Travel — 03 April 2015
Getting lost on Little Palm Island in the Keys

By Mark Gauert

When I was 5 years old, my mother lost me on Tom Sawyer Island.

It wasn’t her fault. She’d had a tight grip on my hand as the log raft crossed the waters from Frontierland at Disneyland. She’d had her eye on me as we bumped up to the dock, the captain in a straw hat untied the knotty rope gate, and the passengers – mostly other 5 year olds and their mothers – pushed ashore.

Then a signpost, advertising the adventures ahead.

“WELCUM,’’ was carved in Tom’s questionable hand. “If you like dark caves, mystery mines, bottomless pits, shaky bridges and big rocks, you have come to the best place I know.”

And that was it. My mother lost me on Tom Sawyer Island.

The story goes that I wore her out that day, trying to catch me again. She’d get almost close enough on the footpaths to grab my hand, then just miss as I jumped onto the barrel bridge or took a sharp turn into the mystery mine or escaped down the secret passage under the stockade at Fort Wilderness.

She chased me around and around the island that day, till the sun began to set, I got hungry … and I started looking for her. We were both worn out by the time she had a firm grip on my hand again on the log raft back across the water to Frontierland. Worn out, but happy.

It was the best place I knew.

Until now.

***

Many years later, my wife almost lost me on Little Palm Island.

It wasn’t her fault. We’d held hands as the launch crossed the waters from the Welcome Station on Little Torch Key to the resort and spa 20 minutes away on Little Munson Island. As we bumped up to the dock, the captain in a sun visor opened the gangway, and the passengers – mostly couples the same or a few years older than us – pushed ashore.

Then a signpost, advertising the adventures ahead.

“WELCOME,’’ the concierge said, starting a walking tour of the secluded, 5 ½-acre resort while the crew took our bags to one of the 30 thatch-roofed suites. If you like white-sand beaches, mystery novels on a lounger by the Atlantic, bottomless brunches in the Dining Room, martinis shaken in the Monkey House Lounge and heated stone massages at Spa Terre, you have come to the best place.

The story goes that we wore ourselves out that day, trying to do everything before the sun set. We’d jump into an ocean kayak and take a few sharp turns into the mysterious mangroves around Munson Island, or escape up a secret passage to Spa Terre for an 80-minute massage.

We chased around and around the island that day, lounging by the pool, sampling Shipwrecks (coconut rum, pineapple juice and Bacardi 151), swinging in hammocks, watching the Key deer run, till the sun began to set, we got hungry … and we started looking for the Dining Room.

We followed the footpaths, raked to Zen-gardenlike perfection (no leaf blowers to disturb our peace here), past the bungalows to the Dining Room. We took a table down on the white-sand beach as the sun began to sizzle into the west. Our own personal Mallory Square (without the fire-jugglers). We watched the first stars peek from the night sky over plates of Fire Roasted Golden Beets and Coconut Lobster Bisque. By the time the Key lime pie (with cashew crust, citrus brûlée and mango coulis) arrived, the rising moon had chased away all but the brightest stars.

We were both worn out by the time we were holding hands again on the launch back to Little Torch Key. Worn out, but happy – even though we had to leave early that morning so she could get back to work. (I did not).

The captain in a sun visor opened the gangway at the Welcome Station, and the passengers – just the two of us – pushed reluctantly ashore.

“It’s still early,” the captain’s mate smiled. “You could still go back – we’ll take you!’’

That’s when my wife almost lost me on Little Palm Island.

 

Guests aboard the Woodson, Little Palm Island Resort & Spa’s private launch, on a sunset transit from the reception facility on Little Torch Key to the main resort 15-20 minutes away on Little Munson Island.

A quiet moment among the thatch-roofed bungalows of Little Palm Island Resort & Spa.

 

Sunset view from the Monkey Hut Lounge at Little Palm Island Resort & Spa.


I’d read and heard about the rare and endangered Key deer – but had never seen one until I landed at Little Palm. The 30-inch-tall animals were everywhere on the 5 ½-acre island during a January visit – delighting guests with sightings (and, of course, selfies) at the dock, along the beach, and foraging among the mangroves. Many are such regular visitors – they swim in and out from neighboring Keys – they’ve been given names. Along with the signpost advertising the adventures ahead at the dock at Little Palm Island, though, you’ll see an important one regarding etiquette. “Please do not feed the Key deer,” the sign advises. “It is illegal and a $250 fine is associated with doing so.”


We were not the first to fall under the charms of Little Palm Island. When actor Cliff Robertson came here to make the 1963 film P.T. 109, with Little Munson Island and the Keys standing in for the Solomon Islands in President John F. Kennedy’s Pacific wartime biopic, he apparently went a little island happy, too. He left a publicity still of himself at the helm of the P.T. boat, in full command of his role as President Kennedy, which still hangs on a wall in the Dining Room. “To my good friends of Little Island (Palm),’’ he signed. “Unposed and unclothed. My favorite beachhead.”  The record, like the fading ink on the photo, is not clear on what prompted Robertson to write the dedication. Maybe it was the splendid isolation, the sunsets, the starry nights, or the Bacardi 151-spiked Shipwrecks.


IF YOU GO
There are two ways to get to Little Palm Island Resort & Spa in the Keys:
by boat or by seaplane. The resort’s private motor yacht departs to the island hourly (9:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.) from a dock at the Welcome Station, just off U.S. 1 at 28500 Overseas Highway, Little Torch Key, 305-872-2524. The crossing takes about 15-20 minutes, and is especially delightful at sunset with a Gumby Slumber – the island’s signature cocktail (pineapple, cranberry and orange juices, Captain Morgan Spiced Rum and Parrot Bay Rum) – in hand (video at cityandshore.com). Tropic Ocean Airways, founded in 2009 by US Navy TOPGUN graduate Rob Ceravolo, offers a fleet of late-model Cessna Amphibians for charter flights to the Keys, among other destinations. Contact 800-767-0897 or 954-210-5569, www.flytropic.com.

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