By Monica Lynne
The sunset peaks under the horizon, the sky gleams in hues of orange and pink, and I exhale a deep breath of relaxation. My feet fiddle in the warm sand as I stand on the edge of our private beach, our room just steps away.
Kona Kai Resort is a luxurious adults-only (age 14+) hideaway; seemingly remote and humbly exclusive. Barely visible from the bustling Overseas Highway in old Key Largo, Florida, at Kona Kai, you vacation at your own pace. The measure of time seems to disappear, stress-free and relaxed.
Stepping into our suite, one of thirteen charming bungalows, I inhale the sweet scent in the air and dive onto the fresh, white linen of my king-sized bed. That’s the moment I look forward to most — it's my favorite — the instant I arrive and take it in: I’m on vacation, and it’s going to be awesome. I snow-angel my bedsheets and settle in.
Decorated with tropical motifs, each room is accorded with fruit namesakes, like the Papaya Suite and the Sugar Apple Room; ours was The Breadfruit Suite. The wide, wall-to-wall window gives us a beautiful view of the Florida Bay, and it allows the sunlight to seep into the room. Washed with natural light, each room is bright and accommodated with comfort, including plentiful space, a living area, a full bathroom with a tub and shower, a fully-equipped kitchen, and a walk-in closet—I’m impressed and grateful for the ample storage space! We unpack and explore our in-room amenities, including a flat-screen TV, a coffee maker, select coffees and teas, a hairdryer (thank you!) and complimentary toiletries. It’s the bedside book lights and on-sight DVD library that I most appreciate. We feel at home, carefree and comfortable, so we make our way out the door to explore the rest of the property.
On the other side of our front door, we get the urge to climb into one of their many chaise loungers for a bit. We stretch out on the private, white sand beach shared only with few hotel neighbors. The resort feels intimate—never crowded, always personal. We stroll the gardens to fawn over colorful flowers and fauna surrounding the gorgeous grounds. Although compact, their lush collection of flora is impressive! For the green-thumb and orchid addict, guided exploration is available in their boutique garden; a personalized 90-minute tour by their staff ethnobotanist called "Transform Your Understanding of Plants.”
The highly praised, personalized concierge services from their gracious staff make us feel welcome. We’re given a curated list of local restaurants and fun nearby places to ensure a great stay in Key Largo. Their team has been loyally employed at the property for years; proof of the warm environment they’ve created. Countless complimentary amenities are found throughout the property, including lighted tennis and shuffleboard courts, beachfront ping-pong, corn hole and equipment to play. The shore is lined with paddle boats, kayaks, canoes and boards for casual use—no need to write your name on a list to check them out.
But we didn’t come to play — we came to relax!
Their beachfront freshwater pool and hot tub are beautiful and temperature controlled. We melt into the water’s warmth surrounded by palm trees and hammocks and the ocean as a backdrop. Refreshing fruit and ice-cold water bottles are available just a reach away by the steaming Jacuzzi, and we enjoy being submerged in the hot water with a cool drink in hand under a sinking sun. As night approaches, we decide to stay in to revel in this tropical bliss. We make a pit stop at the local Publix grocery store for a few snacks and goods to fill in our kitchen and refrigerator. On the barbecue grill by our front door (and nestled throughout the beach), we make a hearty dinner and forget about the dishes. We watch a familiar TV show, read in bed with our bedside light and rest deeply for the evening.
Waking up at Kona Kai is the most luxurious moment of the day. I flutter my eyes open to witness a picturesque skyline outside the 16-foot wide window. The dawn touches the still water, but I know the sun is still making its way out, so I roll over and take a well-deserved snooze. Once I wiggle my way out of the cozy, king bed, we go find the conference room for morning coffee at their complimentary, continental breakfast served daily from 6-10 a.m.. Over bagels and java, we meet other regulars who save their vacation days for Kona Kai,, an annual refuge for many. Overlooking the transparent blue waters, we enjoy the early ocean fragrance and savor our coffee before taking on the rest of the day.
The next few days lead us on a glass boat tour at John Pennekamp State Park museum discoveries and water adventures. We go restaurant-hopping for local favorites like oysters, conch fritters, mussels, Ceviche, hand-picked fish to have it done just for us, key lime pie and many other local culinary delights. Some of our favorite spots for lunch and dinner were Mrs Mac’s Kitchen and The Fish House, but there are numerous options for the freshest seafood everywhere in the Florida Keys and Kona Kai has great options very nearby.
The days go by in a breezy blur in Key Largo. Every time we leave the property to play in this 33-mile stretch of island, we long for the comforts of our resort paradise that’s minutes away from it all. After an early dinner, we pull up into the free parking space designated to guests of the resort, we relax for a while in our beautiful suite, and shortly after make our way to catch another gleaming orange-colored sky on a paddle boat, a dip in the pool, and one last sunset.
Following a wonderful deep sleep on our fantastic bed, our blissful vacation ends and we leave in the morning with a grin on our face and an urge to return to Kona Kai again as soon as we possibly can.
Kona Kai Resort, Gallery and Botanical Garden
97802 Overseas Highway
Key Largo, Florida 33037
For more on Key Largo and all the Florida Keys, visit www.fla-keys.com
As you approach Mile Marker 98 heading south, it is time to really slow down not to miss the entrance to Kona Kai Resort. Located right at Mile Market 97.8, on the west side of Overseas Highway.
97802 Overseas Hwy.
Key Largo, FL 33037
By Monica Lynne
Sunny Isles Beach Miami is one of the best places in South Florida to enjoy a relaxing weekend getaway or a full-blown vacation, whether as a couple, a family, or as a group of friends.
We chose Solé Miami for a short stay, we loved it, and we left wanting more!
Solé Miami in Sunny Isles Beach is one of those feel-good places that while they offer elegance, their most notable attribute is comfort and convenience. From the moment you walk in, the color scheme and serene atmosphere make you feel the enjoyment that will follow your check-in.
The suites are perfectly appointed with fully equipped kitchens, a beautiful and spacious living room area, a bedroom that offers the most comfortable bed, a bathroom offering luscious toiletries available exclusive to Noble House resorts, and balconies with views of Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway and the beach.
From the lobby area, you immediately see a beautiful staircase that leads to a mezzanine level and the popular BALEENkitchen, a third iteration of the Noble House brand. Beautifully decorated and furnished with great seating areas both indoor and outdoor, the views of the ocean are spectacular from every angle.
The food itself at this oceanfront restaurant is absolutely worth the entire trip to Sunny Isles Beach. I recommend it for an early evening dinner to enjoy the ocean view during their 4pm-6pm happy hour daily. You can’t beat their $4 Domestic Beers, $5 House Wine, $6 Mules, $9 Glass of Veuve champagne, and their delicious appetizers, as well as their entire menu.
And we were lucky to have them share with us the recipe for their signature drink -- The Anti-oxidant Mojito.
2 oz Bacardi Superior Rum
3/4 oz Lime Juice
3/4 oz Simple Syrup
3/4 oz Pomegranate Juice
2 oz Club Soda
10 Mint leaves
Shake it up, strain over ice and decorate with berries and mint leaves (See photo below).
While the food and ambiance needs to be appealing for a great experience, service is to me as important. These three elements need to be present in order for a culinary adventure to be perfect. We had a very friendly and knowledgeable server by the name of Carlos. He usually works serving guests beachside he said, but we were grateful he was one of the servers appointed to work in the main restaurant that day. He was attentive and was able to personalize our dining experience to ensure our appetite and culinary vices were satiated.
Solé Miami also offers a well-equipped gym with a steam room, sauna and locker rooms for ladies and gentlemen. The outdoor pool is just steps away from the beach and offers a great view of the ocean. A full bar offering small bites is available poolside, and food service is available on their private beach (ask for Carlos!).
If you are looking to have a social event or corporate meeting, Solé Miami has great options. They offer beautiful spaces for weddings with banquet space for up to 100 people and meeting space for up to 130.
This trendy oceanfront resort is able to cater to the leisure or business traveler, and most definitely to couples looking for a beautiful destination and resort in a tranquil beach area of Miami, yet a close drive to all the action of South Beach.
Every employee seemed to be offering great service all around. During our check-out we also encountered a warm and genuine "Thank you for your stay and we hope to have you come back and visit again soon" from a young gentleman by the name of Bruno. Rather than continue buried into his computer screen, as we have many times seen at properties, which will remain unmentioned (and we've chosen not to write about), at Solé Miami we were pleased to have received great service overall and a farewell with a smile.
Our short stay at Solé Miami was definitely enjoyable, but not long enough. I assure you, we will be back for more! Hopefully sooner than later; and you might just want to book your next getaway at Solé Miami as well.
...And who knows, maybe we’ll see you there!
Solé Miami in Sunny Isles Beach Miami, definitely an addition to our list of favorite places to stay.
17315 Collins Ave, Sunny Isles Beach, FL 33160
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Whether you are visiting Sunny Isles Beach for a stay at the beautiful Solé Miami, or taking a ride to enjoy dinner at the trendy BALEENkitchen, it is so worth the trip!
By Bertha Morales
Ocean Key Resort & Spa was nothing less than spectacular during our short stay in Key West recently. While we had scheduled our visit to do a tour of the hotel and interview with Bill Foster, Regional Director of Marketing for Noble House Hotels & Resorts, we made sure not to identify ourselves immediately upon arrival.
From the moment we pulled up in our car, valet and bellman were fantastic – They opened my door, welcomed us graciously and asked if we were checking in. They pulled our luggage and walked us to the front desk, where we were welcomed with a smile. Once we gave them our name, they of course knew we were there as travel writers and on work assignment, but nothing changed, nothing needed to, they just continued to treat us with the same charm and courteousness.
We were accompanied to our room and as we walked to it, we couldn't help but comment on the great charm and character this perfectly located resort has – right on Duval, right by the Sunset Pier, and a very short walk to Mallory Square. And what about its charm and character?
…As we headed to our room, we walked through a courtyard under a ceiling of flowered vines that perfectly covers the entire area adding a unique feature and attraction to the property. When we arrived at our floor, we could see this beneath us. But now, these flowered vines had turned into a beautiful rug we couldn’t walk on, however its beauty had me feel as though I wanted to lay on it.
When we walked into our One-bedroom Suite, we could already see right through the beautiful and spacious living room area and through wide French doors that open into the balcony. The set up allows your view to extend all the way to the ocean. And before checking out the rest of the suite, we just had to walk right through the living room and into the balcony to admire the view of the ocean. The beautiful Sunset Pier was right below us and just to the left of the property and only steps from the hotel's front door, a glimpse of Mallory Square did not escape us, as we admired what an absolutely privileged location this resort is in. The view was breathtaking, the smell of the ocean was refreshing, and the cool breeze made it difficult to want to go back in the room, but we had to tip our fantastic bellman his well-deserved gratuity before he walked away. But he didn't of course, he did not leave until he gave us the tour of the room and showed us where everything was.
The bedroom had a King bed that was one of the most comfortable ones I have slept in in recent time, a bathroom with a large Whirlpool tub and a panoramic window with view into the bedroom, and a shower that rained-on with just the right pressure to relax you from head to toes, two sinks and luxurious toiletries.
After admiring the surroundings from the balcony one more time, we decided to sit and relax while watching seagulls fly nearby, hearing boats passing through and enjoying the feel of the ocean breeze caress our face. And again, it was difficult to get up and leave, but we were excited about seeing more of the resort and the beautiful area we were in.
We went down to the lobby, visited the fabulous Madda Fella gift shop right off the hotel’s lobby, went to the pool area and lounged there for a while. LIQUID, their poolside bar is fantastic, and they have a great menu for lunch. When you visit, don’t forget to try their signature drink, the Limonada Azul, which recipe they share on their website and here I do as well.
Ocean Key Resort’s Limonada Azul Recipe:
In a blender pour 1.5 oz 360 Grape Vodka, 1.5 oz Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice, 1.5 oz Simple Syrup, .25 oz Blue Curacao.
Add ice and blend. Serve with a fresh lemon wedge
I tried it at home after coming back from our wonderful stay at Ocean Key Resort, and it was really good. I must admit, however, having it while at Ocean Key Resort just seemed so much better to me. So, I will take their advice and “lean back and dream of paradise”, until my next trip!
While we were there, from arrival to departure, when encountered with a hotel employee, they were always warm and hospitable – "Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening" was always the greeting received with a smile, and as we left the hotel to enjoy the island, we were always wished “have a nice time”.
The service at Hot Tin Roof was amazing, they didn’t skip a beat, but not just with us, but with everyone else in the restaurant. I really enjoyed my breakfast! In fact, my Eggs Benedict were so good, I would go back to Ocean Key Resort for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, even if I am not staying there - But I can assure you, I will be.
…Besides, who wouldn't want to stay at the best address in Key West - Zero Duval Street, right on the Sunset Pier!
On our last morning at Ocean Key Resort, we met with Bill Foster to do an official tour of the hotel – A fantastic walk-through and discussion about the property, its services, features and amenities, the different F&B outlets, what they serve, and all their fantastic services, to include weddings and meeting facilities. Learn more about this fantastic resort by reading the interview below and visiting their website.
Interview with Regional Director of Marketing, Bill Foster of Noble House Hotels & Resorts.
Q: Bill, Zero Duval Street is probably the best address in Key West. Sunset Pier and Mallory Square are very few steps from your hotel’s front door. Can you tell us what other attributes separate Ocean Key Resort from other properties in Key West?
A: Certainly, the location of the resort is a primary attribute. However, what we strive for the most is to create and maintain a true sense of Key West. Our rooms and suites are bright and airy and filled with color. Local artists contribute over the years to the ever-changing décor. Though we are the top luxury resort on the island, we never lose our sense of humor or our love for our island home. Guests love the canopy of purple, flowered sky vines that cover the courtyard, the painted metal chickens that nest in the plant beds and the distressed wood stage on the Sunset Pier.
Q: We did not identify ourselves as travel writers when we arrived at the hotel or at any of your food & beverage outlets. Service was exactly what should be expected of a hotel in your category, and there were several of your staff members who were spectacular (Charlie & Dmitri are two of the names I remembered). How do you keep your team as sharp as they all seemed to be?
A: Charlie has been with us for just over 10 years. He is a perfect example of how we have been able to attract the best talent from a small pool of locals. Charlie grew up in the Keys and is a true ambassador for the island. We also have great success with retaining seasonal employees. Many have chosen to live here year-round and work for us. As a family company, we are easily able to maintain a pseudo family environment on the hotel property. We treat employees with a great deal of respect and stick to our core value to “Do the Right Thing.” The team appreciates this and in turn enjoys staying with us.
Q: What is the best guest compliment you have received at Ocean Key Resort in recent time?
A: Above all, the staff is complimented the most. They are friendly and helpful, and guests appreciate seeing familiar faces year after year.
Q: Just by walking into SpaTerre you are immediately seduced by the fragrance in the atmosphere. Tell us more about the spa.
A: Instant serenity washes over you when entering SpaTerre at Ocean Key Resort. Relaxation and soft, tropical luxury permeate the air. Having surrendered prime, waterfront rooms to the creation of this spa, the resort offers the unique option of treatment rooms with prized views of the ocean, and cleansing, salt-air breezes billowing through. Prepare for a treatment with an aromatherapy bath outside on the sheltered balcony. The float in a state of bliss, as if the waves you hear are carrying you away. Signature treatments include Balinese rituals formerly reserved for royalty, the Key lime margarita pedicure (beverage included), and a tropical essence spa massage that leaves you smelling, and feeling, like the essence of vacation.
Q: My Suite was spectacular, overlooking the beautiful Sunset Pier and the Ocean. Are all the room accommodations Suites at Ocean Key Resort?
A: 90% of our accommodations are One- and Two-Bedroom Suites, leaving only 10% of them as regular bedrooms. Visit our website page under the Rooms section to see our room types.
Q: What is the daily charge for the poolside cabanas? Can they be reserved prior to arrival?
A: There is no charge for the poolside cabanas and reservations need not be made. It is available to our guests on a first come, first serve basis.
Q: Do you offer special deals during any time of the year?
A: Between the months of June through September our rates are at their lowest, but we do offer interesting packages and specials throughout the year as well. Deals.
Q: The Eggs Benedict I had for breakfast at Hot Tin Roof was the best I've had in a very long time, as far as I can remember. What are your most ordered items from your restaurant breakfast and dinner menu?
A: Our guests seem to order the Lobster Benedict for breakfast the most and the Paella for dinner, which shouldn’t be surprising since we offer the freshest seafood.
Q: Where else can guests enjoy a good Key West lunch or dinner?
A: We highly recommend our beautiful waterfront Hot Tin Roof for breakfast or dinner. The lounge is a great place to meet new people and enjoy innovative Tapas – all overlooking our famous Sunset Pier. In the dining room, out upscale Latin cuisine is unpretentious and fun. The atmosphere is that of an island party. There are so many amazing restaurants and bars to visit, but our guest service and concierge staff members will give you as many suggestions as you need – all based on what you are in the mood for. One thing we always recommend is getting off the beaten path, so to speak. The neighborhoods of Old Town are historic and lush. Bikes are the best way to roam the island, but electric cars and trolleys are also available. You will be amazed by what you see – and will truly get a sense what it is like to be a local. Key West is like no other place – colorful – diversified – tolerant – eclectic.
Q: Is there anything else you would like our readers to learn about you and/or Ocean Key Resort?
A: The iconic Sunset Pier was re-opened in October 2018, following a complete re-build and restoration. Hurricane Irma destroyed the structure and after 13 months the new pier was unveiled. Now bigger than ever, the music and the cocktails flow again, welcoming hundreds of visitors each day.
0 Duval Street Key West, Florida 33040
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Imagine the view from an Oceanfront Suite, a refreshing cocktail on Sunset Pier, being right on Duval Street, and only steps from Mallory Square.
Discover Playa Largo Resort & Spa, Autograph Collection . Key Largo, Florida
By Bertha Morales
When you make a decision to stay at a resort, you have already done your homework and you already believe it is going to be a great vacation or weekend getaway, but you confirm whether that will be the case or not, as the days unfold with every waking morning you are there. At Playa Largo Resort & Spa, we knew it would be a fantastic stay as we entered their front doors, we just knew.
Being greeted with a warm welcome and having a smooth check-in process handled with professionalism and care confirmed it for us. We knew then, that the rest of our stay would be just as good or continue getting better.
We were not able to check in right away, as we arrived earlier than the usual check-in time. But any savvy traveler knows that if their hotel had high occupancy the night before their arrival, you must wait for rooms to be checked-out and prepared for the next guest. Having to wait for our rooms to be ready was not a problem – there are plenty of spacious areas to lounge in and enjoy the wait.
After checking into our beautiful, well-appointed rooms, we decided to walk around the resort. Their impressive grounds and spacious areas all offer great lounging and comfort. Their employees greet you with a nod of their head and a warm smile, say good morning or good afternoon and are attentive to your needs before you even think of it yourself.
Activities abound within the resort and nearby, from watersports, to swimming with dolphins, to boating, fishing and much more. There is no opportunity to be bored and if relaxing is what you are looking for, their amazing 'Ocean Spa' will be the place for you. My Massage Therapist was Ana Alger and she was absolutely fantastic!
Their food and beverage department was amazing, and every outlet offers great dishes, so once I knew I had to go back to Key Largo to do an article and an interview at a restaurant of choice, and I have many, I chose an entire resort and Chef Karl Stoehr of Playa Largo Resort & Spa!
Playa Largo Resort & Spa in Key Largo (located on Mile Marker 97.5) is more than just a resort hotel. It is a fabulous playground where you will be able to disconnect from the everyday hustle and bustle. The perfect playground for couples, friends and families. So, stay with your Plus 1, your sidekick, or your entourage. In my opinion, it is a paradise for all to enjoy.
But don’t just take it from me, go find out for yourself!
"At Playa Largo Resort & Spa, the pearl of the Florida Keys where heaven kisses the earth, we deliver unique, memorable and personal experiences to our guests. As seen in our logo, Starfish have five slender, yet strong arms, and we like to say that each is representative of our different senses: Throughout a stay guests will have an opportunity to encounter and enhance each of their senses in our resort."
Kerem Kendigelen, General Manager
Playa Largo Resort & Spa, Autograph Collection
97450 Overseas Highway . Key Largo FL 33037
Q: Briefly introduce yourself - Please tell us, who is Karl Stoehr in your own words.
A: I am 37 years old from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, the City of Champions. I am happily married to my wife Nancy. We have two kids, Liam who is 1 year and 5 months and a 2 year old German shepherd Havoc.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I grew up in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.
Q: When did you know you wanted to be a Chef?
A: I started cooking when I was very young, but it started to turn towards the career path for me when I was a freshman in high school.
Q: What life experiences have influenced you most in your career as a Chef?
A: There are a lot. I started cooking when I was very young, around 5 or so. My great grandparents were from Germany and Italy so I grew up in those kitchens. Everything back then was made from scratch, so this is something I have taken with me throughout my career.
Q: How long have you been working at Playa Largo Resort & Spa?
A: Officially I came on board in December of 2016, but I was here prior to this assisting with the pre-opening.
Q: Where did you work before coming to Playa Largo?
A: Prior to Playa Largo I had the privilege of opening the Marriott Buffalo Harbor Center as the Executive Chef.
Q: What inspires you the most about the Florida Keys?
A: I think the combination of the relaxed atmosphere and the fresh seafood speaks for itself.
Q: Please describe for us the differences in recipes or styles of cooking between the food & beverage outlets at Playa Largo.
A: We do have a myriad of influences across the property. There are influences from Latin America and Asia as well as the islands of the Caribbean and the keys themselves. South Florida is a melting pot for all of these cuisines.
Q: What do you like to eat when you’re at home?
A: It all depends on who is cooking. My wife is from Cagayan De Oro in the Philippines, so we eat a lot of Filipino dishes like pork adobo, and sinigang. If I am cooking at home I tend to fire up the green egg and BBQ. Grilling is a great way to impart flavors.
Q: What is your favorite food memory?
A: I have two actually. The first is cooking with my great grandmother. I was too young to really help but every time I smell gingersnaps I remember Sunday dinner at her house. Food is powerful in that manner. The second is watching my son a few months ago, devour a Lapu Lapu filet. The fish was all over his face and he wanted more.
Q: What are your favorite dishes from each of the restaurant menus?
A: In Las Olas it has to be the Roccoto Mixto, In Sol it would be our Whole Snapper, La Marea it would be the Miso Hogfish, and at the Sand Bar it is our Local Wahoo Fish Dip.
Q: Which dishes you think guests favor most at La Marea and Sol by the Sea?
A: In Sol it is definitely the Whole Snapper, and in LaMarea its our Herb Crusted Grouper
Q: What are the best guest compliments you have received since you’ve been the Executive Chef at Playa Largo?
A: We recently took care of a family that had come to Playa Largo for a short family vacation. We were able to give them a private dining experience in LaMarea for a Sunday dinner. They had shared with me that there was 4 generations at the table that night and we exceeded all expectations. At the end of the day it is all about the guest.
Q: Where do you get your inspiration when creating a new recipe?
A: Inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes. Recently my family and I had the opportunity to travel to the Phillipines. It was my first time so I ate everything I could. I find myself looking back on the flavors I had experienced and using these in my cooking.
Q: What is your favorite kitchen gadget?
A: Right now I have been getting into a lot of Sous Vide at home. So it has to be my Circulator.
Q: What is the funniest kitchen incident you’ve ever experienced?
A: I was working for Pennsylvania Brewing Company at the time and I had one of my staff on his last day. We asked him to take the trash at the end of the night. Our whole team waited until he was outside on the dock and antiqued him. We had to give him a complete change of cloths and there was so much flour it took almost an hour to clean the dock.
Q: Who in the food industry do you most admire?
A: Anthony Bourdain. He shared with us what food is really about. It bridges the gap between people and their culture.
Q: Which are your favorite herbs or spices to cook with?
A: I am on a shisho leaf kick right now. Its big and loud and full of flavor.
Q: I read you buy from local fishermen and farmers, aside from having your own vegetables and herbs garden here at Playa Largo. Tell us more about this.
A: Focusing on the local products tends to reap a much higher quality product when it comes to food. We can get ingredients in the peak of their seasons and the fisherman and farmers can speak to what is great and when it is available. Also, developing a relationship with the local purveyors is equally as important. They tend to keep your best interests in mind while giving you their best products to showcase. Joe from Key Largo Fisheries for example, will send me pictures of fresh fish as it is coming off the boats. It cannot get much fresher than that.
Q: Which is your favorite wine and specialty cocktail at Las Olas?
A: I am a rum drinker so I have to go with our Florida Nectar. This has one of my favorites with Ron Zacapa 23. Even on its own, this rum is amazing. As far as the wine I have to go with the Uno Malbec. It has notes of blackberries and vanilla. It is balanced and full bodied.
Q: What do you do for fun?
A: I enjoy spending time with my family and traveling when we can. We just spent 3 weeks visiting family in the Phillipines. We spent time in Siargao island, Samal Island, Cagayan De Oro, and Davao City. I have also been to Curacao, Aruba, Puerto Rico, and Tuscany Italy. Each one has its own food memories.
Q: Where is your favorite place in the world?
A: General Luna in Siargao Island Philippines.
Q: What do you most love about your job?
A: Every day is different. New challenges, new learning experiences. It is ever changing and there is always something to learn.
Q: What does it take for a resort to be part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection?
A: The best part about the Autograph Collection is that every property is unique in its own way “Exactly Like Nothing Else.” We have to stand out down here in the keys as there are resorts everywhere. Its our staff that makes us truly unique. They genuinely care and love being here. They make you feel like you are home. Taking care of our guest is the number one priority here.
Q: What does hospitality mean to you?
A: Hospitality is the relationship that I get to build with each guest interaction I have. It is treating the guest like family and showing a genuine sense of caring when interacting them.
Q: Is there anything else you would like our readers to learn about you and Playa Largo Resort & Spa?
A: Just come for a visit and let our team show you.
Playa Largo Resort & Spa, Autograph Collection
97450 Overseas Highway . Key Largo FL 33037
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Executive Chef Karl Stoehr cooking up his Miso Hogfish for CouplesBest.com!
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To learn more about South Florida's new hotel openings, major renovations and other relevant information, click on the South Florida area on top each hotel list for more information.
As you might have noticed, we follow some of the most reputable travel websites out there,
and often come across articles we enjoy and like sharing them with you. Here is one of those.
So visit Forbes' website to learn what the most anticipated hotel openings are this year and beyond
somewhere in the Caribbean. Take a look.
by Bertha Morales
I hope you will be inspired to visit this beautiful resort on your next visit to South Florida, and enjoy learning about it and the person that leads its success, as much as I did.
Q: Please tell us, who is Christof Pignet in your own words?
A: Someone who has accomplished a lot at a very young age and yet still so much more to learn. Someone who has overcome adversity and tough lessons to reach heights he never even dared to dream of and still always remained deeply rooted, humble and kind. Someone who is driven, determined and incredibly passionate. Someone who genuinely cares, always aims to please and has been told to have a refreshingly charming sense of humor.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I was born and raised in a small village near the border of Italy and Slovenia in enchantingly beautiful Carinthia, Austria.
Q: When and what triggered you to want to be in the hospitality industry?
A: My parents deserve most of the credit as they raised my brother and me in the spirit of always being exceptionally caring and nurturing. The seed was planted early on in childhood and albeit we lived in modesty, on many occasions we had friends visiting with my parents being the most gracious host and hostess. The house was always filled with love and hospitality; still is to this very day.
Q: You have been working for Acqualina for over 7 years and I learned many of your employees have worked in the property since the hotel opened. What has been the secret for retaining good talent?
A: The same genuine care and concern that we extend to our customers is how we treat our team members and each other. Acqualina’s dream maker culture is one of the prime reasons for our high staff retention rate; a safe and secure environment that fosters growth, develops talent and enables opportunities. People work for people and not for companies. At Acqualina we embrace this mantra and not only collectively celebrate our successes but also support each other in times of hardship and crisis.
Q: Where did you work before coming to Acqualina?
A: Prior to joining the Acqualina family I spent 7 years at the prestigious Hay Adams Hotel in Washington, DC; “where nothing is overlooked but the White House.”
Q: How do you like living in South Florida?
A: In the beginning I was a bit hesitant due to the lack of elevation and seasonality (being an avid outdoorsman who loves to hike and winter sports enthusiast) however as time passed I have come to truly embrace the tropical lifestyle in all its glory. Now I feel like waking up in paradise, every single day.
Q: Aside from Acqualina, where was your most impressionable hotel stay and why?
A: There is not one particular property that comes to mind having outranked all others that I had the privilege of visiting through the years. The experiences most memorable and still resonating with me are the select where I traveled with loved ones and genuine, sincere and heartfelt service was delivered with passion and enthusiasm. If someone can make you feel as if you were a guest in their own home, you are in the right place.
Q: Where is your favorite place in the world?
A: Wherever my favorite people are because home is where the heart is.
Q: What do you do for fun?
A: Several years ago my girlfriend at the time convinced me to try Bikram Yoga and I completely fell in love with it. Since then I expanded my repertoire to Hot Fusion and Hot Pilates as well as other Yoga related classes. To this day I practice regularly and it provides not only great exercise for body and mind, it also keeps me leveled and is an excellent way to maintain a healthy balance in your life.
Q: What inspires you the most about your day to day activities at the hotel?
A: Without a doubt, our team of dream makers. It is each and every single one of our 425 ladies and gentlemen that continue to be my daily dose of inspiration and motivation.
Q: What is your favorite hospitality-life memory?
A: There are so many and I could easily fill books. One of the most significant however that people still talk about to this very day is when I met the then president-elect Barack Obama and the first family prior to moving in to the White House at the Hay Adams in Washington, DC in 2009.
Q: What are your favorite dishes from each of your food and beverage outlets?
A: Chop House by Acqualina’s grilled Octopus with blood orange zest on a bed of frisée is absolutely delicious while when dining at Il Mulino New York, do not miss the Ravioli Porcini with Champagne Sauce and shaved black truffles; simply divine. Acqualina Sushi by Yakko San’s tuna sashimi with jalapeno’s delights the palate as does the Costa Grill tuna poke with fresh ahi tuna, kimchi, tandori sauce, sesame seeds, smashed avocado and fresh mango. If you decide to enjoy breakfast on your own private terrace I can highly recommend to order the blueberry pancakes with freshly whipped cream and/or the French toast from In Room Dining. Both are home-made and worth the splurge.
Q: What is your favorite wine and favorite cocktail?
A: At AQ Bar our master mixologists serve an enigmatic “Smoked Negroni” with citrus infused gin, campari, rossi rubino especial and hickory wood smoke that stimulates all senses. The “Black Cherry Old Fashioned” is equally captivating. For a glass of wine I very much enjoy the exceptional harvests from the Estates of Ladera, Caymus or Far Niente in Napa Valley or when back home in Austria from Tement and Neumeister.
Q: What are the best guest compliment(s) you have received since you’ve been working at Acqualina?
A: There have been many letters, emails, reviews and expressions of gratitude highlighting our incredibly passionate and simply outstanding team for delivering exceptional experiences. It is always a great pleasure and privilege to share such with them and celebrate our successes together. The most touching are from guests where a deep emotional connection and bond was forged and were able to help create positive memories that last a lifetime.
Q: Who in the hospitality industry in general do you most admire?
A: Most certainly the veterans and icons from the early days such as Conrad Hilton or Isidore Sharp. Their creative genius, ingenuity and foresight is truly admirable, trailblazers who have changed the industry and the way we look at travel forever.
Q: What do you most love about your job?
A: The ability to help and make people happy and that no two days are ever alike.
Q: What does it take to maintain a five-star rating and the great reviews you receive from your guests?
A: The magic formula for success most certainly lies within our Dream Maker culture that is inspired team members delivering guest dreams which in turn creates repeat guests who contribute to a successful business. A positive cycle that continues to fuel passion and ambition and reverberates throughout the resort. We love what we do and we do what we love with genuine care, concern, respect and appreciation for the guest and for each other.
Providing team members with the tools required to enable success and establish training platforms that guarantee consistency for the future allows Acqualina to continuously capture awards and accolades and garner the recognition this outstanding team truly deserves.
Q: In a five-star property it wouldn’t be unusual to have celebrity-guest stays. Which celebrities have stayed at Acqualina?
A: Being able to cater to some of the most influential, popular and wealthy people of our time is a distinct honor and privilege. Maintaining utmost confidentiality and their privacy is why they continue to choose Acqualina. The only way to find out is to stay with us. You never know who you might be rubbing elbows with.
Q: Is there something your guests will find at Acqualina that will be unique to your resort, unlike any other in South Florida?
A: Acqualina is truly unique in many ways and the only resort completely open to the Atlantic Ocean with no barrier in between the lush green grass and the beach. Aside from the spectacular architecture, lavish accommodations, world-class dining venues, an extravagant spa landscape and ultra-luxurious amenities Acqualina also offers a wide array of activities for guests of all ages (on and off property), our Acqua Experiences.
These range from Sports and Fitness classes to Painting and Photography Workshops, Food tours through Miami for a variety of cuisines, Yacht Charters, Scuba Diving and even an Etiquette class. In addition junior guests will delight in the wonderful world of Acqualina’s marine biology inspired Acquamarine program where they will playfully learn about the local oceanic wildlife and habitat.
We are looking to personalize each guest visit with a custom-tailored and curated service approach to not meet but ultimately exceed expectations.
Q: Are there any special offers becoming available later on this year we should let our readers know about?
A: All of our latest packages and promotions are available and bookable on our website https://www.acqualinaresort.com/accommodations/offers/ or by contacting Acqualina directly at 1-888-804-4338.
Q: What does hospitality mean to you?
A: Hospitality means taking care of someone with passion, love and sincerity out of conviction. It means opening your heart and home and making that person feel like they are the center of the universe. It means creating a comfortable environment and atmosphere and treating people not the way you want to be treated but the way they want to be treated.
Q: Is there anything else you would like our readers to learn about you and Acqualina Resort & Spa?
A: We will continue to add to our Acqua Experiences in the near future and are proud to feature a brand new Three Bedroom Ocean Front Suite. Furthermore we created additional outdoor space for patrons to embrace the beach side experience on lush garden greens beneath palm trees. Guests will soon have the option to reserve a specific cabana at a pool of their choosing in advance of their visit or whilst at the resort form the convenience of their mobile phone via application. We are also working on a special Acqualina podcast however I do not want to give away too much too soon so stay tuned!
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Acqualina Resort & Spa . Sunny Isles Beach
Acqualina Resort & Spa, certainly a place for romance, a five-star, five-diamond resort, second to none. Acqualina offers a Mediterranean, luxurious yet relaxed atmosphere and the only one of its kind in South Florida, built completely open and free of barriers between the property and the shoreline. Its distinctive architectural features are impressive, Baroque fountains and sculpted archways transport you to another place and time.
Acqualina is located in Sunny Isles Beach, perfectly situated between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, right on the ocean front. It is approximately twenty minutes from Fort Lauderdale International Airport and thirty minutes from Miami International Airport.
Acqualina's fifty-four guestrooms and forty-four suites are elegantly chic and also offer a Mediterranean feel with modern accents. Rooms have his-and-her bathrooms, dressed with imported marbles, state-of-the-art technology, private terraces, and breathtaking views, providing luxury and the utmost comfort. "Lush, richly appointment accommodations are the hallmark of the guest experience at Acqualina." And having experienced staying at this beautiful resort for a brief getaway, I must definitely agree with this statement.
The two-story Acqualina Spa by ESPA with twenty-thousand square feet of space is a true top-of-the-line facility, offering the best in skin care with a combination of ancient and modern therapies available. Their treatments are all enhanced by a full line of ESPA marine, aromatherapy and plant activated products. They use the highest quality of organically grown plants, known for their purity, potency and best results in skincare. The spa features his and her locker rooms equipped with sauna, steam room, his and her relaxation lounges, and an outdoor spa veranda with outdoor spa pool.
The resort offers three outdoor pools, which are restricted to residents, hotel guests and beach club members. When visiting the pool area, guests are asked to bring their room key and beach pass.
"While the impeccable facilities and divine location set the tone, it is the Acqualina service culture that allows the resort to achieve a high customer return rate year after year. Genuine passion, love, and ownership are deeply-rooted principles that all team members value and adhere to . . .", as described in their own website.
Costa Grill is the perfect beachside outlet for lunch, a light snack, or have a cocktail as the sun sets. This beachfront restaurant serves gourmet cuisine including sandwiches, burgers, and salads in a casual setting. And you don't want to miss their most photographed serving - their fresh Thai coconut.
AQ Bar is a most definitely stylish venue where guests may enjoy hand-crafted cocktails, high quality wines and champagnes, play chess, backgammon or engage in conversation surrounded by mid-century modern furniture and an elaborate collection of original contemporary art in collaboration with Fine Art Miami.
AQ Chop House by Il Mulino blends steakhouse with Italian flavors, offering prime cuts of meat, seafood, pastas, crudos, and salads.
Il Mulino New York offers an extensive selection of fine Italian wines and excellent wait staff. Il Mulino New York at Acqualina Resort & Spa has been awarded the Forbes Travel Guide Recommended Award for its exceptional dining experience. Il Mulino New York has been honored as the #1 Italian restaurant on the New York City Zagat Survey for an astonishing 20 years.
In our interview with General Manager Christof Pignet, we were able to learn about his favorite dishes from each of his food and beverage outlets, as well as his favorite wines and cocktails. So from the hotel's General Manager himself, here are some recommendations when dining at Acqualina Resort & Spa's spectacular restaurants and food and beverage outlets.
Chop House by Acqualina: Grilled Octopus with blood orange zest on a bed of frisée.
Il Mulino New York: Ravioli Porcini with Champagne Sauce and shaved black truffles.
Acqualina Sushi by Yakko San: Tuna sashimi with Jalapeno
Costa Grill: Tuna poke with fresh ahi tuna, kimchi, tandori sauce, sesame seeds, smashed avocado and fresh mango.
"If you decide to enjoy breakfast on your own private terrace I can highly recommend to order the blueberry pancakes with freshly whipped cream and/or the French toast from In Room Dining. Both are home-made and worth the splurge", said General Manager Christof Pignet.
But don't just take it from him. I also tried these amazing dishes and even the Grilled Octopus, which I always tend to shy away from, only because I don't like the look of it, was just absolutely amazing. Every single one of these dishes we tried were a true feast to our palate.
And don't disregard Chef Andre Sattler's favorites from Costa Grill. His leadership and enthusiasm are certainly reflected in the dishes he and his team elaborate for every guest to enjoy. Fantastic dedication and attention to detail at a higher level is what you will find at Acqualina Resort & Spa in every area of the resort.
Acqualina Resort & Spa is an extraordinary resort. From the moment you walk in, to the moment you leave, service is impeccable. During my visits at Acqualina on three separate and very distinct occasions it was always obvious that the staff to guest-room ratio was very much in favor of the guest.
Acqualina Resort & Spa is a favorite for many couples or families that have stayed in this refined resort. Many have enjoyed their second-to-none accommodations, a massage or treatment in their fabulous spa, eaten at their elegant and chic restaurants, and all of it with the stylish grace each and every one of their staff members are able to exhibit. All of this and more, we were able to experience on o
ur visits to Acqualina Resort & Spa.
So when looking for a Five-Star, Five-Diamond, second-to-none accommodations anywhere in South Florida, do consider Acqualina Resort & Spa.
"Making guests dream come true is what gives true meaning to what we do every day." Christof Pignet, General Manager . Acqualina Resort & Spa
"I spend most of my time at Costa Grill, where I really like to create a Mediterranean environment and present beautiful cuisine that our residents and guests love. My favorites are the grilled branzino sprinkled with lime and served with grilled vegetables, fresh local snapper, flank steak with grilled pineapple, our signature pizzas, the Impossible Burger made from plant-based proteins, the delicious beef terdeloin churrasco made from filet mignon, the Panzanello salad and our daily specials. Here, guests are in an exclusive environment. Nowhere else in South Florida can you sit right on the beach, al fresco, in a place that's not open to the public and feel as if you're on the Mediterranean Sea." Chef Andre Sattler