The Great Escape … (featuring The Moorings Village)

 What’s a desert girl from New Mexico doing in South Florida by the ocean? I’ve always called it, “The Great Escape.” It all started on a hot muggy night a little over ten years ago, when a plane from the cold midwest touched down at Miami International Airport carrying a young journalist with big dreams. When I stepped onto the jet bridge the humidity slapped me across the face, wrapped its warm arms around me and whispered in my ear: “You’re meant to be here.”

I shrugged off the premonition and cabbed it to a part of Miami I’d never heard of called North Bay Village. It was so dark outside I couldn’t see the landscape, which I found disappointing. I had never been to Florida before and was eager to see its lush palm trees, crystal blue waters and much talked about “sexy people.” I settled for a grumpy cab driver, who smelled of cigars, stale sweat and cheap cologne.

After a short and relatively smooth drive, he dropped me off in front of the Best Western strategically placed next to Channel 7, where I would audition for Deco Drive in a few hours. I had been summoned by one of the most powerful stations in the country after their plans to hire a male entertainment reporter had fallen through.

I’ve never been great at auditions, but when I met Lynn Martinez and Belkys Nerey for the first time, it was as if I had known them for years (despite never having seen the show before.) For lack of a better description, we got on famously. After visiting with one another, the three of us did a scripted run-through of Deco, then an unscripted one (we call that ad-libbing in television) and I felt really good about it. Matter of fact, I nailed the audition. I just knew, for whatever reason, Miami was where I was meant to be.

I left South Florida as quickly as I came. I had to get back to Indianapolis, where I was working on a morning show at the time as an Entertainment/Features correspondent. Most job auditions in television are done on the sly and mine was no different. On the way to the airport, though, my agent called and said I had been offered the job. I accepted.

Over the next few weeks, my life changed drastically. I left the MidWest and made “The Great Escape” to Florida. I’ll never forget the first time I saw Miami in the daylight, in all her splendid glory: she was overwhelmingly beautiful (yes, I call the Magic City a ‘she’ because of her unadulterated good looks.) I had flown into Fort Lauderdale, rented a car and drove toward Aventura. I had no idea where I was going, I just let the moment and my map guide me.  

I eventually found myself on the William Lehman Causeway driving toward the beach. Just at the top of the bridge there’s the most spectacular view of the inlet and the ocean. If you’re familiar with this route, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s an awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping view, especially for a girl from the desert.

Between the lush, green palm trees, the rich blue waters and the twinkling of the city lights at dusk, my eyes welled with tears. I was so moved by the beauty, I pulled over on the side of the road to collect myself. I quickly learned that the traffic here was not as inspiring as the scenery. A lot of people honked and someone even yelled a few choice words about me stopping in the wrong place at the wrong time. It didn’t matter, though: that moment is forever a part of my heart, etched in my memory and tucked away in my soul.

My first few years at Deco were a constant whirlwind of travel. At first, they sent me on assignment around the country, then around the world (twice, but who’s counting?) No matter where I found myself, though, I always looked forward to making “The Great Escape” back home, back to Miami. Despite my travels, there was no place as magnificent as the Magic City. It was paradise; which led me to the ultimate quandary…when you live in some place so perfect, where do you vacation?

In my very little spare time, when I found myself home in Miami (with a few days off,) I longed for adventure, but not the kind work required of me. I didn’t want to stand in long security lines, sardine myself into a plane and venture out of a city that I longed to spend more time in. So, I got in my car and headed south. Destination: The Florida Keys.

I fell in love with The Keys the way you fall asleep: slowly, then all at once (this line is from John Green’s book, “The Fault In Our Stars.”) It’s a miraculous experience making your way South on wheels. You can’t tell where the blue sky ends and the ocean begins. It’s incomparable to anything I’ve ever experienced. There’s a freedom or sorts, driving to the southern-most point of our country. A place where Ernest Hemingway found refuge in his writing and I, too, found a sense of solace from my demanding life.

I’ve spent a lot of time in The Keys laughing, crying and finding my truth. It does that to a person, delves deep into your being and urges the matters of the heart to the surface. The tropical weather, laid back attitude and 360 degree view of the ocean (well, almost) does that to a person. It is, simply put, paradise’s playground. The best part: there are so many nooks and crannies along the way, there’s always something new to discover. Case in point, one of my favorite places on the planet: The Moorings Village in Islamorada.

Shireen Sandoval: What is the concept of “The Moorings Village & Spa?”
The Moorings: Our beachfront cottages and homes were built under cascading canopies of tropical vegetation in an effort to provide our guests with the ultimate in privacy in their island-style accommodations and while on the beach. It’s a place where the simplest of things can become of great value. You can walk, swim, or just sit on your porch for hours watching nature take her course. Peace and quiet is becoming scarce and we strive to preserve it every day.

SS: Your grounds are so beautiful.
TM: Hubert Baudoin, the owner, knows every plant and tree on the property and the grounds are meticulously cared for while maintaining a lush, tropical feel. Hammocks are interspersed throughout for relaxation.

SS: Instead of rooms, The Moorings has cottages.
TM: Yes, it’s like having your own Florida Keys house with family or friends with resort conveniences. The cottages have a Caribbean feel with verandas, colorful shutters and are decorated in a comfortable beach house feel.

SS: You’re located in Islamorada, a very short drive from Miami.
TM: The drive is half the fun and as you get closer to The Keys, the landscape and the vibe starts to change. When you enter Card Sound Road, you can tell that you are in The Keys and water starts to appear all around you. The trees are less manicured, more lush and tropical.

SS: There are so many yummy restaurants by The Moorings. Do you have a favorite?
TM: We love Pierre’s and Morada Bay Beach Cafe, of course.

SS: I’ve heard that your outpost, Hattie Cay, is beautiful. Is this something you recommend to your guests?
TM: It’s a private island in the Exumas that can be booked in its entirety. Of course, we could accommodate anyone who wants to explore that possibility by contacting the resort.

SS: Once upon a time, back in the 80’s & 90’s, a lot of Super Models were photographed on your property. Who were some of those famous faces?
TM: Everyone from Claudia Schiffer to Cindy Crawford and our photo shoots still happen on a daily basis. The property is a top photo location, but details are never released.

SS: What is the most stylish aspect of The Moorings?
TM: The resort is perfect in its creation of simple chic, which is thoughtfully maintained by Hubert Baudoin. He is French-born, raised in West Africa and has traveled the world, so he’s able to bring an international, glamorous feel combined with old Florida. There is nothing else like it. People can really appreciate how relaxed and unpretentious they can be and feel at The Moorings.

The privacy and exclusivity of The Moorings produces a relaxed intimacy, which is something that can truly help a person unwind and get back to the basics of life. When I’m on vacation, it usually takes me four to five days to really disconnect from my hectic schedule and lifestyle. At The Moorings, though, I feel that way the minute I drive onto the property.

The air is clean, the energy is peaceful and the visual landscape is nothing short of perfect. The beach is made up of pristine white sand, the quaint cottages are a homey mix of Ralph-Lauren-meets-Shabby-Chic decor and their foliage is rich with lush green plants, bright aromatic flowers and massive Banyan trees.  

Living in paradise is amazing, but having its playground in our own backyard is more than a blessing, it’s the absolute best way to really enjoy life and that’s why “The Great Escape…(featuring The Moorings Village)” will always be one of my favorite things.
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