Amara Cay is swanky, modern, and it's right on the ocean. It's also not your typical Keys-y resort as far as decor goes, but that's what makes it a square peg in a round world (hey, it's hip to be square). You should find everything you need onsite, or just a short ride away on the free Mercedes shuttle bus.
YOU SHOULD KNOW While they’ve added a few giant-sized outdoor games like Jenga, Connect Four, and a ping pong table, in all honesty, this is a beautiful, romantic, boutique hotel so you may want to leave the kids with grandma to fully enjoy its offerings. The former jungle gym and slide have been removed, hint hint.
It’s like staying in a grown up apartment with sophisticated furniture, elegant appointments, neutral colors, and statement artwork. As far as the bedding, it's luxurious and includes triple sheeting. In the suites, you’ll find a bar area complete with an island and stools, a wine chiller, and a stash of adult goodies next to the Keurig that might make you blush (think safe sex, for starters).
Splurge for an ocean view so you can watch the sunrise from your balcony, or the moon on the water.
You’ll love these newly updated bathrooms with their flattering backlit mirror, and a tray of deliciously scented shampoo, shower gel, conditioner, and lotion. It’s not often that bath towels make such a statement, but these towels are seriously plush. And wait till you put on the bathrobe.
It's quite the juxtaposition--step from a plain old boring parking lot into the bright, funky, and fun lobby. The first thing you'll probably notice are the rattan chairs, swinging from the ceiling. What is this place? And, are you trendy enough to be here? Why, of course you are. If not, pretend. Check in, then take a selfie at the selfie spot so you can show off where you are (and you’ll want to show off).
They stepped up their game when it came to hotel pools. The old pool has been filled in (now a green space) and the new freeform pool with its expansive pool deck is ocean front and simply fabulous. It is the place to be in the heat of the day--and into the night. Zero entry makes it kid-friendly (in case you do bring your children--but don’t). It's even a bit Disney-esque with faux rocks that are actually speakers.
Plan to eat and drink at Sparrows Rum Bar, poolside. Blackened cobia, conch BLTs, yellowfin tuna tacos… they taste as good as they sound. Start off with a prickly pear mojito, their specialty.
Oltremare is their indoor venue and has already lived (and died) a few different lives. Once Italian seafood, now more tapas-focused, it’s an open and airy venue right off the lobby. Hopefully, they’ll keep the truffled mac and cheese on the menu--it’s dreamy. For something unique, save room for their tempura-fried key lime pie.
YOU SHOULD KNOW Oltremare serves a fantastic breakfast. Their "wake and bake" potatoes and Italian mortadella hash are worth the calories.
Poolside massage? You bet. Or, in your room if you prefer. How about a little shopping? Island Trenz, a unique gift shop, is right off the lobby. You'll find cool gifts, island wear, jewelry, and items for your home. You can always just head out to the beach and be lazy in a lounge chair. The ocean views will lull you into nap time.
YOU SHOULD KNOW Just a friendly reminder about beaches in the Keys. They're not soft, they're not even sandy--they're literally crushed up coral. It's a trade-off; the Keys have the only living coral reef in North America, yet they have no beaches, just itty bits of coral strewn on shore.
sea monkeys watersports
If you don't walk along the sea wall, you might miss it and that would be just tragic. Sea Monkey’s Scuba Diving and Watersports Rental is a one-stop-shop for all thing water-related. Kayaks, paddleboards, wave runners, sailboats--you name it. Their shop has all kinds of goodies and gear, too.
They specialize in a "6-pack dive boat." That means they only take six people at a time, and they include an underwater guide. Best. Day. Ever.
You can walk to a few places from Amara Cay, but your best bet is the resort’s free Mercedes shuttle bus that will take you up to four miles in either direction. In the summertime, that air-conditioned shuttle is a lifesaver. Uber and Lyft are also an option.
Lazy Days (3-minute walk) is a local favorite (be sure to walk as parking is impossible). The Hungry Tarpon (4-minute drive) is bayside and serves a mean cracked conch and Thai-style Mahi fingers. Their Bloody Mary is a meal in a glass with all the accompaniments like shrimp, stuffed olives, green beans, celery… oh my. Oo-tray (2-minute drive) is where creative juices fly, with dishes like their pork chop with bacon jam, and shrimp pot pie.
Take an Uber to Hog Heaven (8-minute drive) for late night fun with the locals. Live music and pool tables await. Owned by former NFL player Gary Dunn, the Oceanview Inn and Sports Pub, aka "The O.V." (7-minute drive) is affordable fun with TVs, bay views, and good food. The world famous Holiday Isle Tiki Bar (6-mile drive) serves up the original rum runner under a thatched Tiki on the water.
WHY WE LIKE IT
Amara Cay is like the yin and yang of the resort world, it's upscale, yet casual. Welcoming, yet privileged. Top that off with a staff that is genuinely kind, a beautiful pool area, excellent food and beverages, and you've got one unique, boutique resort. Only 90 minutes from Miami, and 90 minutes from Key West, Amara Cay's central location makes it convenient to explore all of the Keys. But, even if you never leave the property, you won't miss a thing. You can sway in a hammock under a palm, sip mojitos, feel the ocean breeze on your face, and experience the tropical fairytale that is Islamorada.