The Family Key

The Refurbished Hawks Cay Resort Remains a Family Favorite for Escaping to the Florida Keys

By Nicholas Faber

July/August 2019

There comes a moment in any vacation when you realize that you’ve forgotten everything else and you are just there, enjoying yourself, all the stress of the real world vanished.

For me, it was when I wrapped my arms around a bottlenose dolphin named Balla, a nine-foot male who nuzzled up to me in the enclosed water pen at Hawks Cay Resort. His skin was smooth and rubbery, and we were allowed to gently touch him, along with other dolphins in the resort’s Dolphin Connection program.

“This is awesome,” a teenage girl in the water next to me said. “This is the second time we’ve done this today.” She was waiting to go for a ride holding onto the dolphin’s dorsal fin. Hawks Cay is the kind of place you wish your parents had taken you every summer when you were a kid. It is a self contained 66-acre compound with pools, lagoons, kayaks, sailboats, tennis courts, snack bars, restaurants, and a kid’s club with a basketball court, soccer field, golf putting course and waterslide pirate ship for tykes. “We are a multi-generational resort,” says marketing manager Wilner Henri. “We see the same families all the time. They come, they fall in love with it, and make it their yearly vacation spot. But we can cater to adult couples as well.”

Guests can swim with dolphins through the resort’s Dolphin Connection program

Hawks Cay Resort is located on Duck Key, roughly halfway down the chain of islands from Miami to Key West. The main hotel creates a crescent shaped enclosure on the Atlantic side of Duck Key, within which is the main pool, a tiki bar, a breakfast hall and a lagoon where kids can safely fool around with paddle boards and kayaks. Around the north side of the crescent are the water pens of the Dolphin Connection and a conference center; around the south side is the adults-only Oasis Bar and, further tucked away, the adults-only Tranquility Pool.

The main pool, meanwhile, is not exactly tranquil, permeated by a soundtrack of Caribbean steel drums and the squeals of happy kids. “They have their own designated pool at the Kid’s Club, but they all flock to here,” says Henri. Poolside, parents with cocktails in hand keep half-open eyes on the youngsters. Parents can further unplug by dropping off their bambinos at the Kid’s Club for morning or afternoon mini-camps. That compound is conveniently located next door to another adult amenity, the day spa.

The main pool

In its own building, the spa is a refuge of relaxation, with muted pastel-blue walls, a sauna, a steam room, a sizeable gym, lockers and showers, and a “resting room” with chaise lounge chairs and Asian meditation music. All of which is an ultra-comfy setting for what we came for: the “Barefootin’” massage. It was administered perfectly – including hot towels wrapped around one foot while the other was being massaged into butter.

There are other adult-oriented tweaks as well, like 61 Prime, their new high-end beef (tomahawk steaks!) and seafood restaurant. Its bar offers a selection of cigars (as well as a nice collection of scotch).

While the resort has a no-smoking policy elsewhere, you can puff your stogie in the adult zone, which includes a nighttime firepit. For family meals you can walk (or take the Island Tram) to the Angler and Ale at the adjacent marina, where we ate a fantastic whole-fried grouper.

Accommodations at Hawks Cay come in two forms: hotel rooms or villas. Their 170 hotel rooms, all recently upgraded as part of a $50 million facelift for the property, are in the main resort building. On one side they offer views of the pool, the sunrise and the Atlantic; on the other, views of the sunset and Gulf of Mexico. The 250 villas are two-story townhomes built Key West style, with balconies and one, two or three bedrooms. We stayed in one of the villas, all individually owned and pooled for rental. It was clean and tidy, with a kitchen, nice high ceilings and a steep flight of stairs to bedrooms on the second floor. Great views and comfortable beds.

We also liked the Hawks Cay location. It’s much closer to the Gables than Key West, but sufficiently far away for The Keys Effect, where your worries peel away as you leave the urban maze behind. And for the more ambitious, Key West is 60 miles away.

But we were at Hawks Cay for just the weekend, and once ensconced in our villa, the rigorous schedule of dolphin playtime and spa treatments, along with a dash of early morning tennis, was enough to keep us pleasantly occupied. We came home feeling refreshed, having visited a foreign yet family-friendly place.