by Terry Ward
Sunset Key’s castaway setting — you take a classy ferry boat launch about 10 minutes from the docks near Mallory Square to get here — makes the Sunset Key Cottages, A Luxury Collection Resort, Key West (formerly a Westin property) initially seem like it might appeal more to romance-seekers than family vacationers. But in fact, the beautiful collection of 40 candy-colored cottages, set on a 27-acre private island, is probably the most family-friendly place to stay in Key West. And the removed-from-reality location has a lot to do with that.
From the moment you step off the ferry and onto the resort’s private dock, where tarpon and all manner of tropical fish swirl below, you’ll feel the escape factor of this place. Sandy beaches are rare in the mostly-coral islands of the Keys, but there’s a good one here. Sunset Key’s manmade sandy beach, just south of the arrival dock, descends into clear waters, cordoned off with a safety rope from passing boat traffic, where families snorkel in the shallows and swim to the nearby floating dock.
And while Sunset Key is actually a manmade island — the U.S. Navy created what was originally called “Tank Island” back in the 1960’s as a fuel tank depot — the mix of private homes, tropical flower-lined streets and pastel-colored cottages make it feel anything but. The luxury cottage collection occupies about 7 acres of the island in the area, and surrounds a restaurant, infinity pool and ferry launch dock. But guests are free to stroll around the car-less streets of Sunset Key, where it’s a pleasure to admire the multi-million dollar homes that are privately owned and indicative of local island architecture, with their sweeping verandas and tin roofs.
While it’s easy to pass your time without leaving Sunset Key — there are two restaurants, an oceanfront bar, a lagoon-style infinity pool and a nice beach — the property’s location and frequent ferry crossings to mainland Key West make it ideal for many other activities, too. Ferries are punctual and run every half hour in either direction from the resort and Key West for most of the day and night, and are otherwise on call for pickups. Sunset Key’s concierge can help you arrange everything from snorkeling trips to the reefs on Key West’s popular catamaran operators to trolley tours, and you can just as easily plan all your activities at the omnipresent information booths awaiting you on the mainland.
Perhaps one of the best things about a family vacation here — and especially if you fly into Key West’s small and convenient airport — is the freedom to do nearly everything on foot. There’s absolutely no need for a rental car during your stay. Everything on Sunset Key is a short walk away, and the same goes on Key West, where you can also use the trolleys and rent electric golf carts (and various other means of transport) to see the sights.
The Sunset Key Cottages, A Luxury Collection Resort, Key West is part of the Starwood Preferred Guest rewards program, where members receive additional perks and amenities during their stay. For more information, read about Starwood Hotels & Resorts.
Our Editor Loves
- Ferry-ride-away location from bustling Key West
- Floating dock and snorkeling on a private beach
- Cottages with full kitchens and multiple bedrooms
- Water Sports
- Family Room 5+
- Free Breakfast
- Free Wi-Fi
- Onsite Dining
Rooms & Rates
You're not likely to miss any comforts of home when you stay in one of the well-appointed and luxurious cottages at Sunset Key. And there's a layout for nearly every family. Your options include one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom cottages, each with either a kitchenette or full kitchen, and accessed by a private walkway and surrounded by lush tropical foliage. Private porches with Adirondack chairs and tables for outdoor dining are standard in all cottages, and the kitchens are fully equipped with stoves, full-size refrigerators, microwaves, ovens, dishwashers and all the bells and whistles you'd expect from the sleek granite counters and stainless steel decor.
For quite a bit more than what you'd pay to bring your own groceries, you can opt to have your kitchen stocked with basic grocery items such as eggs, cereals, lunchmeats, bread and cheeses on arrival.
All guests receive a free morning delivery of breakfast muffins and breads (left in a basket on your patio). In the evening, bottled water and orange juice is delivered free of charge, as well. The cottages are supplied (and refreshed daily) with complimentary Starbucks Coffee and Tazo teas.
In all of the cottages, ensuite granite and tiled bathrooms with tub-in-shower configurations are standard for each bedroom. And while the color of your cottage may vary from pastel hues of pink, yellow and blue, the interior dÃ©cor is contemporary and classy across the board, with sea grass carpets, tiled floors and sleek dark wood furnishings and granite countertops. Stairs in the two-story cottages are carpeted to help prevent slips, and vintage Key West photos and pretty ocean-themed art create a welcoming sense of place.
One-bedroom cottages are 904 square feet in size, and can sleep up to three guests. Free Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs, DVD players and a fully equipped kitchen make the cottage comfortable.
Two-bedroom cottages are set in a one-story building, with the option of a garden setting or oceanfront placement. They are 1,500 square feet in size and feature all the same comforts that the one-bedroom cottages offer, but can sleep up to five guests.
The three-bedroom cottages are in two-story duplexes, though you'll hardly realize you have neighbors, thanks to the very private balconies (note: three-bedroom deluxe cottages have full kitchens, while standard three-bedroom cottages only have kitchenettes). The three-bedroom options range in size from 1,500 to 1,700 square feet and can sleep between seven and six guests, respectively.
Only the 2,500-square-foot, four-bedroom cottages have washer and dryer facilities inside, and other advantages to splurging on one of these is the private plunge pool and the spacious, private living area outside. Four-bedroom units can sleep up to eight guests.
This is the best kept secret and I hope it stays this way. Heavenly staff, paradise all on its own, clean like home, no moldy smells, delicious coffee and breakfasts, best best best in the US in our opinion (OPAL RESORTS)=Satisfied customers. We will be back every year as long as it remains this perfect☕️
Stayed one night for my 60th birthday. There were 5 of us and we loved the 4 bedroom cottage with private pool (SunHaven). Taylor checked us in around 5 and she was so helpful. I received a bottle of champagne and appetizer tray. The pool was a perfect temperature and the location of the property was amazing at sunset. I'm planning my 2020 birthday party at Sunset Key Cottages!!
Pool and Beach
On Sunset Key itself, family activities revolve more around the water than they do on Key West, since there aren't any other attractions here, other than the hotel. You can spend your days lounging in comfy chairs at the pool, while the kids splash around in the infinity pool tucked into a tropical garden (there are no lifeguards on duty) or taking the gang to the island's private beach for snorkeling in the shallows and cannonball contests off the floating dock. In the early morning hours or after the heat of midday has waned, it's nice to have a walk around the island's stroller- and jogging-friendly bricked streets to admire all the tropical flowering plants and pretty private homes.
The concierge will supply fishing rods with all tackle and bait -- free of charge -- if you want to cast a line off the private dock. If you catch something worthy of dinner, the chef at Latitudes will prepare it! And if you return to the island by ferry after dark, it's fun to watch the enormous tarpon stalking bait fish in the illuminated waters just below.
Spa at Sunset Key
Sunset Key's top-notch spa caters to kids with gentle massages, manicures and pedicures, and also provides them with the chance to mix their own lotions and salt scrubs with an array of essential oils (the little ones go crazy for the relaxation area's chocolate fountain, supplied with strawberries for dipping). And yoga on the beach with a private instructor can also be arranged for families or adults.
Tween and Teen Programs
There are some fun teen- and tween-oriented programs here, too, including adventure packages (with fishing, kayaking, jet skiing and more) or wellness packages (tennis boot camp, spa time, beach yoga and cooking classes).
You can check out books, movies, CDs and board games at no cost from Sunset Key's concierge.
Tennis courts are free for guests to use, and balls and rackets are also supplied free of charge.
The Westin Key West Resort & Marina Amenities
Guests at Sunset Key are welcome to use all of the amenities across the water at the Westin Key West Marina & Resort, including the 37-slip marina, outdoor heated pool, sundeck and bike rentals.
Surrounding Attractions and Activities
The property's concierge can work with you to line up all manner of off-island fun, too. One of the most exciting adventures for families is a half-day cruise with Captain Mark Schmidt, a local angler who'll take you aboard his small fishing boat, the Sun Dancer for dolphin watching and the chance to hook lemon sharks in calm and shallow waters just a short ride away. What could be more exciting for a kid than reeling in a shark with the captain's help?
Additionally, mainland Key West has too many family activities to line up for a single visit, though it is worth seeing a few during your vacation. Key West's best and most famed free family fun happens nightly along the docks, just across from Sunset Key at Mallory Square, during the Sunset Celebration ritual (things go into high gear about an hour before sunset and last for about an hour after). Whether it's someone hula hooping with fire or a guitar-playing local who's trained his bathing-suit clad golden retriever to fetch dollars bills from the crowd, the array of street performers and sunset backdrop is pure fun for all ages.
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the oceanfront Latitudes Restaurant is Sunset Key's premiere restaurant and one of the finest in Key West. It's a stunning setting -- angled perfectly for catching Key West's famous sunsets -- and romantic linen-topped tables, set in the sand, make it popular for everyone from destination diners to visitors from mainland Key West. It's important to reserve in advance if you plan to have dinner here, as the outdoor tables, in particular, tend to fill up quickly.
Despite the romantic vibe, which only enhances as the setting sun lights the sky aflame and the tiki torches are illuminated, there are always plenty of families dining here, particularly earlier in the evening. And big circular tables make it easy to accommodate the whole gang so no one feels left out. Highchairs and crayons are always on offer, too.
There are good, fresh fish options on the menu for lunch and dinner, with snapper and grouper abundant in Key West's waters. And options for kids include all the standards -- personal-sized pizzas, grilled cheese, chicken fingers, noodles with Bolognese or butter sauce, and cheeseburgers for lunch and dinner, and blueberry pancakes and cereals for breakfast. Healthy options and special entrees can be requested, too, as the chef is always happy to accommodate your family's particular needs.
If you're planning a full day in Key West, you can also request a packed lunch with sandwiches (peanut butter and jelly, wraps, ham and cheese), granola bars, cookies and chips to be prepared to take along with you.
Flippers Pool Bar
Flippers Pool Bar is Sunset Key's casual poolside grill, where the same kids' menu available at Latitudes is served in an open-air setting, close to all the splashing, from about 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. daily.
The Westin Key West Resort & Marina Restaurants
You can charge meals to your room, too, on mainland Key West at Sunset Key's sister property, the Westin Key West Resort & Marina, located just where you step off the ferry. Here, the options include Bistro 245 and the Sunset Deck (just upstairs), which has great views of the docks and sunset. And there's more patio dining with sunset views at the Westin Pier, where you can also charge drinks and the light menu to your room. If you prefer to cook meals in your room, it's a quick taxi ride (10 minutes) from where the ferry lets you off in Key West to grocery stores like Publix or Winn-Dixie.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
Wireless Internet is complimentary and works well everywhere on the property, from the lobby lounge to inside the cottages.
The property's complimentary ferry launch operates 24 hours a day. From 8:45 a.m. to 2:30 a.m., there are crossings between the Westin Marina on Key West and Sunset Key (and vice versa) every half hour. The ferry is extremely punctual and crossing takes about 10 minutes. Outside of those times, there is ferry transport on demand.
If you'd like your cottage pre-stocked with groceries, request that a shopping list be e-mailed to you with the confirmation of your reservation before your arrival.
Babysitting is offered through the concierge, and rates vary depending on the sitter and amount of children you have.
Spa at Sunset Key
The Spa at Sunset Key is a lovely facility with a very knowledgeable staff. It offers couples' treatment rooms with private patios (you can also use these for treatments with your son/daughter).
There's a fitness room with cardio and weights, beach yoga programs, and two tennis courts available to guests, too.
Check-in is at 4 p.m. and check-out is at 11 a.m.
The Art of Smart Timing
Key West is a popular tourist destination throughout the year, but the low-season for travel (when you're likely to find less-crowded tours and better hotel deals) is from late-August to October. This, of course, also coincides with hurricane season in this part of the world, so just be aware.
Mid-May through August, and even well into September, brings very hot temperatures in these parts, though you're always surrounded by water with ocean breezes, making it bearable year-round.
The mildest temperatures and most pleasant overall weather months in Key West are from early winter (November) through spring (around March). And late winter and the early spring months see the least rainfall, but be aware that water temperatures are also considerably cooler at this time.
Key West hosts a busy festival schedule throughout the year that sees the island bustling with revelers in full-on party mode and prices skyrocketing. Periods when you might want to reconsider family travel here include during the annual Fantasy Fest, held for over a week in late October, as well as the annual Hemmingway Days in July, when the streets are full of party people and restaurants, and attractions are packed to bursting.
Key West is located about 160 miles southwest of the Miami International Airport, which is serviced by nearly every major airline in the U.S. and Europe, and the drive usually takes just over three hours to Key West from here. If you fly into Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, count on just over three and a half hours to reach Key West by car.
The easiest way to get here is to fly into Key West's small but very efficient airport, Key West International Airport, which offers flights on US Airways, Delta and American Eagle Airlines, as well as regional carrier Silver Airways. Cape Air also operates from cities in Florida and the Bahamas. International flights, as well as many domestic ones, connect in Miami and sometimes Fort Lauderdale.
Whether you fly in or drive, make your way to the check-in desk at the Westin Key West Marina & Resort, on mainland Key West, where you can deposit your luggage for transfer by ferry to Sunset Key. Once you arrive by ferry at Sunset Key, you'll check into your cottage at another reception desk here.
There's no need to rent a car during your stay in Key West or Sunset Key, but all of the major car rental agencies can be found at both the airports on mainland Florida and at Key West's airport and in town. If you have your own car or a rental car, valet parking is available for a fee. You can also self-park at the Westin's property on mainland Key West, but you'll still be charged.
To get around, use the ferry, a taxi service or feel free to walk. The resort is walkable, with stroller- and jogging-friendly pathways.
For Mom and Dad
If you can get some time away from the kids, a romantic dinner at Latitudes with just the two of you (request one of the tables right at the water's edge for unimpeded sunset views) is a perfect way to feel away from it all, but still within a short stroll of your cottage. The Spa at Sunset Key offers some wonderful couples' treatments that include massages with Fijian oils and bamboo rods, and the couples' suites have private patios where you can both relax after the pampering.
For a fun night in Key West, start with a cocktail at the Westin's pier, right next door to the famous Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square. Then make your way to the Bahama Village neighborhood for a romantic tapas dinner on the atmospheric patio at Santiago's Bodega, where you can sip sangria while nibbling on Spanish specialties like chorizo and flambÃ©ed cheese. Opt for a sweet finish at Better Than Sex, a dessert-dedicated cafÃ© with just 15 tables and tasty treats like fondue and chocolate grilled cheese with strawberry champagne syrup.