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ROAD & TRAVEL Destination Review: Palm Island Resort, Cape Haze, FL

Vacation Simple: Visit Florida's Gulf Side & Live the Island Life

by Jessica Howell

"I want something different," she exasperatedly threw her arms in the air, "I want warm, sunny weather, minus the outlet shopping, designer spring water and (she paused for effect as she made eye contact with her husband)… Jimmy Buffet."

"No Jimmy Buffet?" the burly, Hawaiian shirt-clad man exclaimed, eyes immediately cast downward in sorrow.

ROAD & TRAVEL Destination Review: Palm Island Resort - Cape Haze, Florida
Palm Island Villas

"Well, maybe a little of Mr. Buffet," the woman conceded, "but I’m talking occasional iPod Jimmy – not blaring-from-the-mega-watt-speakers Jimmy." Apparently husband agreed because here he wrapped an arm around the woman’s tan shoulders and sighed in understanding. A moment passed.

"But you still like margaritas, right?" he questioned as she let him rest his head against her own.

And so goes the dilemma faced by so many southern vacationers, this particular couple being one whose drama unfolded in the waiting area of a northern Michigan AAA agency.

The question, however, remains, and taunts travelers incessantly: What exactly is a vacation? And why have so many of us given up the relaxation factor only to fill our days away with never-ending excursions that leave us more weary than we were beforehand? It’s a fine balance of fun and function, a getaway these days.

Well, to squelch your curiosity and provide a glimpse of hope, I did in fact confront the frustrated couple, offering my name and affiliation, and scooting a bit closer in preparation to divulge my secret.

I knew exactly where they wanted to be. And I was so sure of it because I’d just returned from my own escape.

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From the mainland of Cape Haze, Florida, Palm Island looks little more than a cast aside piece of land nearly within arm’s reach. Between the two grounds, a ferry transverses back and forth, carrying vehicles, guests and employees to and from on a journey that takes a mere six minutes.

However insignificant it may seem, it is a crossing of mass proportions in the world of travel. Within those six minutes, as the salty sea breeze fills your lungs and pushes you toward Palm Island, the stresses of everyday are quietly blown away.

Deposited on the island, feet touch fresh ground. Both the island and its picturesque, sprawling resort atmosphere speak of pure tranquility, lulled into reality by the soft cry of seagulls, gentle crashing of waves and scent of dewy tropical foliage.

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Having parked my vehicle for the duration of the stay (cars are not permitted within the resort), I loaded my belongings into a designated golf cart and was directed toward the one-bedroom villa where I would stay.

Because every villa on Palm Island is privately owned and rented as a part of the resort, décor and design differs slightly in each. My own villa, #3724, was bright and welcoming, featuring the standard king size bed, fully equipped kitchen, living and dining room, all decorated in a casual beach theme. The villa also offers a screened-in patio that gave way to beautiful Gulf of Mexico views.

ROAD & TRAVEL Destination Review: Palm Island Resort - Cape Haze, Florida
Villas Overlook the Gulf of Mexico

I was also able to step inside a friend’s rented villa, this one a three-bedroom, which featured nautical décor as well as a larger living area and two bedrooms on a second level, in addition to one lower bedroom. Our favorite aspect of this villa, #2422, was the small, open second floor deck where we overlooked the churning Gulf at dusk. Drink in hand we gathered there, standing near the railing, admiring the view.

While lounging on my patio, book in hand, ceiling fan lazily spinning, could have easily occupied me for the entire week, I opted to explore the full dimensions of the resort. As it turns out, Palm Island caters to nearly every whim you could fancy.

Eleven tennis courts are available and complimentary to guests; nearby a championship tennis program offers a pro shop, lessons and clinics. Tennis Director Hank Irvine is often on hand, a Platform Tennis Hall of Fame member.

Also available for athletic vacationers are four heated swimming pools, Hydra Spas, golf, fishing and a fitness center, as well as croquet, horseshoes, volleyball and basketball. Cabanas, bikes, canoes, kayaks and motor sport necessities are available for rent.

For children, a Kid’s Club and Recreation Center are available, where nature hunts bicycle tours, sand castle contests, shell hunts, family bingo and kid’s movie night are orchestrated. The central focus for kids at Palm Island, however, is the draw of Red Beard, the resort’s resident pirate. Swashbuckling and snappy, the legendary Red Beard hosts half-hour music and story sessions children and hour-long night performances for both adults and children titled “Farewell to the Sun.” Definitely a must-see.

Palm Island also offers a Nature Center, displaying exhibits of the island’s native plants as well as photos of animals and ecosystems. Weekly programs cover a wide range of nature’s topics including the Sea Turtle Program, manatee awareness and more. (Regular manatee and dolphin sightings are common along the resort’s beach.)

And bird watchers rejoice. We were fortunate enough to be granted stunning scenes of the island’s tropical birds in motion – from heron to osprey, egrets to bald eagles; they dove, flittered and danced in the skies above us and the estuaries providing an entertaining display like no other.

ROAD & TRAVEL Destination Review: Palm Island Resort - Cape Haze, Florida
Palm Island Resort Aerial View

The skies, however, do not resist rain strictly for this slice of paradise. Rains came and we were chased back indoors to seek refuge and refuel. On-island dining options are two resort restaurants, Rum Bay Restaurant and the recently opened Palm Island Pizzeria. Both offer casual atmospheres, and Rum Bay Restaurant features fresh seafood specialties like Blackened Grouper and Island Baked Scallops.

Landside, Johnny Leverock’s overlooks the Palm Island Marina and Intracoastal Waterway. Should you make it back to the mainland for an evening, stroll the marina and yacht basin where luxe houseboats float atop the shallow waters, granting glimpses inside the truly coastal life.

For anything that you might need, the resort offers Rum Bay Store. Here you’ll find grocery staples, deli items and the island chef’s fresh meat cuts and fish daily. Prices are not competitive since this is the resorts only shopping hub, so stock up on the mainland if you’re planning for a long stay and cook meals in your villa’s kitchen. Plan on heading to Rum Bay Store when you’re in need of quick exchange, wine, liquor, gifts or movie rentals, which are also available.

Whatever your plans, cancel them. Palm Island is about retreating to simplicity, enjoying Gulf sunsets and sunning yourself in the sand. Experience nature. Rekindle romance. Bond with loved ones. Escape. After all, don’t you think it’s time for a different sort of vacation?

If you go:

Palm Island Resort
www.palmisland.com

7092 Placida Road
Cape Haze, FL 33946
800.824.5412

A minimum stay of two-nights is required; three nights during holidays and peak seasons. One child under six is free. Daily maid service is extra. For seasonal rates, visit website.

Fly Spirit into Sarasota Airport, 45 miles (one-hour drive) north of the resort. Southwest FL International Airport in Fort Myers is 65 miles south and a one and a half hour drive; Tampa Airport is 90 miles north and a two hour drive.

Both Fort Myers (click here to read RTM's review) and Fort Lauderdale are within easy driving distance of Palm Island and make for convenient day trips.