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    Sunset Key; photo by Anne Hersley

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    Little Palm

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    Hawk's Cay

The Key to Happiness

By Blake Miller

Posted: Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014

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Newlyweds have long chosen Hawaii, Caribbean, or Mexico over the Florida Keys for their honeymoons.

But they shouldn’t. In addition to the advantages of staying stateside for your honeymoon (goodbye, passport, long customs lines, and lengthy flights), you’re able to experience laid-back luxury coupled with relaxation, romance, and a whole lot of adventure.

Make your honeymoon even more extraordinary by renting a convertible and driving the glorious trip from Miami past turquoise blue waters and tiny beaches and staying at the three top properties in the Keys. From one of the most secluded properties in the U.S. to one that’s just a quick boat ride away from the nightlife of Key West, you’ll have the opportunity to relax, romance, and reminisce about your wedding while making new memories as husband and wife.

Hawk’s Cay Resort, Duck Key

You’d almost miss it if it weren’t for a lone stop light on U.S. 1 in the Florida Keys. And even then, as you drive over the bridge onto Duck Key you might drive past Hawk’s Cay Resort & Spa.

That’s the beauty of the property: its secluded location. With 177 Caribbean-inspired décor suites, canal villas, and one glorious penthouse, it’s the only upscale yet laid-back property between Key Largo and Marathon. A recent several million dollar renovation and redesign upgraded Hawk’s Cay to one of the ultimate honeymoon destinations in the Keys and for good reason: the more modern lobby and outdoor patio area give way to an oversize fire pit where nightly acoustic music is played and you can enjoy a pre- or post-dinner libation while taking in the crystal clear stars of the Keys. During the day, unwind poolside at one of two newly-designed pools (there’s a third tucked away that’s seldom used by guests) or stroll around the ocean-fed, saltwater lagoon.

Can’t MissThe Dolphin Encounter. Slip into the water and get up close with the dolphins at Hawk’s Cay’s Dolphin Encounter. As the only hotel or resort in the continental U.S. that offers free public viewings of trained dolphins, you and your partner will feed the family of dolphins while trainers have them spin, flip, and race through the water right in front of your faces.

Little Palm Island Resort & Spa, Little Torch Key

Further down on U.S. 1 South at Little Torch Key at mile marker 28.5, you’ll see a small sign for Little Palm Island. LPI’s welcome center—what looks like one of the only dwellings nearby for miles—is cozy and inviting and gives you just an inkling of the extraordinary resort you’re about to visit. A quick 15-minute ride aboard LPI’s classic reproduction yacht, the S.S. Truman (named after President Harry Truman, who enlisted Little Palm as his summer White House), gets you to the remote 5-acre island dotted with just 15 thatched-roof cottages (30 suites total), some so private only a cruise on the canal out to the Atlantic offers a glimpse of the ultra-exclusive accommodations (celebrities like Scarlett Johannsen, Billy Joel, Al and Tipper Gore, and several past U.S. Presidents have vacationed here).

Your cottage—adorned with a wooden sign bearing your married last name—is wonderfully appointed with crisp, white linens and custom toiletries featuring Little Palm’s signature coco mango scent. Upon arrival, pour a glass of the complimentary sparkling wine and nosh on some of the goodies and snacks such as the chocolate covered raisins that are stocked in your fridge. Don’t expect to reconnect with the rest of the world here, though: cell phone usage is prohibited in public areas on island and every suite is furnished sans television to ensure complete detachment.

While the private cottages—some lining the quiet canal and featuring outdoor fire pits and chaises—are one luxurious amenity, the true draw of LPI is the seclusion. Dirt pathways circle the island and native trees with hammocks provide countless nooks to hide away, steal a kiss, or doze off. The private beach, albeit a small one, is so quiet that you’ll find yourself snoozing within minutes of lying down.

Can’t MissThe food. Foodies rejoice—the rotating menu featuring a mix of French and Pan Latin flavors incorporates the Florida Keys’ fresh seafood as seen in the shrimp and yellowtail ceviche, raw oysters, and a delicious tuna tartar entrée. Enjoy your dinner alfresco on the beach where near-extinct Key Deer are often meandering from table to table.

Westin Sunset Key Guest Cottages, Sunset Key, Key West

A final drive down U.S. 1 South brings you to Key West, whose unspoken mantra is clearly laid-back fun, a perfect bookend to a honeymoon full of relaxation, adventure, and romance. For some, though, Key West must be taken in small doses—watching the sunset at Mallory Square or bar hopping on Duval Street—so rather than immerse yourselves into Key West’s 24/7 casual culture, you may opt instead to stay off-island. Sunset Key Guest Cottages, a Westin Resort, is a mere 10-minute boat ride away from Key West yet feels like you’re on an exclusive, private island in the Caribbean. That is exactly what makes this property so ideal for honeymooners: Sunset Key’s luxury cottages, private white sandy beach coupled with its proximity to Key West’s fantastic dining and nightlife easily satisfies a new couples’ need to relax—and have fun.

After undergoing a major renovation in 2010, the dwelling that’s home to the spa (a couples’ massage is a must) and Sunset Key’s Latitudes restaurant is one of Key West’s most upscale and romantic spots to have a drink or dine under the stars. The chic interiors—dark wood paneling, upholstered walls with nail head trim, and whitewashed oak furniture—give way to an outdoor dining space that offers views of sailboats framed by bristling palm trees.

Can’t MissA Beach-front Cottage. Splurge on a beach-front cottage—you won’t be disappointed. The 7-acre island boasts several charming cottages just a few feet from its gloriously soft beach. It’s on the covered porch of one of these cottages that you’ll enjoy an uninterrupted view of Key West’s famously breathtaking sunsets while toasting an adventure- and fun-filled honeymoon with champagne and a pre-dinner cheese plate complete with berries, nuts, and honey.

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