Calypso the dachshund and friends find a canine paradise in Islamorada.
White Gate Court, MM 76, Islamorada, 800-645-GATE, whitegatecourt.com.
Calypso has a new boyfriend. His name is Fred and he works security at the resort. Sure, some say it’s a go-nowhere job and he may never amount to more than the typical Keys slacker, but you can’t tell Calypso anything: She’s in love. And who can blame her? It’s not every day she meets a guy who still has his testicles.
Welcome to White Gate Court, where luxury for people takes a backseat to your dog’s pleasure. The seven cottages stay booked constantly, but, given that White Gate Court boasts typical Keys charm (more on that in a moment), it’s likely because of the dog amenities: Calypso spent her vacation off leash, free to hop up on the beach chairs and chase lizards around the coconut palms, and she was more than welcome on the beach. Throughout the property dogs find tennis balls and bowls of water. Think of it as a Hedonism Resort for pups, because there’s nothing your dog wants for here (except, perhaps, squirrels to chase, those having left for less-dog-friendly pastures, I imagine). It’s perhaps the only resort where the dogs matter more than the bipedal guests.
“It really is all about the dogs,” the general manager, Jane Annara, confirms as Calypso flirts with the young Fred.
Despite the human amenities — gratis bike and kayak usage, grills, kitchenettes, spectacular location — from a human point of view, this bayside retreat doesn’t offer luxury. The opposite, actually.
Attention, Keys newbies: With a few pricey exceptions, you won’t find much in the way of traditionally luxe accommodations in the Keys. Sure, there’s Little Palm Island ($700 a night in the off-season) and a handful of others, but good luck letting your dog roll in seaweed at any of those.
You’ve heard the marketing slogan “things are different here,” but in the Keys, that’s simply truth in advertising. The entire chain of islands has a heady scent of salt and mildew mixed with coconuts; you won’t hear live bands, but the island thrums with tides and breezes, which means two things: One, you’re not in Kansas anymore, and two, you’re in their world now. Their world, I should note, includes the best saltwater in the U.S. but also scorpions, mosquitoes, and multiple messes of iguanas. Your hotel room, too, is on a different level, and it ain’t the level of our beloved TradeWinds. You will see bugs; you should expect this and it doesn’t mean the place is dirty, it means you’re in the wild and salty backcountry. Your room may need minor repairs that probably won’t inconvenience you. Sandy beaches? Not even a little; they’re limestone with a scattered covering of soft white chunky sand the seasoned diver will tell you is parrotfish shit.
Accounting for all that, if I believed in Creationism I’d tell you the Keys are the real Garden of Eden, but I value sandy feet over pedicured ones, I’m obsessed with the turquoise and cobalt water and dream about fuchsia shocks of bougainvillea. Paradise completes itself at White Gate Court, where Calypso can’t be banned from the nonexistent pool or restaurant, but can explore the dock, kayak launch, and steps leading down to the water.
The place needs work — while it’s far from run-down, our cottage needs a new bathroom, but, as the manager told us, it’s never vacant long enough to make the upgrade. And no wonder: Upon our arrival, we found wine chilling in the fridge, red hibiscus bouquets in the kitchen and bathroom and sprays of blushing bougainvillea spilling onto every available surface. Honestly, we didn’t need a one-bedroom: We spent our days outside, swimming or reading or floating, and, for the most part, we grilled instead of using the kitchen. The room didn’t matter to us as much as vacationing on a limestone piece of paradise with our dogs.
Most Keys motels allow dogs, but I wouldn’t call them “dog-friendly;” I’d call them “dog-tolerant:” Leash your dog, don’t leave her alone in the room, keep him off the beach. White Gate Court doesn’t have rules.
It does have Fred. He’s no doubt met another dog by now — perhaps a comely Cairn terrier — but Calypso’s still planning a return trip. She didn’t mind the bathroom, loved rolling in the sand (see: parrotfish shit) and. As for us? Sure, the Islander up the street has a touch more luxury, but for me, being able to enjoy the Keys with my dog trumps a hot tub and $13 hamburgers any day.
This piece originally appeared in the 2016 Creative Loafing Summer Guide, when Cathy was the arts + entertainment editor for the Tampa paper. If you’re wondering, Hurricane Irma in 2017 only made White Gate Court stronger. Read Cathy’s coverage of that here.