As we relaxed on the expansive 100+ ft porch, which stretched from one end of the beachside cabana to the other, we listened in amazement to Hubert, owner of the Moorings Village & Spa in Islamorada, FL, as he told us one captivating story after another regarding his background, how he came to the United States, and how he built this wonderful resort. He asked us if we were hungry, and before we had time to respond, he made a call to Morada Bay, and within 15 minutes, we were snacking on savory calamari, crispy brussel sprouts, and grilled green chili peppers with honey sauce. Next, they served the main course, which was a simply prepared but an outstanding cut of hogfish, sautéed in butter and lemon sauce with capers. As we continued to listen to Hubert’s incredible adventures, we heard someone yell ‘Take Two!’ and we glanced over at the two-story beachside cabana next door as Sissy Spacek, Kyle Chandler, and the cast of the Netflix show, Bloodline, filmed another scene for season 2. After watching them film for a little while, we walked out on the beach, walked past the cabana bar, and strolled down the rustic dock that ended abruptly into what may have been the most postcard-like setting we had ever seen. A small cabana, with a single hammock and an American flag. -A picture-perfect image, symbolic of the American Dream.
Day 1 - This trip began as a result of my good friend, David, winning a bid at our annual military fundraiser in Texas. The event benefits Wish for Our Heroes (www.wishforourheroes.org), the military charity we created in 2009, in honor of my father who was a career Marine and had passed as a result of agent orange exposure during his service. David had bid on, and won, a set visit to the popular NetflixTV series Bloodline, along with a the 3-night vacation at the world-famous Moorings Village & Spa, rated as one of the top 10 resorts in the United States. After we stayed there, we understood why. David and I arrived after dark, and as we checked in, we immediately recognized landmarks from Bloodline. The staff escorted us to our cabana, which was more like a full-size house than a cabana. Huge cauldrons of bougainvillea and hibiscus flower pedals welcomed us as we entered our private estate. The cabana featured a full-size living room, full-size kitchen (complete with stainless steel appliances), half bath, utility room with washer and dryer, and two separate bedrooms. The master bedroom featured a king-size bed with a huge bathroom, and the second bedroom featured two queen beds. In my opinion, there is nothing better than a great porch to enjoy the outdoors, and this porch was nothing less than spectacular. The porch overlooked one of the most beautiful ocean views that we had ever seen. A dense grove of coconut palms (immaculately manicured), a private hammock, and a white sand beach with some of the clearest water imaginable made for quite a wonderful place to sit late at night joking and telling stories. The Florida Keys actually have very few white sand beaches, as the shoreline consists primarily of rock and corral. With that in mind, this beach looked even more spectacular! After taking in the postcard-like setting, David and I dropped our bags, and we set out to find a suitable establishment to watch Monday Night football. Our first stop was the Ocean View Bar & Grill, known to the locals as the ‘O.V.’. A rustic, seaside bar, the O.V. looked just like the dive bar featured in Bloodline…wait a minute, it WAS the dive bar in Bloodline! We visited at a time when they were recording a local sports radio show, as the owner is a former NFL player. By the way, every person that you talk to on the island has their very own Bloodline story. The show is very much intertwined into the culture and daily life of Islamorada. After watching the first half of Monday night football at the O.V., we decided to check out another establishment for the second half. Several locals suggested Hog Heaven Sports Bar, which is a hole-in-the-wall biker bar full of interesting people. We sat outside and watched the second half next to a local Redskins fan who wallowed in misery as the Redskins slowly blew a large lead and handed the game to Dallas. The guy seemed visibly shaken by the Redskins’ collapse and defeat, so we quickly decided to pick up his bar tab in an effort to raise his spirits (no pun intended). Our plan seemed to work, although he inconspicuously took full advantage of our goodwill, as his drinking tempo rapidly escalated. Before we went broke on the now cheerful Redskins fan, and after a long day of travel, we decided to head back to the Moorings for a night cap on the porch of our cabana.
Day 2 - We began by sipping morning coffee on the porch and enjoying the view from our cabana. As we continued to discuss the amazing scenery, we noticed a large group of people and lots of commotion on the beach. David and I decided to check it out. It appeared to be a photo shoot of some kind, and in our minds, we imagined Maxim magazine or perhaps the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. When we talked to the photographers, they informed us that they were shooting a catalog for Chico’s, which was slightly disappointing. ;) Walking further down the beach, we happened to run into the owner of the property, Hubert (yes, this gorgeous resort is privately owned), and he explained that they have movies, photo shoots, commercials, and TV shows on the property almost every day. After talking to Hubert for an hour or so, and thanking him for his kind donation to our charity, let’s just say that we learned more about the resort than what they tell you in the brochure! We found out Owen Wilson was there filming a movie the Saturday before we arrived, Ralph Lauren would be shooting for their catalogue the next day, and of course, Bloodline filmed there once or twice a week. Zac Brown Band’s hit song, ‘Jump Right In’, was filmed right there at the end of the dock that I described as the American Dream. Celebrities ranging from actors, to musicians (ie John Mellencamp), and athletes (the Miami Heat) vacation there regularly, and it’s easy to understand why, as the resort is a private, secluded paradise. After having a wonderful conversation with Hubert, we proceeded to meet our friends Kyle and Jamie at the Safari Lounge, another local establishment just a few miles south of Islamorada. We enjoyed a round of refreshments, and then moved on to Habano’s Oceanfront Restaurant for lunch. The seafood pasta is a must-try with shrimp, mussels, and scallops…I quickly came to the conclusion that I wouldn’t be losing any weight on this trip. One drink turned into two, and two turned into three, and before we knew it, the afternoon was coming to an end. After a couple hours of catching up on work (challenging after an afternoon at the Safari Lounge), we freshened up and left the resort to meet our friends, and the creator/producer of Bloodline, for dinner at Kaiyo Grill & Sushi. The sushi rolls were all amazing, and for my entrée, I ordered the Triple Catch, which is a selection of the 3 local-caught fishes of the day. They were prepared three different ways, and all I can say is…amazing! If it seems like all we did was eat and drink for 3 straight days, you have arrived at a very reasonable conclusion. J After dinner, we traveled north to Marker 88 for a nightcap, for which the bar normally closes at 10 PM. At 2 AM, we left Marker 88 and made a quick stop at Hog Heaven before calling it a night.
Day 3 - After another long night, I awakened to housekeeping tapping on the door as they politely tried to see if we needed cleaning service. As David slept off the long night, I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I did some work and decided to explore the resort. I walked out on to the beach, and I was determined to work off some of the food and grog from our adventures the night before by doing a few sets of pushups and situps. I courageously began knocking out repetition after repetition. At 10, I started feeling a bit dizzy, at 20, the water began changing color, and at 30, everything began spinning. I decided that it may not be the best time for a workout, so I recovered for a few moments and decided to take a walk around the resort. Every single part of the resort was immaculate and impressive. From the famous palm tree that bends out over the water (featured on calendars and photos across the world), to the pool, weathered old boats, and perfectly groomed landscaping, it’s easy to see why this resort is rated as one of the best in the world. In addition to the striking visual beauty, the staff is unbelievably friendly, from the owner, to management, to the workers. After David finally rallied, we headed to Morada Bay to meet our good friend, Charlie, for lunch. Charlie had driven down from Tampa to spend a few days with us. Charlie is both a friend and a true military hero, and every moment that we spend with Charlie is a blessing, as his positive outlook and can-do attitude are truly infectious. At Morada Bay we had a round of drinks (surprise, surprise), and a phenomenal fish sandwich. It was their catch of the day, and I don’t remember what type of fish it was, but it was a great sandwich. The views from the restaurant were striking, as we sat outside on the bay side of the island enjoying the breeze and the clear blue water. Following lunch, we headed back to the cabana so that Charlie could drop his suitcase and settle in. A few hours later, we headed out to the ‘John Rayburn House’ to meet Kyle and the Bloodline crew to watch them film a scene for the show. The scene involved Kyle walking down the stairs of his home, opening the back door of a car, and inspecting the spare tire. They must have filmed that same scene 25 times from different angles. It is amazing to see the level of detail and thoroughness involved in filming one scene that may comprise 20 seconds of an actual episode. After the scene was complete, we headed back to Marker 88 to meet our friends for dinner. After a great meal of you guessed it, hogfish, we left Marker 88 and made our way to the O.V. Every Wednesday night at the O.V., when you order a beer they flip a coin. You call heads or tails. If you call it right, the beer is free. David was on quite a roll, as I think we only paid for one beer during the entire evening! After we left the O.V., you guessed it again, we sat on the porch for hours sipping on cold beer, and sometime around 2 AM, we spotted a strange light out on the beach. With visions of drug smugglers taking over the resort from the TV show, Charlie and I immediately transitioned to Army battle mode. Thankfully (for all of us) it turned out to be the resort security guard, and eventually he came over and talked to us for an hour or so…I think he was happy to have someone to talk to that late at night. What a great day!
The next morning, David had to leave, so we said our goodbyes, and Charlie and I put our plan together for the day. We met our friends at the Zane Grey Long Key Lounge, which is a really cool pub nestled in a corner of the second floor of the Bass Pro Shop on Islamorada. Zane Grey is a legendary American author known for his adventure stories, but after having lunch in this pub, we learned this he was an equally legendary fisherman! The pub was filled with pictures and memorabilia from his fishing expeditions across the world, displaying many of his world record catches. Some of his catches made Jaws look like a guppy! If you ever visit Islamorada, it’s worth having a drink and taking a stroll through this amazing place. Charlie’s recommendation, Zane Grey’s Bloody Mary, is a legendary cocktail, garnished with 3 olives, a piece of celery, and what else? A jumbo shrimp! The staff was kind enough to bring us a bowl of clam chowder and salads from the Islamorada Fish Company located just next to the Bass Prop Shop, and we had a wonderful lunch followed by a boat ride around the bay. Throughout the course of the day, we spent a fair amount of time talking to local residents (as we always do) about the real estate market. We learned that the average price of a 3 bedroom/2 bath home on Islamorada (not on the water) is about $400,000. The average price of a 1 acre lot on the water is approximately $1,000,000. The tricky part about buying real estate in the Florida Keys is that the shoreline is slowly eroding. The shorelines recedes by a foot or so each year, so many people are nervous about investing in the area. Also, the schools aren’t highly rated, so some of the wealthier residents choose to send their children to private schools in Miami. But, if the eroding shoreline and schools don’t scare you, Islamorada is one of the most beautiful places in the United States, if not the world. Our friends had to leave to get ready for work that evening, so Charlie and I headed back to the resort to hang out for a while.
So, that brings us back to where we started. Sitting on the porch with the owner of the Moorings, overlooking one of the best views in the Keys, and watching the actors and crew film Bloodline right next door. An interesting fact – the cabana that they use as the ‘Rayburn House’ in Bloodline is actually the residence of Hubert’s mother, who lives in France, and it serves as her second home. It is a beautiful home, and the pictures featured in the TV show don’t even begin to do it justice. As we sipped on our Stella’s, munched on the Morada Bay delicacies, and listened to Hubert’s stories, Charlie and I felt an unusual sense of home. We had only been on the island for a few days, but we understood why many people visit Islamorada and never leave. Throughout the course of our trip, we asked 50 people (or so) where they were from, and only 2 said that they were actually born and raised in the Keys. The beauty and lifestyle of the Keys is something that has attracted thousands of people from all over the United States (and the world), and it’s still attracting them today. Having lost all sense of time, we realized it was 2:00 AM and they would be filming Bloodline for the rest of the night. Charlie and I briefly discussed heading back to the cabana and catching some z’s, but then Hubert began telling us about one of his latest adventures….something about John Mellencamp, a trip to Africa, and sleep-walking… he handed us each a Corona (because we had finished off all of the Stella’s), and we settled in for another long night in paradise.