This Florida Keys Hot Spot Is America's Only Private Island Resort — and It Was Just Named One of the Best Hotels in the World

Florida's Little Palm Island Resort & Spa just made the T+L 500.

Little Palm Island
Photo: Taylor Volkens; Little Palm Island Resort & Spa

There's a vacation, and then there's the kind of getaway from which you emerge as if from a fever dream.

Just 28.5 miles north of quirky Key West, serenity awaits at a four-acre sanctum, where a stay is a fantasy indulged: a realm where you reside on an elegantly appointed, deliciously secluded tropical island, and the only decision to be made each day is between adventure or relaxation (or some optimal combination of both).

Little Palm Island
Taylor Volkens; Little Palm Island Resort & Spa
Little Palm Island
Taylor Volkens; Little Palm Island Resort & Spa

Notoriously posh, Little Palm Island Resort & Spa is the only private island resort in the U.S. — where the resort is the island and the island the resort — and yet visiting doesn't feel like you're still in the States at all. Little Palm Island barely seems to exist within the same dimension — the fact that a trip here doesn't even require a passport is almost too good to be true.

Though its modern iteration as a resort destination stretches back to the 1980s, Little Palm Island, part of the Noble House Hotels & Resorts collection, went offline in September 10, 2017, when it was decimated by Hurricane Irma. Rebuilding began soon after and wasn't complete until the island's grand re-debut on March 1, 2020. Now, two years later, Little Palm Island Resort & Spa has been named to the newly released T+L 500, a catalog of the top hotels in the world, according to our 2021 World's Best Awards survey.

Island guests can arrive via private boat, seaplane (chartered through Tropic Ocean Airways), or car. Those who drive are greeted at the Shore Station in Little Torch Key with Gumby Slumbers — the island's signature coconut-soaked rum cocktail, invented by a former bartender and named for the delirious way it makes you feel — with just 10 minutes aboard the Woodson or Truman motor yacht separating you from lush Little Palm Island, where an alternate reality awaits.

The island's swank accommodations are spread across fifteen thatched-roof bungalows housing thirty suites, which come with features like a plush bed, furnished deck, outdoor shower and copper soaking tub, ocean views, fire pit, and sheer privacy — an oasis of one's own. Alternatively, visitors can book a slip and stay on their own boat; Little Palm Island's marina can accommodate vessels up to 120 feet.

Little Palm Island
Taylor Volkens; Little Palm Island Resort & Spa

Even if you wanted to keep in touch with the real world, that's the only thing on the island that doesn't come easy: though the cell service is strong and Wi-Fi reliable, the rebuild stuck to tradition by keeping televisions out of guest rooms, offering an opportunity to unplug and escape. Ringing phones are taboo on Little Palm Island; instead, pop into the Harry Truman "outhouse" to take calls (if you must).

The fact that over one-third of the island's guests are repeat visitors is a testament to its transportive power and beloved status. Many of the island's employees, too, are returning staff following the renovation hiatus.

With its aim to reinstitute the best of the past while embracing the Little Palm Island of tomorrow, the reimagining process took delicate attention to detail. Repeat guests will return to find the home-away-from-home they know and love, with its crushed seashell paths and own set of rules for laid-back living, restored — yet upgraded with new features like the addition of a fitness center, a larger indoor-outdoor bar at Monkey Hut Lounge, a refreshed boutique, and a second-floor Great Room, home to the only TV on the island.

Unsurprisingly, it doesn't get used much. Instead, most guests opt to disconnect distraction-free and take advantage of the "take a book, leave a book" lending library — that is, if they can pry their eyes away from nature's ever-evolving palette of colors (and Key deer sightings).

SpaTerre, too, presents an updated experience: larger and more wellness-centric than before, the two-story retreat has an interior courtyard atrium flanked by steps leading to a waiting room stocked with gemstone-infused water and gourmet Tea Forté pyramids. Book a guided meditation or an Ocean Wave Four Hands Massage to fully unwind and rejuvenate.

The Dining Room is your destination for à la carte meals, though delivery via Suite Service is a must at least once to enjoy dining amidst the sea breezes from the comfort of your own luxurious enclave. Another must is dinner on the beach at sunset; with tiki torches and a menu inspired by the bountiful paradise surrounding, the experience is unparalleled. Miami-raised chef Daniel Ganem sources fresh seafood, produce, and spices from around the islands.

In addition to the pool and beach, complimentary resort activities include paddle boards, fishing equipment, snorkel gear, kayaks, a Hobie Cat day sailer, and four 13-foot Boston Whalers for guests to take out as they please to nearby sandbars and reefs.

Little Palm Island
Taylor Volkens

Suites start at $2,490 per night and include island amenities like welcome cocktails, motor yacht transfers, water sports, nightly turndown service, and more.

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