A trip to the Florida Keys is a great way to get a taste of the tropics without leaving the United States. The Keys have so much to offer: scenic views driving down the Overseas Highway, seafood, sunrises and sunsets, beaches, and warm temperatures in the middle of winter. In February I visited Key West, FL to get married - on the beach! - and we stayed at the Sheraton Suites Key West. While not the most luxurious hotel on the island, the all-suites property was very comfortable with an upscale feel. It was not cheap, but no hotel with similar amenities and location was any less expensive.
Booking the Sheraton Suites Key West
If you are into points and miles, you know that when you begin booking hotels, you first search your preferred hotel brands. In some cities, this results in a bewildering array of options. Not so in Key West. While the majority of major chains are represented, there are only one or two choices for most. After all, the island is only 5.27 sq. mi. in size. My preferred hotel families are Hilton, Starwood/Marriott, and IHG. Within these, the Sheraton Suites was the best combination of quality, location and price.
Normally, I would book via Starwood's website to ensure I earn all possible base and bonus points. However, because we would be staying four nights, I had my first opportunity to take advantage of the 4th Night Free benefit of my Citi Prestige Card. To get this credit, you have to call and book through the Citi Concierge. (See Frequent Miler's guide to the Citi 4th Night Free.) Though I prefer to book online rather than calling, making my reservation with the concierge was painless and the representative was friendly and efficient. He confirmed the AAA rate that I had already found on the SPG website. (The concierge can generally honor most published rates so researching in advance is a good idea.) My rate was $457.43 per night with taxes and fees, and of this, my card would be credited $419.19 for the free fourth night. After confirming my reservation, he told me I would receive an email confirmation shortly. Within a day, the email arrived and the reservation appeared on my SPG account online. Though booking via Citi Concierge, I earned all available base and promotion bonus points as well as elite benefits.
Arrival and check-in
We drove to Key West from the greater Miami area over the legendary Overseas Highways, US 1. As you arrive at the island of Key West, the road come to a T-intersection. US turns to the right and heads into downtown. We turned left onto similarly famous Florida State Road A1A that runs along the Atlantic coast the length of the state. We followed the highway, also known as Roosevelt Blvd., for 2.7 miles. The Sheraton Suites was on the right, across from Smathers Beach, probably the best beach on the island. (Unlike many Florida destinations, Key West's beaches are generally pretty average.)
The hotel does not feature the typical arrangement of a portico and reception at the front of building. The main entrance is actually halfway up the side of the building where a circular drive fronted the main entrance. Ample free parking surrounds the structure. We parked in the drive, went inside, and turned right for the main reception desk.
Though there was a desk for SPG Gold and Platinum members, there was only one person working the front desk. Once she finished with another guest, she quickly checked us in. Though I don't normally like "chit-chat" when trying to get to my hotel room, when she asked if we were in Key West for anything special, I could not resist telling her that we were getting married the next day. She replied that, in honor of our special day, we would be upgraded to a pool-view room. I suspect the upgrade had more to do with my SPG Gold status, but I simply thanked her. She explained some of the property amenities including the pool, beach and pool towel service and shuttle bus to downtown Key West, all covered by the - excessive, in my opinion - resort fee of $34 per night. We thanked her again and collected our keys, anxious to get to our room and get ready to catch the shuttle to head into town for a late dinner.
The building is a long twisting structure that folds back on itself, creating several courtyards. These spaces are lush with vegetation. One of my favorite part of the courtyard between our room and the front desk area were the rocking chairs. On multiple occasions during our four-day stay, I found myself reading, going online or making a call while relaxing in one of these chairs.
We were assigned a first floor pool-view suite, Room 170. Our room was on the end of the building but was actually located just behind the reception area, only steps away from the check-in desk, the adjacent Coral Crab Café, and the pool.
Though we were on the first floor, our room was slightly elevated. The entire building was built off the ground as one would expect being directly across from the Atlantic Ocean. The door opened directly into a dining area with a small sink, microwave and mini-refrigerator. Beyond that was a seating area with a sofa and coffee table. Facing the sofa was a television and beyond that was the bedroom. The window was covered with large louvered shutters (which would prove to be very necessary!)
The bedroom could be separated from the sitting area with a pair of sliding doors. Opposite the bed was a second television and beside that was a sliding glass door to the balcony which overlooked the pool area. While the plaid curtains felt a bit dated, the side tables and bed were finished in a beautiful dark wood. Continuing to circulate through the suite, you stepped into the bathroom.
Inside the bathroom entrance from the bedroom, immediately to the left, was a large walk-in shower. The shower included Sheraton's standard toiletries - no big name designers here. (Unbranded toiletries are just fine with me! They get me just as clean as those with a "brand name.") Around a corner was a marble counter with sink surrounded by more dark wood. Behind this was a large storage unit with even more dark wood. The unit offered plenty of drawer and shelf space, a closet (very useful to hide a wedding dress from the groom!) and the room safe. The bathroom had a second door which led back to the entryway.
I was very impressed with the room and its decor. There was plenty of space and it was very comfortable. Having a roomy suite was far superior to a simple hotel room. Normally, when I travel, I spend very little time in the room as I prefer to get out and see the local area. In Key West, we would have four days, an eternity compared to how I typically blitz towns. For this trip, we would be spending more time than usual relaxing as opposed to sightseeing. Also, my wife had scheduled a stylist to come to the hotel to do her hair for the wedding; the extra space made this much more convenient. The biggest downside to the room was its location in the property.
The upgrade that wasn't
Let me first say, I appreciate the room upgrade, whether by virtue of my Gold status or in recognition of our wedding. A pool-view room is priced at a premium. In fact, another pool-view room would probably have been great. Unfortunately, our room was located immediately adjacent to the hotel bar which also overlooked the pool.
Being on the first floor, we were effectively at eye-level with the bar patrons a mere 30 yards away. Had we not kept the windows shuttered and curtains closed, we would have had the entire bar peering into our suite! I am not one that likes to sit inside a room with blinds drawn, so this was not ideal to me. While you may not have full privacy from any room overlooking a busy hotel pool, our location felt particularly exposed. Fortunately, noise was not really an issue, so there were no disruptions to our sleep. In all, it could have been a much more negative situation.
I will be honest - I did not take advantage of many of the hotel amenities. While my wife was getting ready for the wedding, I did spend some time in the business center which had an unusual placement. The business center did not have a dedicated room but, instead, felt as if it were integrated with the hotel restaurant. There were several PCs and printers but not a lot of space if you were using your own laptop as I was.
As for the restaurant, we did not dine there. Since breakfast was not included with our room and I am generally loathe to pay a lot for eggs and bacon, each morning I made a run to McDonald's, Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts. We did have a meeting on the restaurant poolside deck with the gentleman who conducted our wedding. That space was shaded under a covering and had several fans. I imagine it would be oppressively hot in the middle of summer, but it would have been a great location for a casual lunch in February.
The primary hotel service we used was the shuttle bus to and from downtown Key West. As noted, this was included in the $34 daily resort fee. Parking in town doesn't generally run $34, but it can be hard to find and cost up to $20 with no in-and-out privileges. If you made more than one trip to town each day, you could recover the resort fee in avoided parking fees. We only used the shuttle once per day so we were paying for its convenience. The bus leaves from the front driveway hourly during the day and every 30 minutes in the evening. The Conch Republic Seafood Company restaurant serves as the in-town drop-off and pickup spot. I would imagine that location was no accident - the restaurant wound up getting two meals out of us during our stay!
While we did not use the pool, the Sheraton Suites Key West offers a towel service that you can use for the pool as well as the beach across the street. The hotel does not provide any beach chairs or umbrellas, but these can be rented from a third-party vendor. We spent part of one day lounging in warm sun with an occasional splash into the water...in February!
I really enjoyed our stay at the Sheraton Suites Key West. The stay was not cheap, but nothing at a similar quality and benefit level was any less expensive. Fortunately, my Citi Prestige 4th Night Free benefit lessened the sticker shock of our final bill. The room was comfortable and definitely suitable as more than a play to sleep at night. The property was convenient to the beach across the street and downtown via the hotel shuttle. I am sure we will return to Key West in the future for anniversaries and I will absolutely keep this property on our short list of places to stay!
(Just a quick plug. If you are looking for a wedding officiant in Key West, I highly recommend "Aaron's Key West" Weddings." Aaron was very friendly and easy to work with and made our simply beach ceremony for two such a wonderful experience!)