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Little Palm Island

Far, far away from the city. Copyright Milton Fullman, 1999We met the New York lawyer, not on a subway, but on a ferry gliding from Little Torch Key to Little Palm Island.


As he stared into the distance, Little Palm Island slid into view and he relaxed the grip he had on his lawyer-looking briefcase. The salt breeze unglued his hair, transforming him from the well-groomed to the well-ruffled. His glare was intense as he, no doubt, had his mind on the demands latched inside his leather attache.

When the boat several minutes later docked at Little Palm Island – with its palm trees and stilt-high, thatched-roof bungalows where the rich and famous and honeymooners and escapees have vacationed – the now-rumpled lawyer stepped off, briefcase in hand.

Being from the South and unaccustomed to mass transit, I couldn’t help wondering if there were any correlation between this ride and the young attorney’s daily grind in New York City where subways slam doors in people’s faces and, indeed, the dead have been known to ride undisturbed for hours.

After a brief, guided walk-around, which takes little time on an island that’s only 5.5 acres, arriving guests were shown to their havens filled with jetted tubs, living rooms, giant beds shrouded in mosquito netting (just for looks, not of necessity), garden tubs and bamboo-enclosed outdoor showers.Aerial view of the 5.5 acres. Copyright Milton Fullman, 1999

Following a quiet dinner served on cloth-covered tables and with views of the ebbing tide, next morning I spied the lawyer again. The briefcase was gone. The long pants had been replaced by Hawaiian-print swim trunks. The just-right hair was scrambled. The intensity on his face had faded. As he sat at the pool’s edge and let his toes skim across clear water, looking more like a seabird than an attorney, I inquired about his stay. He laughed. Not at my question but at himself.

"Yesterday I was mired in work details and now I can’t even remember what they were," he smiled, as the maiden who had accompanied him delivered a frosted drink from the poolside bar. As he nibbled the slice of orange that had topped his tropical drink, he admitted that, on this island, cares are as void as the television, telephones and roadways.

A Quiet Place

On Little Palm Island, in Florida’s Lower Keys, there actually are two guest telephones. One in a great room filled with books and another in a former outhouse, named for one of the island’s famous guests, Harry Truman, who with his fellow fishing buddies and sometimes with his wife, Bess, retreated here.

As this recent visitor learned, it does not take long on Little Palm Island to learn that doing nothing is an accepted thing to do.

Doing nothing is something to do... Copyright Milton Fullman, 1999Some guests opt for water recreation (man-powered toys are provided at no charge; motor-powered toys may be charged to the guest’s room). Canoeing to nearby islands or circumventing the tiny islands is an option. So are deep-sea fishing, massages, snorkeling, SCUBA diving, seacycling (you stop, you drop) and seaplane tours.

Island guests have other choices such as strolling through the Zen Garden, flopping into a pierside chaise lounge or secluded hammock, or savoring a sailing charter.

Dinner is a highlight after a day of doing little or nothing, and the staff, ever-attentive, rolls out the red carpet to showcase Chef Adam Votaw, who offers a fusion of Floribbean cuisine with Asian and French influence.

When we visited, we spent part of one night’s dinner spying a wedding taking place just beyond the restaurant, on a sandy point lighted with torches and a setting sun. Word quickly spread that the young lovers had eloped for their nuptials, and, as we watched from afar, we felt a part of their ploy and their plans.

Dining to the sounds of the sea. Copyright Milton Fullman, 1999Dinners can be lengthy affairs that begin with wine and menu viewing. But, there is no rush to return to CNN (bungalows have no televisions) or to telephones (data ports are in-room but no telephones) or to alarm clocks (there are none, proving there is no rush to awaken). One afternoon, we overheard a visitor at poolside, confessing, "Can you believe I had to make myself wake up so I wouldn’t miss my massage?"

Decadent? Maybe. But, that’s why folks work all year long – so they can pamper themselves from time to time.

Not the First to Visit

To dispel the thought that being here is something new, the resort’s dining-room holds framed photographs of previous visitors, with presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy and Nixon among those who have retreated here.

Film crews have been here, too. In 1962, Warner Brothers selected the site for its South Seas ambiance when filming the movie, PT 109, based on President John Kennedy’s wartime experiences. According to a story that circulates on the island, Kennedy patriarch, Joseph, insisted that the State of Florida run electricity and water to the island so that son, John, would not be disturbed by the roar of a generator.

More than 250 Jamaican coconut palm trees are the legacy of Newton Munson, the first inhabitant of the island which became a resort in 1986.

A splendid sunset in the Keys. Copyright Milton Fullman, 1999The New York lawyer was on the same return ferry that we rode. On the 15-minute ride that was the first leg of returning to the real world, I couldn’t help asking about the work he had hoped to accomplish on his getaway.

"Work? What work?" he said, as he turned his face into the wind and let the breeze swallow him for one final time before he would have to discover all over again what work really is.

Because on Little Palm Island, guests are quick studies when they realize that doing nothing can be a thing to do.

If You Go:

Little Palm Island, which is a member of the exclusive Relais & Chateaux group, sits in the westernmost of the Harbor Keys. Limousine and van transfer service are available from Key West International Airport or Marathon Airport, both some 25 miles away. Seaplane service also is available to Key West, Marathon and Miami.

The resort, which is owned and operated by Noble House Hotels & Resorts, offers a meal plan, which eliminates concerns about reading the menu’s right column. Prices are what you’d expect on a private island resort – $19 for a poolside hamburger with all the trimmings and dinner entrees in the $30 to $40 range.

Rates, based on double occupancy, vary widely depending on the season but most often fall somewhere between $400 and $1,700 nightly. (Call to check on Millennium rates.)

Meal plans are $125 per person daily for two meals and $140 per person daily for three meals. Alcohol is not included in either plan.

For details, call 800-3-GETLOST, or 305-872-2524, or visit www.littlepalmisland.com