With five pools on the property, there are enough fun things to do at Hawks Cay Resort to keep families busy for a few days. But why be so close to the ocean if you aren’t going to actually get out on the water? And what’s a good family vacation without a massage for Mom? Or is that just me?

Taking a boat ride to watch the sunset is one of the best things to do at Hawks Cay Resort.

Taking a boat ride to watch the sunset is one of the best things to do at Hawks Cay Resort. Photo by Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

Things to Do at Hawks Cay Resort

So much to do so little time.  That’s what you’ll say when arriving at this Florida Keys resort. There is an abundance of things to do at Hawks Cay Resort. From water adventures to winding down at the spa, the most difficult choice will begin with what to do first. And then what to do next, and what to save for last.

Kayaking Adventure

If you ask me, kayaking is the way to see the world. Put me in a kayak and I can go for hours. Unfortunately, my travel companion on this trip, my 20-year-old daughter, does not share my love of kayaking

So our kayak adventure lasted only about an hour. It wasn’t nearly enough kayaking time, but it was more than enough sun. I was wearing a hat, but my face still was on fire after an hour on the water. (Memo to self: You need to REAPPLY that sunscreen regularly!)

We rented a really nice double kayak from Sundance Watersports and got plenty of help getting in and out of the kayak from the friendly staff there. We have rented kayaks at many other places and often find the wares are lacking—including one trip in which the kayaks had no backs. (That trip is now the stuff of family legend and has a lot to do with my daughter’s dislike of kayaking.)

The office also rents stand-up paddleboards, which two members of our group tried. They were pretty fit, but found it difficult to paddle against a relatively swift current.

Things to do  Hawks Cay Resort - play in the lagoon.

You can play in the lagoon at Hawks Cay Resort. Photo courtesy of Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

Jet Ski Adventures

I’m a sailor, not a power boater. So the idea of skimming across the ocean on a noisy machine is much more the type of thing my husband and son would choose to do. But, being a good sport, I agreed to go along with the group. This was a jet ski tour, run by Sundance Watersports. While the guide was nice, I found it a challenge to steer the jet ski at speed and stay in the wake of the tour leader. The second half of the trip was on calmer water. Either that made it easier or I had finally gotten used it driving the thing.

Snuba

I have long wanted to try this modified form of scuba diving. You don’t have to be a diver to get the same view of the underwater world because the diving helmets are tethered to the oxygen. I was excited to discover that snuba is one of the offerings from Sundance—until I started filling out the forms. It turns out that you have to have healthier lungs than mine to snuba. I developed asthma last year and am on a daily inhaler to control the symptoms. That disqualified me from the trip. Because you are breathing compressed air, healthy lungs are important.

I mentioned it the next day to a fellow guest I met in the Hawks Cay Resort pool. He had gone the day before despite having asthma. “I lied on the form,” he said. Did it matter? Yes, he said. It was hard on his lungs. He felt like he was having an asthma attack. I’m sorry I’ll never be able to try snuba, but glad I didn’t take the chance.

The relaxation starts in the waiting room at the Calm Waters Spa at Hawks Cay Resort.

The relaxation starts in the waiting room at the Calm Waters Spa at Hawks Cay Resort. Photo courtesy of Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

Spa

I couldn’t snuba, but I could get a massage! It seemed like a reasonable trade-off.

The aptly named Calm Waters Spa at Hawks Cay Resort offers a variety of signature treatments; the 100-minute Signature Buff and Massage that include hot stones, massage, exfoliation and other indulgences was particularly intriguing, but at $280, it was a little out of the budget. Instead, I opted for the Deep Ocean deep tissue massage. I like a firm massage and usually have to encourage the massage therapist to dig a little deeper. Not this time. She knew what she was doing and worked on my tight muscles with determination. It might be the best massage I have ever had. Definitely up there in the top 3.

One of the most relaxing (and free) things to do at Hawks Cay Resort is to watch the dolphins playing in the water.

You can pay to visit the Dolphin Connection at Hawks Cay Resort or you can watch the dolphins cavorting in the water for free from the resort. Photo credit Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom,

The Dolphin Experience

This is a little tougher for me. I have been lucky enough to swim with dolphins at other resorts. I certainly understand the magic of skimming through the water while hanging onto the dorsal fin of one of these powerful animals.

But I also understand that the experience may not be quite as magical for the dolphins. That’s why TripAdvisor stopped booking excursions that involve interactions with captive wild animals.

The dolphin experience at Hawks Cay, however, is not your average tourist attraction. Dolphin Connection is run by Sylvia Rickett, a woman who clearly is passionate about the dolphins. Her mission: To teach tourists about conservation and inspire them to act. In fact, you don’t even have to pay the admission fee to Dolphin Connection to enjoy watching the dolphins cavorting in the water. You watch for free from the resort. The signs posted along the pathway offer the conservation lessons Rickett wants everyone to learn.

The Origins of the Dolphin Connection

The facility started as a bottlenose dolphin breeding program run by the renown Brookfield Zoo. That’s the zoo outside Chicago that I have been visiting since I was a small child. Dolphin Connection is no longer affiliated with Brookfield, but it is still a research facility.

It’s also an educational opportunity for people who otherwise might never have a chance to see a dolphin in person. It’s a place where visitors can “touch a dolphin’s belly button and learn they are mammals in the process,” Rickett says.

Signs around Dolphin Connection at Hawks Cay Resort in the Florida Keys offer visitors conservation lessons.

Signs around Dolphin Connection offer visitors conservation lessons. Photo by Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

No Swimming with These Dolphins

You can’t ride a dolphin or be pushed by one—the experience most often correlated to a swimming with dolphins experience. But you can sit on the deck and reach your hand into the water to feel the slick, smooth skin of the dolphin as its trainers direct it to swim by. And you can be splashed by their playful good-bye. All the while, the trainer will keep up a running commentary about these majestic creatures.

Back in the “classroom” on shore, you will see a number of signs explaining the dangers facing the oceans from our carelessness with things like plastic grocery bags. “They look like jellyfish to sea turtles.” And, since those plastic bags take 20 or more years to decompose in the sea, that’s 20 years’ worth of chances for a sea turtle to mistake a deadly plastic bag for a yummy jellyfish.

Rickett is all about the dolphins and the research. But that takes money. And for tourists to spend money, they “need to have their hands on the dolphins.” So she keeps the interactions small and structured so the dolphins stay relaxed and comfortable.

She has relented and created a program that lets tourists get into the water waist-deep. But, she says, if you want a dorsal fin pull or foot push experience, you’ve come to the wrong place.

See my full review of Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key in the Florida Keys.

There are plenty of fun things to do at Hawks Cay Resort in the Florida Keys, from kayaking to massage to watching the sun set. Just don't expect to swim with the dolphins.