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Day Tripper: Bungalows Key Largo

After a year steeped in pivoting and perseverance, it’s somehow comforting to know that one of South Florida’s sweetest getaways can empathize. That’s because Bungalows Key Largo has seen its own share of stops and starts over the past 19 months, a challenging stretch that included more than just pandemic-related frustrations for the 11.5-acre slice of paradise, the first all-inclusive, adults-only property in the Florida Keys. 

Roughly a half-year into its existence, a major fire damaged the Beach House—the resort’s central hub, which boasts everything from its restaurant offerings to a communal second-floor “Living Room” space overlooking the bay for sipping morning coffee, watching TV on a mammoth screen or listening to a DJ at night. After a multimillion-dollar reconstruction, Bungalows Key Largo welcomed back guests in December 2019—only to close its doors again in late March because of COVID-19 lockdown orders. 

But what doesn’t kill your business only makes it stronger. Since reopening in June, the Bungalows quickly has regained its mojo, providing discerning travelers with a much-needed opportunity to escape and recharge amid the charming grounds of this amenity-rich oasis along the Gulf of Mexico.

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The “Bungalows” in the title isn’t just a marketing ploy. The pet-friendly resort is composed of nothing but individual bungalows, 135 in all, including 31 with waterfront views. The garden bungalows actually are slightly larger at 1,100 square feet (compared to 900 square feet for the waterfront offerings), but the vibe inside both options is all Key West chic and tranquil tones. Adding to the ambience are old-school verandas with Adirondack chairs, a pair of 1950s-era Huffy bikes for cruising the property, and outdoor showers and soaking tubs. In the garden units, the outdoor space is cast amid swaying palms and tropical foliage; in the waterfront units, guests can soak in the tub while reveling in oceanfront views.

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The all-inclusive experience can mean less-than-inspired dining in some settings, but the Bungalows bounces that notion into the bay with a host of chef-driven restaurants—and friendly and engaged service to match. Fish Tales, with second-floor and ground-level seating overlooking the sailboats anchored at sea, is the all-day outpost, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. The latter menu skews toward pasta dishes (including fruitti di mare, a seafood bonanza with mussels, clams, shrimp, squid and fish) and a tightly curated entrée section, typically with beef, chicken and fresh catch options. Sea Señor (which wasn’t open during Lifestyle’s stay) offers beachfront lunch and dinner. Bogie & Bacall’s, which requires a $300 per two-person reservation, is the scene-stealer—a gourmet showcase in the steakhouse mode. Along with prime cuts of beef and an array of steak sauces and toppings, main dishes include pan-seared sea bass, seared duck breast in red-wine reduction, and pappardelle pasta in olive oil with shaved black truffles. Note to dessert lovers: Don’t miss the decadent Chocolate Obsessions—warm chocolate souffle, raspberry coulis and rich anglaise sauce.

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Enjoy a top-shelf, throwback cocktail hour at Hemingway Bar, adjacent to Bogie & Bacall’s, with art deco design and Cuban tile that recalls the famous author’s own Key West house. In non-pandemic times, the Sunset Tiki Bar would be a social hub for resort guests, but the Bungalows has something even better for this socially distanced era. Take your small group out to sea aboard one of two floating tiki boats—either the S.S. Margarita or the S.S. Rum Runner—mini versions of the main tiki bar complete with your own personal mixologist. Servers also roam the infinity-edge pool and expansive hot tub areas, ready to take your food or drink order.

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It’s not all about cocktails and culinary offerings at the Bungalows. Visitors can start their days with a workout at the open-air fitness tiki hut (think Peloton bikes, treadmills and free weights) just steps away from a Zen pool bordered by lush, swaying palms. The resort also offers daily yoga classes on its Coconut Beach and the Tranquility Lawn. For more hands-on rejuvenation, check out the aptly named Zen Garden Spa, an ode to the black bamboo and Buddha statue that serve as its blissful outdoor backdrop. Inside one of the five treatment cabanas, visitors can select from an assortment of traditional massages and body treatments. The spa also features a Himalayan salt treatment room and eucalyptus steam room.

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There’s no lack of aquatic activities at the Bungalows—including swimming in the sprawling main pool, standup paddleboards, and single and double kayaks for those looking to feel the burn. (Just beware of choppy waters; a couple tempted fate during Lifestyle’s visit, tipping over and costing the wife a cell phone.) Sunset cruises don’t get much better than aboard Lady B, the resort’s 55-foot catamaran that can accommodate nearly 50 passengers in normal times. Amid the pandemic, Lady B provides plenty of safely distanced perches (not to mention chef’s treats and wine/spirits) from which to catch a flash of green as the sun drops on another relaxing day in Key Largo. Eco enthusiasts can book a cruise to the nearby mangroves, where the catamaran anchors while guests bask in the marine environment during a scenic paddle. For those who prefer being in that environment, the Bungalows has snorkel adventures to Dry Rocks and Molasses Reef at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.

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Contact: Bungalows Key Largo is located at 99010 Overseas Highway at Mile Marker 99 in Key Largo, roughly 60 miles from Miami International Airport. Call 866.801.0195 for reservations; visit bungalowskeylargo.com for additional details.

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