In January, I celebrated a milestone birthday. I had been looking forward to a celebratory trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, that my partner had arranged for us before the pandemic. Ultimately, we canceled that trip as Puerto Vallarta went into its second COVID-19 lockdown and shuttered all nonessential businesses.
Having just witnessed public travel-shaming of millions of people who took trips over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, we pondered if we should still have a birthday trip in early 2021, responsibly of course —masked, shielded, and socially distanced when necessary. After serious consideration, we decided yes and escaped from the New Jersey winter to warm, sunny weather and a few beach days.
We chose a familiar destination – Southern Florida, Fort Lauderdale, and Key West specifically. I would be remiss not to mention that I had mental reservations, though. I mean, Florida’s Governor Ron Desantis did not mandate mask-wearing throughout the state, leaving mask compliance up to city mayors, business establishments, and ultimately, people themselves.
We didn’t know what to expect, but we planned a safety-conscious birthday trip, avoiding all bars and nightclubs and only dining in restaurants that practiced social distancing. For the most part, we just wanted to enjoy the beach, hotel swimming pools, and responsible local dining.
So, on the weekend of my birthday, we Uber-ed it to Newark Airport, donning our protective masks and shields, which stayed on our faces all through our flight and an uber ride to our guest house in Fort Lauderdale, where we would stay for three relaxing nights. In a future article, I’ll write a review of my lovely time there at a really fun place in FTL, but for this piece, I want to share my first-time experience staying at the popular Island House Key West Resort.
After our three nights in Fort Lauderdale, we loaded up our drop-top Jeep rental and started our drive of 106.5 scenic miles of the coastal Overseas Highway which took us to gorgeous Key West, Florida in just about 3.5 hours.
As America’s southernmost point in the continental United States, Key West is a paradise, seriously, with endless turquoise greenish-blue water that’s so clear you can see your feet while standing waist-deep in the water. It’s also known as a liberal city with a thriving LGBTQ population that attracts millions of tourists annually. Apart from Key West’s natural beauty, tourist attractions and sites are abundant. Among them and most notably is the former personal home of famous author Ernest Hemmingway.
The Island House is a globally-known hotel and “playground” where gay men can be themselves, discretely or just letting it all hang out. The clothing-optional policy across its entire grounds creates an undeniable homoerotic environment that can be sexually charged. What I found more common was a sense of community, with repeat guests and men who don’t hesitate to say hello and begin engaging in non-sexual conversations with strangers – albeit sometimes naked.
Our check-in was smooth, beginning with assistance from a front deskman who came out to assist us after we parked in one of the very convenient parking spaces adjacent to the establishment. We were given a tour of the property, including the large outdoor swimming pool, hot tub, outdoor restaurant and bar, gym with free-weights and machines, steam room, and sauna areas — which all had COVID-19 capacity and social distance restrictions in place.
When we first entered our room, with its perfect access sliding patio doors leading to the pool, we quickly realized it was a great-sized room for one. However, it was a bit small for us two men of a substantial size, so we asked for a larger space. They were accommodating and kindly relocated us to the second floor a few hundred feet by the sun deck.
The room was lovely, with a queen-sized bed, private bath (some rooms have shared bathrooms), ceiling fan, an average-sized closet with hangers and a clothes rack, HD flat-screen TV, and a little fridge. The room also had double glass patio doors, so there was no shortage of seeing towelless sun worshipers passing by en route to one of the indoor/outdoor hot tubs located just a few feet away from our room.
After settling in, my partner Joe went for a bite. I, on the other hand, was ready to exhale in the sun. So I quickly disrobed, oiled up with a good SPF, and sprawled out on a deck chair in the hot Key West sun. Three other guys were also on the deck sunning— spaced a few feet apart (a rule mandated with signage). The three of them were very easy on the eyes, well-equipped, tanning belly up, and glistening proudly with everything on display.
I was comforted that Island House made efforts to create a safe environment for hotel guests amid the pandemic. A reduced guest and crowd capacity meant that my experience probably wouldn’t be as rowdy as all those hot videos on its website of wall-to-wall naked daddies in the pool—but there were a few cool locals and out-of-towners we met during our stay that made the trip more fun.
Management smartly decided to cancel the highly anticipated live DJ Pool party. Still, the poolside Happy Hour was in full effect, and I’m not talking about a basic 2 for one special. No, the Island House Happy Hour was free with a daily open bar from 5 pm-6:30 pm. We could order premium brands, signature cocktails, frozen drinks, mojitos, martinis, craft beers, you name it — all included in the price of our stay! That was an excellent perk.
It would be negligence if I didn’t mention the delicious food at the Island House Bar and Café. It has a reputation for excellent quality. In fact, a guest we met days prior at the other men’s resort told us, “Make sure you eat at the Island House’s Café; they make great food!” He was right; from seafood and small plates to burgers, full entrees, and desserts, the Café serves it all —and it’s open 24 hours! This service level is another bonus for tourists during a time of COVID precautions because you can avoid venturing into crowds and instead have quality meals on-property.
Overall, our stay at Island House was terrific. The staff was accommodating and attentive, and we look forward to returning post-pandemic to really enjoy it at its full potential.
Even though Island House is known for its sexual energy, it’s also just a great place to enjoy the sun, find a spot poolside to read a book, or simply be left alone if that is what you prefer. At the Island House, nobody’s judging. So just do you … or whomever. Visit the Island House Website Here