Some resorts are great for kids—amazing pools, character breakfasts, cool kids’ clubs. Some are great for adults—amazing spas, fine dining and plenty of foodie-friendly dining. A few, like Hawks Cay Resort in the Florida Keys, work really well for kids and parents, too.
Florida Keys Resort: Hawks Cay
First, a pronunciation lesson. It’s Hawks Cay, as in kay. And it’s the Florida Keys, as in, well, keys. It’s a bit confusing since the word Cay is actually pronounced key if you happen to be in the Caribbean. But if you’re just close to the Caribbean, the way you are in when you’re in the Florida Keys, Cay is pronounced kay. Just like it should be.
Now that we’ve covered that, it’s time to talk about Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key. This is one of those resorts that has just about everything a family needs for a fun-filled family vacation: five pools, a saltwater lagoon, kids’ club, a teen drop-in center filled with electronics, a spa, a choice of accommodation options, comfy beds, really good food, and really great service.
I visited with my 20-year-old daughter as part of an organized press trip that included other writers. But we spent plenty of time on our own and found the service consistently indulgent—including a moment when my daughter fell ill and a front desk worker came to her rescue before I even realized she was sick.
What Works for Families
Hawks Cay Resort has five pools plus a salt water lagoon. So there is a pool for every taste—from the pirate ship splash pool for little ones to the adults-only Serenity pool. (Although the Serenity pool proved to not be all that serene, thanks to two groups of hard-partying adults who grew more boisterous as the day went on and the drinks continued to pour.)
Hotel rooms that can accommodate a family of five. As any family with more than two kids knows, this is a rarity. Hawks Cay’s answer is a room with a king-sized bed for the parents and bunk beds for the kids, with a full-size bed on the bottom and a twin on top. The room I saw even had a second TV near the bunk beds, but there was no divider to separate the room. That means it would not offer much privacy for the parents. But at least all three kids would have a bed.
There also are privately owned 2-, 3- and 4-bedroom townhomes on the property. If you rent those through the resort, you can access all of the resort amenities, including those five pools.
What Doesn’t Work for Families
The food is a little pricey. However, the portions are large. It would be easy to order one meal and share. Or take the leftovers back to the room. There’s also a small grocery on the property and every room has a small refrigerator, so it’s easy to keep snacks on hand. The townhomes have fully stocked kitchens.
Room rates vary by season. When I visited in fall 2016, the basic room rate started at about $265.
TravelingMom Tips: Be sure to visit the resort’s special offer page for deals, including special rates for “heroes”—current and retired military, police, firefighters and others. Join the resort’s free iPrefer program to get free wifi at the resort and other perks.
Hawks Cay Resort was built in the 60s, but it’s been updated and well maintained. The beds are dreamy, the bathroom huge. Ours included a double shower and a wall of hooks for hanging wet swimsuits to drip dry.
The grounds are beautifully landscaped and sunsets breathtaking. The service was solicitous, from the front desk workers to the housekeeper who would knock on the door and ask what time she should return to make up the room. The tip I left her resulted in a thank you note back. That was a first for me.
Getting to Hawks Cay Resort can be a bit of a challenge. We flew into Miami, then took a shuttle service for the 2-plus hour drive to Duck Key. It’s a pricey per-person option. If you’re traveling with a family, the better choice is to rent a car and drive. You won’t need the car once you get to Hawks Cay Resort. Everything you need is within an easy walk or you can hop on the free resort shuttle.
Our room felt larger than a standard hotel room, with a giant bathroom plenty big enough for two or more people to get ready at the same time, although it had only one sink.
The family rooms with the bunk beds felt even larger. There was enough floor space for another bed between the bunks and the king-sized bed.
The linens were soft, the towels fluffy and the bath products came from the spa (shampoo, conditioner and a lotion that felt very nice on my sun-scorched skin).
A small in-room refrigerator and coffee maker made the morning easier.
The pools and the salt water lagoon are the big draw here. You’ll get a wristband to wear showing that you have the right to use the facilities. We kept forgetting ours and no one ever challenged us.
There are kayaks and stand-up paddleboards available for use in the small salt water lagoon. The families using those were having fun paddling around the small lagoon. Serious kayakers and paddler boarders will want to head over to Sundance Watersports, the water sports partner at the resort, and rent a kayak or paddle board to take out onto the open water.
During our September 2016 shoulder season visit, we never had difficulty finding a beach lounge chair and a shade umbrella. The staff was out early each morning cleaning off the chairs and setting up the umbrellas, so everything was ship-shape by the time the first guest wandered out.
It gets hot in the Keys and the pool water our first day was so warm that it wasn’t even refreshing. The next day, it was much cooler. It turns out the pools have chillers! The very idea of having to chill pool water is a foreign concept to someone who hails from Chicago. But I was glad they chilled the water. It made a difference the next morning when I waded in for an 8am swim.
The pool towels are nice and big, but finding them proved a bit of a challenge our first day. The only place to get towels is near the entrance to the main lobby at the main pool. We headed over to the Tranquility adult pool and spent some time wandering around looking for towels until one of the other guests let us in on the secret.
One of my favorite features at the pools was the water dispensers at each pool. It’s important to stay hydrated in that heat, so bring a refillable water bottle and fill up regularly. (The dispensers have those small conical-shaped paper cups, but there’s no reason to use them if you bring your own bottle.)
Learn more about the best things to do at Hawks Cay here.
Hawks Cay Resort Dining Options
Hawks Cay Resort really shines in the dining department. It’s a good thing, too. Since the resort is just about the only thing on Duck Key, finding food off property could prove to be a challenge.
We were hosted at each of the restaurants and found the food to be consistently good and the service consistently great.
This restaurant near the main pool has indoor and outdoor dining and an extensive breakfast buffet, complete with an omelet station and make-your-own waffles.
Pool Side Dining
We had lunch every day around the pool, like good resort-goers should. You can eat at tables or have the food brought to you right at your pool-side chair. We even saw guests eating their lunch in the pool! The food is conveniently served in stackable bamboo baskets. The couple perched the basket on the side of the pool and swam around a bit between bites. I watched with trepidation and worry that the basket was going to be accidentally dumped in the pool, but it never happened.
We found the portions to be large enough for sharing. Only the lobster corn dogs (breaded and deep fried lobster tails on a corn-dog-like stick) turned out to be less than yummy.
This is the fine dining restaurant. The special the night we visited was surf and turf—an 8-ounce filet and lobster tail. We couldn’t resist. The filet melted in our mouths and the lobster was sweet. There was enough food for us to have lunch while waiting for our flight the next day at the Miami airport.
Try the signature drink at Alma—the Duck Key Cosmo. It includes fresh pineapple infused with coconut vodka for a cosmo with an island kick.
The outdoor patio dining at Alma looked inviting, but the ravenous mosquitos drove us inside.
TravelingMom Tip: As of September 2016, there had been no Zika cases reported in the Keys, but the little buggers are ruthless and my daughter, a mosquito magnet, was covered with bites after our first night dining outdoors near the beach. Bring and use mosquito repellent.
Angler & Ale
This restaurant at the marina boasts a large menu of seafood, including an eye-popping presentation of whole snapper. My coconut shrimp was a little heavily breaded for my taste, but the key lime pie (a must-eat in the Keys) more than made up for it.