Aquatic adventures abound at Hawks Cay Resort in the Florida Keys. From swimming to fishing to boating, active families will be spoiled for choice when vacationing at this sprawling 60-acre tropical paradise. With five pools, a saltwater lagoon and a marina to explore, you won’t want to miss a minute of water fun in the Florida sun. Be sure to pack plenty of sunscreen!
All or part of this trip was provided free or at a reduced cost for review purposes, but the opinions are solely that of the writer.
If you’re looking for a family vacation that feels like a Caribbean escape without the hassle of actually leaving the country, Hawks Cay Resort on the small isle of Duck Key is just the ticket. The ocean water is a startling turquoise, palm trees blow in the breeze and the sunsets are stunning. But you don’t need a passport for this Florida getaway!
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Located 100 miles from Miami International Airport, Hawks Cay takes some effort to get to. But, once you arrive you don’t need to leave the property for anything. Food, activities and excursions are all within walking distance. Plus, you can borrow a bike or hop on the free island tram to get around. My 21-year-old daughter and I recently visited Hawks Cay for a girls’ trip and enjoyed the accessibility of the resort’s many restaurants and amenities.
Choose a Hawks Cay Villa or Hotel Room
There are several room types at Hawks Cay Resort. You may enjoy staying in the hotel or in a villa, depending on how remote you’d like to be and if you want a water view. My daughter and I stayed in the hotel’s main hotel, which is right in the heart of the action. We liked being steps away from two pools and the saltwater lagoon, as well as three restaurants and a bar. Thanks to the hotel’s $50 million renovation in 2018, the lobby and 177 guest rooms feel modern, bright and breezy.
Our hotel room was spacious, with additional seating on the balcony. As someone with allergies, I especially appreciated the laminate flooring. The bathroom was also quite large. It had a wall of hooks for bathing suits and beach towels as well as a large bathtub.
If you need more space to spread out, consider staying in one of the 250 two- or three-bedroom villas. Most have kitchens and oversized decks with ocean views. The villas in Sanctuary Village each have their own full-size pool, but this will cost you. Sunset Village is the most economical because it is the farthest away from the hotel. Ask about renting a golf cart if you decide to stay there. Take note that many villas are privately owned and may not have been recently renovated.
So Many Pools!
There are five swimming pools at Hawks Cay Resort, two hot tubs and a saltwater lagoon. Four pool areas are for families to enjoy and one—Tranquility Pool—is for adults only. If you’re looking for a quiet place to swim away from the crowds, Sunset Pool is your best bet. But be sure to bring towels from the main resort for this pool, or pack your own.
If you want a large, open space for kids to play, head over to the resort’s Coral Cay. This area has two kid-friendly pools, including a shallow pirate ship waterscape with slides and tunnels.
Things for the Kids to Do
Once you’ve made it over to Coral Cay, plan to stay awhile. This kids’ zone has a mini-golf course, a soccer field, a playground with swings and a poolside restaurant. Check out the resort’s Activities Calendar for scheduled family fun like kickball, dodgeball and Hawks Cay Ninja Warrior. If you time it right, you can visit with Koral the Mermaid at the Coral Cay Pool. You can also rent bicycles for free (this is included with your daily resort fee). Just ask in the Coral Cay office.
If you’re looking for drop-off care, the Camp Hawk Environmental Education Program offers children ages five to 12 the chance to learn about the unique Florida Keys ecosystem. This costs $40+. Another kids club program, Camp Hawk, offers day camp for kids from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. At night, sign the kids up for Camp Adventure. This kids’ night out program runs from 7 to 11 p.m. It costs $50 for the first child and $35 for each additional child. Themes include Pirate Night and Slime Night.
Activities for the Grown-ups at Hawks Cay
Tranquility Pool belies its name—this pool was hopping around during my recent visit to Hawk’s Cay. My daughter and I had to arrive early to nab a lounge chair because they filled up quickly. Poolside cabanas are available to rent and servers come by regularly to take drink orders. There’s a lot of action, but no kids.
When I was ready for some true relaxation, I snuck off to the Hawks Cay’s Calm Waters Spa for a massage. There is no pool at the spa, but there is a hot tub, steam room and sauna. Unfortunately, all three were closed during my visit, so I visited the attached fitness center instead. If you find working out on vacation relaxing, be sure to ask at the lobby front desk for a map of running routes at the resort.
Things the Whole Family Will Enjoy
Hawks Cay Resort was named the Best Multigenerational Resort 2021 by Parents magazine and the #1 Best Family Resort by USA Today. And for good reason. There is plenty for all ages to enjoy. Included with your resort fee are free kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals. You can also visit the seven dolphins who live at the resort. The onsite Dolphin Connection is the only facility in the mainland U.S. that offers free public viewing of trained dolphins.
If you want to pay to interact with the animals, Dolphin Connection offers a variety of educational experiences that allow guests the chance to help train the dolphins. These dolphin encounters fill up fast, so it’s best to make reservations as soon as you book your room.
Have tennis lovers in your family? Hawks Cay has eight lighted courts. The resort’s Cliff Drysdale Tennis program offers clinics, mixers, camps and lessons for all ages and skill levels. Or, you can rent a racquet (for a fee) and just play.
If you’d rather be fishing, Hawks Cay Resort is an ideal destination for anglers of any skill level. Charter fishing trips are available for half-day and full-day. They’re quite pricy, but you can take what you catch to the Angler & Ale restaurant and they’ll cook it for you to eat for dinner!
The resort also partners with Solé Watersports at the Hawks Cay Marina. From Solé Watersports, you can book reef snorkeling outings, private boat excursions and private or group sunset cruises. My daughter and I went on a sunset cruise. We enjoyed free drinks, tunes by request (all guests got to pick songs, so there was quite a mixture of genres), and the perfect photo op as the sun set over the ocean.
Hawks Cay Dining Options
There are a variety of restaurants at the resort, from the casual Hawks Cay Marketplace that offers grab-and-go options to the fine dining experience at Sixty-One Prime.
Angler & Ale serves fresh seafood, craft beer and burgers. Plus, as I mentioned, it features the resort’s signature “Hook N’ Cook” experience. You catch it, they’ll cook it. I recommend making reservations for both Sixty-One Prime and Angler & Ale upon arrival at the resort.
Sixty-One Prime serves breakfast as well as dinner. My daughter and I enjoyed eating pancakes outside by the pool. But, it isn’t cheap. If you’re bringing small (picky) eaters, you may want to do a less formal breakfast by grabbing pastries from the Hawks Cay Marketplace.
Island Time, the lobby gift shop, is normally also a coffee shop. But, the Starbucks coffee and pastries had moved to the Marketplace during our visit.
Lunch choices include Coral Grill (located in Coral Cay), Oasis Cay (an adults-only dining spot near Tranquility Pool and Tiki Grill (near the main resort pool). Room service was not available during our stay.
How to Get to Hawks Cay
Located two to three hours from Miami depending on traffic, Hawks Cay Resort is in the middle of the Florida Keys, about halfway to Key West. The resort does not offer airport transportation. To get to Hawks Cay, you can book a private car service, take a shuttle or rent a car. We used a car service, which was nice because we could relax on the drive. But, while at the resort, I did find myself wishing that I had a car. It would have been nice to visit a “real” beach while in the Keys.
Hawks Cay Resort does not have a traditional beach. The nearby town of Marathon has public beaches, but you can’t get there without a car. Lyft had rides available from Duck Key to Marathon—14 miles away—but it was very expensive (to the tune of $40 each way). Marathon also has the closest grocery store, so bear that in mind when considering whether or not to rent a car.
When to Go
Hawks Cay Resort is very busy from Presidents’ Day to Memorial Day. June and July are good months for families to visit. August is usually a month when a lot of Europeans visit. September is fairly slow, thanks to hurricane season. Traffic over Thanksgiving is generally light, and then the resort fills back up for Christmas.
What to Pack
The top three things to pack for Hawks Cay are sunscreen, a refillable water bottle (there are stations around the resort) and Dramamine (if you’ll be going on a boat). If you’re bringing kids, water shoes and snorkel gear are also a good idea. The resort has life jackets for kids to borrow and you can rent just about anything else you might need (even pre-rigged fishing rods from Solé Watersports in the Marina). If you have a car, you can drive into Marathon for anything you might have forgotten to pack.