by Terry Ward
Just a short drive from Miami, the Florida Keys lure families to tropically-themed fun in the sun, from feeding the giant tarpon that frequent the many boat marinas and kayaking in mangrove mazes to snorkeling on some of North America’s most beautiful reefs. It’s pretty incredible to drive just an hour south of South Beach’s busy party scene and find yourself suddenly in mellow Key Largo, the largest island in the Keys, where the Key Largo Bay Marriott Beach Resort makes for a very welcoming family stay.
The Keys are not known for having great beaches. Rather, it’s the waters here — they come in every translucent shade of blue and green — that are the real appeal. The Marriott fronts a small sandy beach on Florida Bay that kids will have a fun time exploring before heading out for a swim in the warm, shallow seas.
The hotel’s onsite dive center offers all kinds of water toy rentals for guests to enjoy and also operates snorkeling trips right from the Marriott’s dock to colorful and fish-crazy reefs in nearby John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, home to countless marine species and the famous Christ of the Abyss statue.
The four-story Marriott is hardly a design hotel when it comes to dÃ©cor (think lots of tropical-inspired artwork and wicker accents). But families appreciate more important factors like all the water fun on tap and the spacious layout of the hotel rooms, in particular, the 20, two-bedroom suites that have nearly 1,000 square feet of room to spread out, plus fully outfitted kitchens for preparing meals.
There are ample dining options onsite at the hotel, and a short drive brings you to lots of delicious and affordable down-home Florida restaurants, where you can indulge in a slice of the islands’ famous key lime pie or a tasty grouper sandwich in island-casual surrounds.
And when you’re not playing in the hotel’s free-form pool, enjoy a sunset drink on your balcony or challenge the kids to a game of Ping Pong or basketball; you can always head off for day trips driving down the archipelago, too.
For proximity to the myriad attractions of Miami and South Florida and the ease of access for exploring the rest of the Upper and Middle Keys, you won’t go wrong by basing your gang at this fine hotel.
Our Editor Loves
- Bayfront location
- Snorkeling on Key Largo's reefs
- Two-bedroom suites with full kitchens
- Horse Back Riding
- Theme Park
- Water Parks
- Water Sports
- Family Room 5+
- Free Wi-Fi
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
Families really appreciate the spaciousness of the Marriott's 153 rooms and suites, all of which have carpeted living and sleeping spaces and tile and granite in the bathrooms, and are decorated with a slightly dated Florida-Caribbean style characterized by tropical-print wall decorations and bed throws, palm trees on the throw pillows, dark wood furniture and wicker chairs.
All rooms come with a few standard offerings that include mini-fridges, coffee makers, pillow top mattresses, desks with outlets for charging your devices and a small table in a sitting area with chairs. Wi-Fi is complimentary in all guestrooms and suites, as well the rest of the property.
There are no DVD players in the rooms, but for a $50 deposit, you can borrow one from the front desk. Just be sure to bring your own movies, as the hotel doesn't have any to offer.
The Marriott doesn't offer connecting rooms, but at check-in, you can request two rooms next to each other if you desire (though it cannot be guaranteed). Complimentary cribs and rollaway beds are available.
Standard Guest Rooms
Standard Guest Rooms with two double beds are the only rooms that don't have balconies. They can sleep up to five people with the addition of a rollaway bed, available at no charge. Cribs, too, can be requested in these rooms, as all others, and are free of charge.
Bay View Rooms
A step up from the Standard Room category, Bay View Rooms have balconies overlooking the water and are available with one king bed or two queen beds, with a maximum occupancy of five people (with the addition of a rollaway bed and/or crib).
One-Bedroom Suites, which have a maximum occupancy of five people, are 980 square feet and have a room with two queen beds and a living room outfitted with a table to seat four and room for a rollaway bed. These suites have full kitchens, complete with a refrigerator, microwave, stove and oven, dishwasher and all the pots, pans, plates and utensils you need for preparing and enjoying meals. These suites have flat-screen TV's in the living room and bedroom.
Two-Bedroom Suites offer all the same kitchen and living room amenities as the One-Bedroom Suites, but have two bedrooms, one with a king bed and one with two double beds, as well as a sofa bed for two in the living room (these are the only units with sofa beds). These suites have two bathrooms, one with the standard shower-in-tub combo and one with just a shower. And you can add a rollaway in the living room to accommodate a maximum occupancy of eight people. The two-bedroom suites have three flat-screen TV's.
One-Bedroom Corner Penthouse Suite
Finally, there's the One-Bedroom Corner Penthouse Suite, with a king bedroom, 1.5 bathrooms with a whirlpool in the master bath, a bay-view balcony, separate dining and living room spaces and a full kitchen with the same offerings as the other suites. One rollaway bed is permitted in these suites for a maximum occupancy of three.
It has a nice beach and pool, but the rooms could use a refresher. Drinks are good and priced right but small. The menu looks good but you would probably tire of it quickly.
The staff is friendly and helpful. Check in was simple. Good family atmosphere.
We booked this hotel through Marriott’s own web site, expecting to get a hotel to the usual standard of a hotel branded Marriott. We had no doubt about the quality of the hotel – UNTIL WE ARRIVED THERE.
The location and the amenities of the hotel are quite wonderful, being directly on the bay with its own beach and seaside pool.
But we were allocated a room on the road side of the hotel. The room had apparently been renovated, but it was still dark and smelled of disinfectant (to cover up a mouldy smell?) with the door to the outside walkway and a non-opening window next to the door like a cheap motel. So the view was the walkway. I could imagine that the door would not be very effective in sealing out the road noise, We got our money back and moved on to our next destination.
The smell and the darkness in the room could be due to its set up. Only the door can be opened. But doing this lets in all the road noise. There is no way to get a through draught to properly air the room.
This is definitely the worst room we have ever been allocated in a Marriott hotel. When booking a Marriott brand hotel, we have the expectation that even the standard rooms are up to certain high standard, particularly when Marriott charges premium prices for this brand within their group of hotels. But this one disappointed completely and did not live up to the expectation guests have in the Marriott brand.
Despite its idyllic location, we would definitely NOT recommend this hotel to anyone.
Beach and Water Sports
The every-hue-of-blue water of the Florida Keys is a big attraction for most visitors, who in turn spend much of their vacation in Key Largo maximizing fun in the sun and the island's beautiful natural surrounds. A stay at the Marriott makes it easy to dive in from day one, thanks to Pirate Island Divers, a full-service dive shop and activities center located right in the middle of the property. The "Pirate Ship DV SeaStar" departs twice daily right from the Marriott's dock for snorkeling trips to popular reefs within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. These include French Reef and Key Largo Dry Rocks, where you can pose underwater for an iconic shot with the statue of Christ of the Abyss.
Morning and afternoon trips out to the reef are offered year-round (sign in starts at 8 a.m. or 12:30 p.m.) and you'll be out for about three hours, so bring plenty of sunscreen and perhaps some snacks for the kids, too (there's free water onboard). Summertime in Florida brings afternoon thunderstorms like clockwork, so you might want to consider rallying the gang early for the morning trip for the best shot at calm weather. Snorkeling trips cost $49 for adults, and $39 for kids 12 and under, and equipment rentals (mask, snorkel and fins) are included.
Pirate Island Divers also rents a bunch of water sports equipment that you can enjoy in the blue waters of Florida Bay, right in front of the resort. JetSkis are available for rent from $65 for half an hour ($115 per hour); standup paddleboards cost $20 for half an hour ($30 per hour); and kayaks will run you $25 per hour for a single and $30 per hour for a double kayak. If the kids want to snorkel right in front of the Marriott (there aren't any reefs, but you can sometimes spot colorful fish), you can also rent a mask, snorkel and fins from the shop for $10 per day. The dive shop will not rent you snorkel equipment if you plan to leave the property and use it at Pennekamp though (you can rent other equipment onsite there).
Beach and Pool
The Marriott's small beach is lined with lounge chairs that fill up quickly at peak times, but there are plenty more on the pool deck, where a large free-form pool and hot tub, open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, are always heated to the perfect swimming or soaking temperatures. There's no lifeguard on duty at either the pool or the beach.
A few bikes are also available for rent at the Marriott, but only in big-kid or adult sizes, and they cost $15 for half a day and $25 for a full day. You can pedal around the resort's property, but it's more fun to cross US 1 to the trail on the other side of the road that leads to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, which has some nicely shaded biking trails.
For the traditional (read: non video) gamers in your group, there are some fun options at the hotel for sporty activities, too, including a volleyball net, basketball court (ask at the front desk to borrow a ball), foosball, Ping Pong and shuffleboard, all of which are free.
Families staying in suites with full kitchens often decide to shop at nearby grocery stores and prepare most meals, but there are several options for dining onsite at the Marriott, too.
The hotel's main restaurant is a casual place for breakfast, lunch or dinner, enjoyed indoors or outside on the covered patio, particularly nice at sunset. Breakfast is served from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. daily. You can order a la carte from standard breakfast items, such as omelets, bacon and eggs and French toast, or opt for the breakfast buffet (a better deal at $18 for adults, $9 for kids 12 and under, and free for kids 5 and under), which has a nice spread of favorites, such as bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, muffins, bagels, cereals and biscuits and gravy, in addition to an omelet station and occasionally, pancakes and waffles.
The lunch offerings at Gus' focus on sandwiches, burgers, tacos, salads and things like wings, calamari and seafood chowder while dinner expands to include steaks, fresh local fish and a variety of pasta dishes. The kids' menu at lunch and dinner is the same and includes the usual suspects, a la burgers and pizza, chicken tenders, grilled cheese, macaroni and cheese, cheese quesadillas and sliders for $8.50 each. The full menu at Gus' is also available for room service from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Breezer's Tiki Bar
A fun indoor/outdoor space, open from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m., Breezer's Tiki Bar makes a great dinner spot for the kids, with similar offerings as Gus' on the kids' menu (each item is $5 here, however) and a light fare menu for adults that includes sandwiches, shrimp cocktail, quesadillas, burgers and the like, in addition to fruity cocktails that'll really make you feel like you're on vacation. Live bands perform Wednesday though Sunday, 6 to about 10 p.m.
Flipper's Pool Bar
Located poolside (as the name implies) and open from 11 a.m. to sunset for lunch and early dinners, Flipper's Pool Bar's menu has most of the same offerings as Breezer's for adults and the same kids' menu, again for $5 a pop for all items.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
A coin laundry machine is available for guest use. It costs $2 to wash and $2 to dry, and you can buy detergent from the gift ship off the lobby for $1.50
The hotel's well-equipped gym has cardiovascular equipment, as well as weight machines, and is open 24 hours a day.
There's an onsite business center with one free computer for guest use.
The hotel's onsite spa offers wraps, massages and facial treatments, as well as manicures and pedicures in a breezy indoor and outdoor space.
A small gift shop off the lobby has things like sunscreen, pool toys, snacks for kids, juices, ice creams and other quick-grab items you might need during your vacation. You'll also find an ATM in the lobby.
The Art of Smart Timing
Key Largo has pleasant weather year-round and is a popular place to visit during any season. Peak season falls between Christmas and spring break (through late March) and this is when you'll find the hotel operating at maximum capacity, the pool and beach at their most packed and prices at their peak. June to August is a popular time for in-state tourists, too, and can also be busy. Shoulder season, in October and just before Thanksgiving in November, is a great time to visit as temperatures have cooled and things are generally less crowded. Keep in mind, however, that September and October coincide with peak hurricane season in these parts, and there's a chance a storm could threaten to rain out your fun.
It takes about an hour to reach the resort from Miami's International Airport, the closest major airport to the property. The hotel does not offer transport to and from the airport so you'll probably want to rent a car for your stay, also for the benefit of exploring your surrounds a bit once you've arrived in the Keys. Another option for flying is Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, about 90 minutes from Key Largo. All of the major car rental companies are located at both airports, and you can also rent cars once you get to Key Largo (the hotel's concierge can help arrange that).
You'll want a car to get around Key Largo, and self-parking is free of charge at the hotel.
For Mom and Dad
The Marriott does not offer babysitting services directly, but can recommend a local company with certified sitters for you to go through if you want a night off from the kids. The hotel's spa is a good place to start relaxing, and the indoor and outdoor treatment areas offer a particularly tropical touch for massages, facials and other body treatments.
It's also fun to start the evening with a margarita or daiquiri at Breezer's, the Marriott's tiki bar, then head out for an old-school Key Largo dinner at favorite seafood spot The Fish House, where you can dig into such Florida favorites as spiny lobster, stone crabs, grouper and snapper.