I can’t gush enough about Santa Maria Suites, the four-star hotel where we stayed for four nights during our visit to Key West. It’s far away enough from Duval Street so you have the peace and quiet you paid for, yet close enough to walk to all the shops, restaurants, and beaches if you want to be part of the public sphere. The beach was a three-minute walk from our suite, but that’s walking at a Florida pace. You can be there in a New York minute if you don’t mind a little sweat.
Santa Maria’s architecture is definitely from the 1960s-1970s for parts of the facility, especially the restaurant facade, reminded me of the Brady Bunch house. But when everything is painted white against a turquoise background that is the Gulf of Mexico, then anything can look good.
Named after Columbus’s leading ship, Santa Maria offers a unique kind of tranquility you can’t find at a more traditional hotel. You’re not schlepping in and out of elevators or walking across carpet that has the same hideous floral print as your grandmother’s house dress. The story, according to our beloved Captain Chuck from Safari Charters, is that the Santa Maria was a condo complex that didn’t sell so the two-story homes were converted into hotel suites so the vibe is anything far more personal and private than you would find even at the swankiest hotel. Anna walked in with our suitcase and proclaimed “This is nicer than our apartment!” and Mike had to agree.
The suites are furnished with modern touches–lots of brushed stainless steel, clean lines, earth tones, and no floral prints. Anna thought the doorknobs at Santa Maria’s were superior to other doorknobs she had seen. Although the doorknobs weren’t the first eye-catching perk to grab me, I did come to appreciate them over the course of our trip. What grabbed my eyes were the giant flat-screen TVs in each bedroom and in the living room. Also, for a person who takes pillows and comfortable bedding very seriously, this was the place; the pillows were phenomenal. I hadn’t enjoyed pillows like that since the NH Bruges Hotel in Belgium!
I have no idea what their room rates are since we stayed there as part of a package we booked last fall when packages were running cheap. We also stayed during the week; my impression is that weekends at Santa Maria are in high demand. The rooms are gorgeous and the staff are exceptionally friendly–the poolside bartender, Derek, is known throughout the Internet world for his delectable smoothies. Be sure to claim a deck chair poolside by 4 pm–that’s happy hour and it gets busy.
Unfortunately, we never learned the names of the others who catered to us, but we liked them just as much as Derek because these mystery people brought us muffins for breakfast, they left Dove ice cream bars in the freezer and chocolates on our pillow every night. Santa Maria definitely wants you to enjoy your sweet tooth; we were greeted at check in with a recipe for key lime pie. And I already mentioned the delicious Japanese restaurant Ambrosia, with its funky, balled up udon noodle-shaped furniture and some of the freshest sushi I’ve enjoyed since living in Seattle. Ambrosia is a bit on the pricey side; I thought $18.95 for chicken katsu, some steamed broccoli and carrots, and some miso soup was a bit much, but everything was tasty so we forgave them, as they probably knew we would.
A great hotel experience can make or break a trip. We’re eager to go back to Key West just to park it at Santa Maria Suites another week. No doubt Derek will welcome us back with a pina colada.