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A recent report claims nearly 1,000 people are moving to Florida every day. What are they craving? Since Florida’s coastline is home to roughly 700 miles of sandy beaches, I think I know the answer: a slice of tropical paradise.

For 35 years, Palm Island Resort has been describing their remote and casual destination on Florida’s West Coast in the same way: “Simple is beautiful — No need to complicate things.” This island getaway is just a 90-minute drive south of St. Pete, but not very well-known. No frills. No cars. Welcome to Old Florida. 

Island-style living means packing is easy: flip-flops and sneakers, t-shirts and bathing suits. Loading up the car, we drive south to Cape Haze and literally have to stop the car in the middle of the road to let a baby alligator cross the road. We join a line of cars waiting to board the Palm Island car ferry ($55 round trip, no reservations) for a 10-minute journey to the resort. 

Hello, Palm Island. No welcome at all. Like no signs. We drive down a beach road and stumble upon an outdoor covered hut, where we’re greeted by a sweet bellman from Trinidad who points to a parking lot where we leave the car. We walk to check-in and get a lesson in island history, then are escorted to a golf cart for transportation down another bumpy sandy road. Our spacious, two-bedroom villa is up on stilts with spectacular views overlooking the beach.  

The author climbs the stairs to her villa.

Caution: The numbers on the buildings don’t match the numbers on the unit. Heads up and good luck if you invite somebody special to try and find you. Welcome to laid-back island life.

I feel like I’m back in the Bahamas, but in 1975. I’m practically singing “Don’t worry, be happy”: The view is so picturesque from our villa, I want to call Hallmark films and tell them to scout this romantic location overlooking the Gulf for their next movie. 

The view from the balcony.

We rent a golf cart, set off on an island journey going 10 miles an hour and do not see another living soul except a fun couple on their boat.

The resort features 160 condominiums, one-, two- and three-bedroom villas and 21 homes. Most private homes require a minimum of a four-week holiday. We are told many units are booked in advance with family reunions and weddings. (Palm Island is a perfect fit for “pandemic bubble travel” and “Covid travel pods”— fancy terms for booking a trip with a few of your closest friends and/or family and staying Covid-safe.)

The primary mode of transport.

Dining options are limited on the island. Coconut’s Café is a bike ride or golf cart drive away for morning coffee, breakfast pastries. Luckily, we knew in advance to bring happy-hour wine and nibbles to watch the sunset from our screened-in porch. 

Rum Bay Restaurant is above Coconut’s and open for lunch and dinner with an outdoor deck for Covid-safe meals. There’s no sign. The menu features basics from hamburgers to fresh local fish. It’s easily accessible by boat, keeping the water taxi captain busy as locals from the mainland come over for dinner.

Complimentary boat slips are available directly through the mangroves on an elevated walkway to the restaurant. Palm Island Resort’s sister restaurant is Leverock’s, just south of the car ferry, for fresh grilled grouper.

A cautionary note: Driving a golf cart back to your unit in the dark with no streetlights after dinner is a challenge. Also, don’t forget  a flashlight so you can find the outdoor outlet and power up the cart overnight.

Driving back to St. Pete, feelings of nostalgia for the beauty of island resorts washed over me — the casual setting of the Bahamas; the French cuisine and international tone of St. Martin; the beachfront privacy of a villa in St. Barts.

We are very lucky during the pandemic to be able to enjoy at least a slice of island heaven by driving only a few hours. 

Palm Island Resort, 7092 Placida Rd, Cape Haze, 800-824-5412,

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