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Little Palm: America's Only Private Island

Turn off your cell phone and get lost at this enchanting, adults-only luxury resort.

Photo by Michael Levin

Sometimes you want a family vacation, and truth be told, sometimes you want a vacation from your family. A chance to get away, just the two of you, to a secluded place where the realities of life, including the buzzing of other people’s cell phones, can never intrude.

Just 25 minutes from the Key West International Airport is Little Palm Island Resort & Spa, an adults-only resort strictly limited to 30 couples at a time, situated on the only private island in the United States.

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The island’s initial claim to fame is that President Harry Truman used to come here to fish when he wanted to get away from the struggles of the White House. Indeed, one of the launches that takes you from the mainland to Little Palm is named for the former President.

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The formerly Presidential outhouse on the island is now a small phone booth. But perhaps Truman should have brought along his pal Winston Churchill, who loved to paint watercolors, because wherever you look on the island, you are offered yet another fabulous, postcard view.

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You can also arrive by seaplane from Key West’s airport (a five-minute hop) or from Miami International (about 35 minutes) and tie up at the main dock. That’s a pretty cool way to start off your vacation.

Photo by Michael Levin

On Little Palm Island, couples stay in their own secluded one-bedroom villas, each provided with their own deck and separate area with hammock and lawn chairs. Each villa also sports an outdoor shower, a unique treat and one that will cause you to sing I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair from South Pacific.

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One of the unique features of Little Palm Island is that cell phones are verboten anywhere on the island except for inside your villa. The world gets awfully quiet when you are not subject to strangers blathering incessantly on their phones. (When did the world discover the speaker feature on their iPhones, anyway? Get some earbuds, people!)

You won’t lack for things to do, should you decide to do something other than lounge in your private hammock and enjoy the aforementioned outdoor shower. A small fleet of Boston whalers, gassed up and ready to go, is yours for the taking. Rods and reels and all the bait you could need are waiting for you too, so you can fish from the island or from the boat you borrow.

Kayaks are also on offer. Private snorkeling tours—typically just you and one or two other couples—take you out to Looe Key, a protected coral reef zone a twenty-minute cruise from Little Palm, which offers experiences of swimming with stunningly beautiful fish (including barracuda and baby sharks!) said to rival the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

You can take your meals in your room or on the tables set up by the beach, dining al fresco as the sun goes down. The food? Superb, which should not come as a surprise. It’s a great wedding spot as well.

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The staff at Little Palm have a reverence for the location bordering on the religious. It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that the staff, which outnumbers the guests, consider it a privilege to work at a place so serene. This might be the only resort in the world where working there is considered not just a job but a calling. The love that the team members have for Little Palm permeates every aspect of the guests’ experience.

The island took a debilitating hit when the eye of Hurricane Irma passed directly overhead in 2017, destroying pretty much everything in sight. COVID didn’t help, but all of that’s in the rear-view mirror. On this extraordinary island may well be one of the most beautiful resorts in the United States.

The marketing slogan for Little Palm is “get lost.” You’ll see that emblazoned on the hats they give you when you arrive, the t-shirts, the towels, the menus, it’s everywhere. In an era when our lives are defined by being “on the grid,” it’s a welcome relief to know that, if only for a few days, you really can get lost.

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