Each year, my family and I try to plan an end of summer getaway before the kids go back to school. This year, we were on the hunt for a luxury beach vacation. As most of you know by now, we’ve had beach vacations before – Hilton Head, Ft. Lauderdale, Huntington Beach – but this year, we wanted to try a new location, with more of a tropical feel. And, as I’m sure most of you can tell, one key factor for choosing a location is the selection of hotels or resorts in the area. After many weeks of searching, debating and at least one hotel booking (followed by a cancellation), we selected our resort destination – Isla Bella Beach Resort in Marathon Key, in the famous Florida Keys.
After only four day/nights at Isla Bella (which literally translates to “beautiful island”), I am completely enamored with this resort and can’t recommend it enough. And if the resort’s name doesn’t convince you, check out my 17 reasons why you should put Isla Bella at the top of your list for your next tropical vacation. (Reader note – I received no discount or any other type of incentive for writing this post).
17 Reasons I Loved Isla Bella Beach Resort
Communication – From a few days before we checked into Isla Bella and throughout our entire stay, the staff reached out to me directly for a variety of reasons. Prior to checking in, I received an email reminding me of my check-in date/time and several activities that we could take part in during our stay. In addition, I received a personal phone call from the activities manager asking me if I had any questions about my stay, if he could help book any activities or restaurant reservations, and more. After check-in, I continued to receive direct texts from the staff letting me know about the daily activity schedule and any changes to it. This was some of the most personalized service I’ve received on any vacation.
Location – The resort, located in Marathon Key, is approx 2.5 hours away from the Miami airport (depending on traffic) and about 1.25 hours away from Key West – a perfect in-between location! It is also within walking distance of at least one non-resort restaurant (Sunset Grille) and the famous 7-mile bridge, which is a great place to run/walk or bike in the morning.
Bubbly Arrival – Upon check-in in the quaint, modern lobby, I was promptly offered a glass of sparkling wine while my two teens were offered sparkling cider – all were served in branded Island Bella Beach Resort acrylic stemware.
The Rooms – Although our rooms seemed like the furthest away from the main part of the hotel, they were spacious, very clean and modern and had tasteful, upscale beach decor. Our room (if not all rooms from what we could tell) also had a spacious, furnished, private lanai overlooking the ocean. We loved hanging out there in the morning or evening as we waited for each other to get ready.
The Bathrooms – Not only was our hotel room bathroom very clean and spa-like (ie. rainfall shower), but all of the guest bathrooms around the resort that I used were just as clean and felt fancier than most guest bathrooms, ie. Molton Brown products everywhere!
Wristband Key – Instead of a traditional key card, we were given a resort wristband (like a Disney magic band) to use as our key to unlock our sleeping room and access pools and fitness areas. The band was waterproof and stretchy which made it super convenient to swim and to run in the morning – no need to figure out where to hold my key!
Room Cleaning – I don’t know about you friends, but in all my years of travel, I’ve grown accustomed to having my hotel/resort room cleaned (or at least freshened up) every day. Since COVID, this daily cleaning service has practically disappeared. Now, at most, you receive a towel refresh every other day, even at luxury resorts! But that was not the case with Isla Bella. I was so pleased to find that Isla Bella still engaged in full-service cleaning each day – clean towels, clean floors, empty garbage and crisply made beds. Very impressed Isla Bella, very impressed!!
Variety of Activities – Isla Bella had no shortage of daily activities to participate in, many of which were complimentary for resort guests. Free activities included bracelet making, diving for “gold” coins in the pool for prizes, hunting for gnomes, marine life education talks, guided runs, yoga on the beach, and more. And this is in addition to the complimentary bikes, ping pong table, giant chess and beach volleyball. There are also an array of paid activities right on property, including jet skis tours, fishing excursions, diving and snorkeling. My family and I did the 1.5 hour jet ski tour and, although it was expensive, we were not disappointed. Our tour guide Kyle made sure to educate us on jet ski safety and the area around the island….but also made sure we had fun all along the tour.
The Staff – From the front desk staff, to the activities team, to the restaurant and bar servers, every staff member we encountered was friendly, attentive and provided great service. On one evening in particular, I arrived at the main restaurant 5 minutes after closing time. I asked if it was still possible to purchase a piece of coconut cake to-go and the staff (who were just starting to clean up) were more than happy to accommodate. On another occasion, I needed to find a glasses strap to keep my prescription sunglasses from falling off while on the jet ski, but all straps were sold out on property. I was about to cut off the cord on my cheap backpack to create a make-shift strap when a staff member stopped me and brought out gift wrapping twine for me to use instead. It wasn’t the best looking strap, but it did the trick!
Pools, Chairs and Bars – There are at least 5 pools (1 main resort pool and 4 smaller auxiliary pools) within the resort and all had plenty of cushy pool chairs. And, even if empty pool chairs were scarce, additional cushy seating, including “pool pods” were located just outside of each pool and by the small beach. Although chairs around the main resort pool filled up fast, we often found open chairs together within 15-20 minutes, and we never had a problem finding 2-4 chairs together at the auxiliary pools. There were also 3 pool/beach bars spaced across the 5 pools, which made it really convenient to order a drink or snack.
Breakfast of Champions – We enjoyed breakfast on two mornings during our stay and were quite impressed. Like most resort food, it was very expensive, but it was much better than we anticipated, especially the fresh fruit.
Relaxation Areas – Adirondacks with fire pits and cushy lounge chairs were found throughout the resort, with most located near the oceanfront – all of which made it super easy to find a place to relax outside. In addition, several very large, well-maintained hammocks were located near Pelican Point, another great place to relax, read a book or snap a few Insta pics.
Piers, Fish and Sunsets – There were two piers located on property which were great spots for watching the sunset or just chilling by the ocean. At night, the water in front of the Pelican Point pier was lit with a green light. I overheard that this trick helps to attract tiny fish and ultimately, larger fish, giving you prime viewing of their fishy escapades.
Live Music – Each night, we enjoyed a 3-hour set of live music overlooking the ocean, right next to main outdoor bar. Listening to the music while sitting under the string lights in the palm trees was a the perfect way to relax at the end of the day.
Onsite Shopping – The onsite Marketplace was filled with lovely, high-end beach-themed gifts and clothing items. They also served specialty coffees and light food items like breakfast pastries, sandwiches and salads….and best of all, the gelato bar!!
Spa and Fitness – Although I did not take advantage of either, there was a full service spa and fitness facility onsite. Like most resorts, the spa was pricey so I opted not to give it a try. Given the beautiful weather, I really had no need or interest in using the indoor fitness facility, but from what I could tell, it included all of the traditional machines and amenities.
Free Bottled Water – Before arriving at the resort, we stopped at a Publix for bottled water and other drinks. Little did we know that free bottled water was plentiful throughout the resort, along with several bottles provided in the room each day.
Now, this would not be a proper resort review if I didn’t offer some constructive feedback.
3 Ways That Isla Bella Could Improve
Beach – Although the resort boasts a swimmable “beach” on property, that is a huge stretch. Technically, there is a small beach where you can walk into the water. However, the water was extremely dirty and the sand bottom was so mucky it felt like walking in mud or sludge. If Isla Bella could find a way to improve their beach, they would be golden!! As a side note, there is a real beach with swimmable water about a 10-min drive away. We went for an afternoon and had a great time.
Sulfur Smell – Now, I realize that the sulfur smell is not just an Isla Bella problem, but more of a Florida Keys problem, but the strong smell was somewhat off-putting when you were trying to eat or drink around the pool or beach.
Later Gelato Hours – I was somewhat disappointed that the Marketplace was only open until 7pm. We are used to going to dinner, then doing a little shopping/walking around, before getting dessert back at our hotel. The problem was, by the time we finished dinner and returned to the resort, the Marketplace, and hence the awesome gelato shop, was closed.
So, as you can see, there are many more reasons to stay at Isla Bella than not. If you are on the hunt for a new luxury resort for your next vacation, I highly recommend Isla Bella Beach Resort.
Ciao and Happy Travels!