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Gulf & Main Magazine

Little Palm Island: Just South of Miami, a Semi-deserted Isle & a No Cellphone Zone

Aug 28, 2017 05:23PM ● By Kevin

Photo courtesy of Little Palm Island.

Photo courtesy of Little Palm Island.
You’re stranded on a deserted island. What five things do you need?

Come on, why five? Take your cues from Little Palm Island: How about your own hot tub and fire pit, deck chairs overlooking a little beach of your own, a three-room thatched hut suite with outdoor and indoor showers? Refrigerator stocked with soft drinks, chilled champagne? Binoculars and a bird guide? Go ahead, throw in the restaurant with exquisite food.

While brochures and T-shirts worn by some staff (130 full-time) urge guests to “Get Lost,” the only type of lost you are on this South Seas-style resort island is a state of mind.

Sure, as the boat from Little Torch Key pulls into dock at the end of a wooden pier, the beach-and-bungalow scene conjures Gilligan’s Island. Or perhaps a kinder, gentler Lost  minus the plane crash and the smoke monster. But you and the rest of the small cast of your drama—meaning the couples and peace-seeking others who pay anywhere from $690 as an introductory rate during off-season to $3,190 for the most premium suite during holidays or special events—are exactly whom the people on Little Palm Island have been waiting for.

At the welcome center just off the Overseas Highway, about 130 miles south of Miami, a valet parks our car and takes our bags to the ferry (or “motor yacht,” in Little Palm lingo). We’re offered the island’s signature rum drink, the Gumby Slumber.

Photo courtesy of Little Palm Island.
Along with New Jersey couple, Orest and Dorothy Padko, who are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, we board the boat and laugh with them as they playfully bicker over selfies. “You can tell we’ve been married for 25 years,” quips Orest.

One of the transport boats is the Truman, an homage to President Harry S Truman and his wife who were early visitors to the island. They are conjured in spirit throughout Little Palm. Restrooms are marked “Bess” and “Harry,” and portraits of each are found in the library, which contains the island’s only television. Cell phones must be silenced and used only in private areas; if guests must, they can duck into the “Truman Outhouse” to talk. There are no texting teens; you will not hear a word from anyone under 16 years old, as children are not allowed.

Getting around is easy. Pathways of crushed shells connect the guest bungalows with the dining room, spa, store, pool. Dotted along the way are outposts for gathering fishing equipment, kayaks, snorkel gear, those activities being included in the packages. A giant chessboard and gurgling ponds become landmarks.

The bungalows are named for birds. For your stay, your name is placed on a sliding wood sign outside.

Photo courtesy of Little Palm Island.
The food was/is terrific, if expensive—$67 for my Butter Poached Spiny Lobster Tail with King Crab Hoppin’ John and $55 for my husband’s Black Pepper Seared N.Y. Strip Steak with pink shrimp and zucchini succotash. A $200-a-day meal plan seems the way to go if you’re not paying for a package. The cheesecake bites are embellished like a map of the island. Gratuities are included.

We looked at it this way: “Regular” people go to Disney World and can easily unload the same wheelbarrow of cash. “Some couples save for five years to come here,” a spa employee told me later. And I could see why. Unlike frenetic Disney, time at Little Palm makes you feel soothed and restored and connected more deeply with your soul and your soul mate.
Delightful Key deer swim over from the much-larger Munson Island, which is owned by the Boy Scouts of America as an adventure base.

Now owned by Noble House Resorts, Little Palm Island first was documented by surveyor F.H. Gerdes in 1849. Its biography could be shelved easily in a library of Florida Keys characters. A Munson thought to be of the Steamship family gave it to his secretary when his wife turned up her nose; it was the setting for the tale of John F. Kennedy reporting for war as imagined in the film PT-109, and later the enclave of the Caribbean Veterinarians Education Trust. The island was nearly seized in a drug bust but spared due to an innocent partner, and it was owned at one time by wood-refinishing guru Homer Formby.

My husband kept reflecting on the fact that this island was once “given away.” While nothing is being given away now on Little Palm, it can be your own little (semi) deserted island with all the things you need—and many, many more.

Written by Dayna Harpster, a writer living in Southwest Florida.

At a Glance

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