FLORIDA KEYS — One of the Florida Keys’ iconic resorts has reopened, as the island chain continues unveiling fully refurbished accommodations more than six months after Hurricane Irma.
Islamorada’s 27-acre, 214-room Cheeca Lodge Resort and Spa reopened its doors for the high-demand Easter holiday weekend, hosting vacationers for the first time since a visitor evacuation began several days before Irma impacted the destination Sept. 10, 2017.
Cheeca’s lobby, landscaping and a 525-foot-long oceanfront dock sustained heavy damage from storm surge. Many guestrooms also had water intrusion, although the core of the Category 4 storm made landfall on Cudjoe Key, about 60 miles west of the resort.
About $25 million has been spent on Cheeca’s restoration, which includes upgrades that began prior to Irma, resort executives say.
The hotel’s lobby, for example, was fully redesigned to enhance views of the Atlantic Ocean.
For many Cheeca guests, the Easter holiday weekend is a family vacation tradition.
“It’s a really big weekend for us every year,” said Bob LaCasse, Cheeca’s general manager, adding that the restoration “allowed us to bring our guests back in-season.”
LaCasse said the resort did not lay off employees during the closure, and staff assisted outside contractors with the property's recovery.
“During the time while we were closed, the staff actually worked in every type of job you can imagine in the cleanup process,” LaCasse said. “It really strengthens the team, so the entire staff is bonded. When you go through a crisis like this, you almost become family.”
With Cheeca's reopening, 80 percent of Florida Keys lodging properties are hosting visitors, according to Keys tourism officials. In Key West, more than 92 percent of accommodations are open. The tourism industry employs more than 50 percent of the Keys labor force.
Key West’s 106-room Havana Cabana Key West Hotel, the former Inn at Key West, is to reopen this month with Cuba-themed amenities and a 104,000-gallon pool billed as Key West’s largest.
In Key Largo, the 60-acre all-suite Ocean Pointe Suites at Key Largo continues its reopening that began with a newly restored private beach and over-the-water gazebo.
Also in the Upper Keys destination, the new 12-acre “luxury inclusive” adults-only 135-unit Bungalows Key Largo is scheduled to open in May with a “Florida chic” design and bungalows averaging 800 square feet.
On Duck Key near Marathon, the 60-acre Hawks Cay Resort, a AAA Four-Diamond Award–rated and Preferred Hotel Group Lifestyle Collection member, is partially reopened with 100 villas and its Calm Waters Spa, Sunset Pool, Coral Cay kids’ activities center and Angler and Ale restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Its dolphin program is open as well. The main hotel, with 177 guestrooms, a saltwater lagoon, three pools and three restaurants, is to reopen this summer.
Almost all Keys attractions and restaurants have returned to pre-Irma operations.
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS
Visitors enjoy the pool at Cheeca Lodge Resort & Spa, when the iconic Florida Keys resort reopened Friday, March 30, 2018. Image: Andy Newman
About $25 million has been spent on Cheeca’s restoration and upgrades, landscaping and a 525-foot-long oceanfront dock. Image: Andy Newman
The new 12-acre “luxury inclusive” adults-only 135-unit Bungalows Key Largo is to open in May with a “Florida chic” design and bungalows averaging 800 square feet.