Just a stone's throw from the bustling traffic of the Overseas Highway, about 50 miles northeast of Key West, lies Tranquility Bay Beachfront Hotel & Resort in Marathon, Florida ($$ tranquilitybay.com). "It's almost like a step back in time," says general manager Bob Bauersachs. "I see families putting down their electronic devices and talking to each other while they're here."
The 12-acre property was developed by Pritam Singh, who places a premium on spectacular landscaping. Tranquility Bay offers hotel accommodations, along with two- and three-bedroom beach houses, all wrapped in lush gardens beneath towering palms.
Follow meandering garden paths to pools and splashing fountains. (Prepare to meet the occasional iguana.) The resort has an on-site rental company for watercraft—from powerboats and water scooters to kayaks and Hobie crafts, with a dock right on the Gulf. Also available on-site are scuba diving and snorkeling, deep-sea and flats fishing, beach volleyball, a putting green, and sunset cruises. That's a full roster of vacation fun, no Overseas Highway traffic necessary. (Tranquility's rates can spike in early spring; other months cost considerably less.)
Cats on Call
Also on deck is a "staff" of four cats, who patrol the resort and often charm their way into plush accommodations by cozying up to guests. Bauersachs is a confessed cat person, who feeds these rescued felines their daily breakfast and dinner and summons a local vet—who makes house calls—whenever a member of his four-pawed team needs special attention. "I saw two kids playing with one of them, and their father told me, "We've been planning this vacation for a year, and all they've wanted to do since we got here is play with the cats,"" Bauersachs laughs. "They are very popular with guests, and we take great care of them."
Out and About
Leave the kitties to their schmoozing, claim your lounge chair by the sweeping curves of the lagoon pool, and take a dip. Should the Marco Polo crowd invade your space, you can always escape to an adults-only pool or a tiny garden pool.
Later, make your way to TJ's Tiki Bar, perched beside a sigh-worthy expanse of peaceful Gulf waters. It's a great spot for a table-in-the-sand supper. Come back to the Gulf at sunrise, and overload your iPhone camera as water and sky converge in the soft morning light.
The resort's Butterfly Café offers relaxed but refined dining. However, if you want to venture out (don't worry—nobody said you have to stay away for long), try The Island Fish Co. Tiki Bar and Restaurant in Marathon, reachable by land, boat, or helicopter—if you own one; it has its own helipad (islandfishco.com). Or step up to the window at Keys Fisheries Market & Marina and place your order. Before you're allowed to, you will have to name a celebrity. The reason why will become clear shortly after you take your seat at a picnic table on the dock and hear over a very loud speaker, "Dolly Parton, your order is ready! Dolly Parton! Dolly Parton!" (keysfisheries.com)
If you're in the mood for an excursion, two beautiful public beaches are just a short drive from Tranquility Bay. Sombrero Beach is right in Marathon (ci.marathon.fl.us), while Bahia Honda State Park (a popular spot for snorkeling) is about 15 miles away near Big Pine Key (bahiahondapark.com).
Hop on Board
Catch direct flights to Key West from major hubs like Atlanta and Washington, D.C. The Key West Express—a fast boat offering all kinds of creature comforts and one heck of a ride—makes round-trips from Marco Island, Florida, and Fort Myers, Florida (rates from $125; keywestexpress.net).