treatment in Casa Marina’s recently renovated Spa al Mare, which now has three new private treatment rooms, or opt – and I happily did – for a massage in one of the beachside cabanas.
Ah, there’s that beach again, beckoning guests to kick off their shoes, dig their toes in the sand, and do what we all like to do on vacation – absolutely nothing.
1: Don’t miss visiting the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum at 907 Whitehead St., where Key West’s favorite son wrote some of his most iconic novels. hemingwayhome.com
2: Enjoy a fun “workshop” on the beach with Casa Marina’s resident sand-sculpting expert Marianne van den Broek, who has been building sand-sculptures for 15 years with her company Sand Isle. sandisle.com
3: Hire a bike and explore Key West with “Sides,” a go-to guide to the so-called Conch Republic’s best stores, art galleries, dining, clubs, bars and lounges. gosides.com
For more information, visit casamarinaresort.com and reachresort.com.
Image Credits: Photo courtesy of Casa Marina.