This Florida Key resort with its many family activities is surprisingly civilized in an archipelago known for its casual vibe and funky charms.
The signs may have read U.S. Route 1, and most of the license plates may have had Florida on them, but the feeling we had entering Key Largo, the gateway to the Florida Keys, was that this was far removed from anything else in the country. We weren’t on the Keys for long, and yet we felt it overcoming us — an infectious urge to abandon all responsibility and indulge in the carefree life of the Florida Keys. We seemed to develop a compulsion to watch sunsets and listen to Jimmy Buffet music.
We were spending a few days at a wonderful, full-service resort on Duck Key called Hawk’s Cay Resort (888/313-5749) and it was no surprise to find many of the help had indeed succumbed to this very attraction. It was probably a good thing that we didn’t have a longer stay, or we may have succumbed as well.
Your Home Base
Hawk’s Cay is a 60-acre resort located on Duck’s Key, which lies between Islamorada and Marathon Key, about 90 miles from Miami. It’s not a bad drive at all; Delta Connection and other small carriers serve the Florida Keys Marathon Airport and if you’re coming from afar, it might be the way to go.
However you get here, this resort has it all: charming and comfortable accommodations, great restaurants, and a wealth of activities, all enhanced by panoramic views of the surrounding Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. But don’t think that the resort, despite its size and variety of activities, doesn’t maintain that special spirit of the Keys. We found Hawk’s Cay, with its relaxing and “laid back” atmosphere, a great place for families to meet other families.
Accommodations at Hawk’s Cay vary from guestrooms to two-bedroom villas. All 177 guest rooms and 100-plus two-, three- and four bedroom villas were recently renovated during a $35 million resort enhancement. Perfect for families, the villas feature a full kitchen, washer/dryer, living room and lanais with water views. Nightly rates are rather steep, but a variety of package rates and seasonal family specials are available.
Getting around the resort’s 60 acres is easy using the convenient shuttle service. Meeting new friends each day, our teens loved shuttling among the different pools, shopping areas, and activities.
With the eclectic fusion of Caribbean and Italian cuisines at one eatery, fresh and delightful seafood specialties, and casual poolside fare, dining at Hawk’s Cay was a wonderful experience. We found it very convenient to make a dinner reservation for a dockside table at WatersEdge immediately following our sunset cruise. We simply walked off the boat and sat at our table. We were also impressed with the reasonable prices at the resort’s five restaurants.
Water, Water Everywhere
Many of Hawk Cay’s activities obviously involve the beautiful, clear waters surrounding the Keys. In addition to swimming in the saltwater lagoon, guests have a choice of five different pools, one reserved for adults. The Indies Club is perfect for kids and families. Here you’ll find a family pool and the Pirate Ship outfitted with slides and water cannons, as well the Treehouse whose climbing wall, tire swing, S-curve, wave and rocket slides provide kids a sense of adventure.
Hawk’s Cay’s own 85-slip, full-service marina hosts many water activities including snorkeling and glass-bottom boat trips to North America’s only living coral reef. A wide variety of scuba diving excursions and courses are available through Tilden’s Scuba Center at the resort. For those who have not had scuba training and don’t want to take the time for a course, SNUBA dive adventures can provide the fun and excitement of underwater breathing without all the training and equipment. Fishing opportunities abound in the Keys, with offshore, backcountry and flats fishing excursions available.
There are a variety of ways to enjoy the beauty of the waters surrounding Duck Key. We had a bird’s eye view of the Keys while parasailing. Kayaks, Waverunners and powerboat rentals are available at the marina and guided Waverunner and kayak excursions are a great way to experience the area. We especially enjoyed a picturesque sunset aboard the catamaran sunset cruise while sipping some of the complimentary champagne.
One of the more unique activities is the resort’s Dolphin Connection. Several interactive programs are designed for more than just entertainment, with each one inspiring awareness and positive change on behalf of the marine environment through direct contact with marine mammals.
“Dolphin Discovery” is a 45-minute program where participants interact directly with the dolphins in the resort’s natural saltwater lagoon. Although there is no actual swimming with the dolphins, there is plenty of “hands-on” interaction. Our teens couldn’t seem to give the dolphins enough hugs and kisses during their encounters.
“Dockside Dolphins” is a 30-minute program providing those not wishing to enter the water a chance to learn about training the dolphins. This program enables younger kids to become involved in various “hands-on” training and feeding activities. The fee to participate is much less, so advance reservations are suggested for both of these activities. Participants 5-years and younger must be accompanied by a paying adult.
An additional dolphin encounter, “Trainer for the Day,” is an in-depth, three-hour program that gives participants up-close involvement with the techniques used in dolphin training. The activity is limited to children 10-years and older, with only two participants allowed per day.
Fun On Dry Land
In addition to the varied water sports, Hawk’s Cay offers many things to do on land as well. By bicycle we explored the five islands and beautiful residential areas of Duck Key that are connected by ornate Venetian bridges. The resort offers eight tennis courts, two of which are lighted Har-Tru courts. Resort guests have golfing privileges at the 18-hole Sombrero Country Club. Kids and adults will love the 18-hole putting green course and the volleyball and basketball courts at the Indies Club.
After a workout in the fitness and exercise center, you might want to pamper yourself with some of the many services available at the Calm Waters Spa. This casual, award-winning respite from the sun and sand has five signature treatments including the popular Key Lime Mojito body treatment. Additionally, the spa includes a fitness room with complete schedule of group exercise classes including the one of a kind Fish-Fighting Fit class which helps anglers improve strength and endurance for catching the “big one.” The spa also offers teens a chance to enjoy the relaxation of treatments as well. Children ages 10-17 can experience a 25-minute massage in the comfort of their bathing suit, or a 25-minute Teen Facial, as well as a number of salon services designed specially for teens.
The Indies Club is also the headquarters of the Camp Hawkkids program, voted “Best Kids Program 2009” in the Miami Herald readers’ survey. There are half-day or full-day sessions which involve kids in a variety of nature-oriented games, nature trail hikes, pool games, snorkeling in the lagoon, scavenger hunts, arts and crafts projects, stories and a kid-friendly snack and lunch.
The Cove offers pre-teens (9-to 12-year-olds) and Aquajam (12-to 17-year-olds) a place to relax, go online, play video games and socialize in the evenings. To help mom and dad have a night on the town, Kids Night Out offers a craft project, dinner and a movie to kids 4 to 11-years-old.
And as if there isn’t enough to do right at the resort, Key West, with all of its excitement, is just a 60-mile drive. After a leisurely day at Hawk’s Cay, we drove to Key West for sunset at Mallory Square. Every night there are vendors and street performers appearing one hour before and one hour after sunset.
A visit to Hawk’s Cay can be a perfect way to unwind and enjoy the “laid back” atmosphere of the Florida Keys. Just be careful that you don’t stay too long — you might find yourself not wanting to leave at all.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.