DUCK KEY, Fla., July 11, 2013 — As soon as Hawks Cay was in sight, I knew this trip would be a hit with my daughter. A 61-acre resort on tiny Duck Key, an island smack in the middle of the Florida Keys, is a six-year-old’s paradise.
Hawks Cay is exactly the resort you want your kids to fall in love with. It has an abundance of opportunities to get outside and interact with nature whether it’s a lumbering iguana crossing the path to the pool, a greedy seagull stealing pineapple slices at breakfast, or the tiny shells that migrate in mass into the resort’s lagoon.
Yes, the rooms are outfitted with flat screens, iPod docking stations and Wi-Fi, buts who cares? The real show is outside: tarpons shadowing the returning fishing boats, pelicans swooping in for small fish and the ubiquitous palm fronds swaying in the breeze.
The staff is young and bubbly and enthusiastic about this property. They have found their way to Hawks Cay from places as diverse as Akron, Ohio, Nicaragua, Haiti, Raleigh, North Carolina, Guatemala and Estonia.
With 37 room categories, it’s impossible to detail all the configurations possible at the 177-room resort. A new category of room featuring a king bed and an alcove for bunk beds will debut in the fall of 2013. A staff favorite is the lanai room, which feature a patio and little deck with lounge chairs overlooking the main pool. There are also 250 two and three-bedroom villas.
All rooms are decorated in West Indies style with dark woods and crisp, light linens. There are tumbled ceramic tiles in the generous shower, whitewashed bead board where strong hooks beckon for wet swimsuits, and Tommy Bahama bath products that set the island tone.
A cleverly constructed ocean-fed lagoon is the centerpiece of the property, a place where sea life like jellyfish, sea sponges and furtive fish congregate. In the center, there’s a floating dock that children never tire of leaping from.
Hawks Cay is one of the only two resorts in the U.S. to have a dolphin program right on property. (The other is rather incongruously in Vegas).
Dolphin Connection is a conservation group with a mission to promote marine stewardship. The program has four resident dolphins. These Fab Four serve as ambassadors for their species. Guests see daily dolphin shows free of charge. For a fee, older children can swim with the dolphins, while younger kids, like my daughter, can feed them from the dock.
While there’s a kids’ camp here, most of the activities are aimed at families. There’s a putting green, a soccer field, a lounge-y game room with old school air hockey and also wii. The thoughtful staff engages kids in crafty projects, like creating shark tooth necklaces. A pirate ship pool with shooting cannons, a tall mast and waterslides attracts toddlers.
At the far end of the Indie Club sits the resort’s best-kept secret: a large pool with shade trees. This pool is critical if you get aced out of space at the main pool. There are far fewer lounge chairs than there are guests, so, it’s very likely you will not get near the main pool. In-the-know guests stake out this prime real estate early in the morning and reserve chairs all day with a towel. Having a back-up plan to migrate to the underpopulated Indies Club pool will ensure you avoid disappointment.
Hawks Cay recently spent $1 million revamping the resort’s restaurants.
Ocean, which serves three meals a day, has a nautical design rounded out with antiques, like wooden lobster traps and a 19th century ship compass. If quantity matters, the dinner buffet for $24 is a steal with an abundance of options, including a local fish dish every night.
Beach Grill is basically the kitchen for poolside dining, but there is a charming little spot with a few colorful tables tucked under a tree. Kick off your shoes and sink your feet into the sand for an easy lunch of steamed shrimp, chips and salsa and dorado tacos.
Alma is the resort’s most upscale restaurant with a sleek bar that wouldn’t look out of place in Manhattan. The restaurant has a slightly Latin flair that peeks through in dishes like the ceviche mixto that’s made with local fish and roasted corn. The strong wine list makes this perfect for date night.
Although the property is designed for families, there are some grown up pleasures:
Tranquility Pool: A quiet oasis with lush trees, this pool is for adults only.
Caffeine Fix: Buy a Starbucks coffee and refills are free all day.
Cocktail Time: On weekends, guests gather around the fire pit in the evening for cold beer and daiquiris. Local musicians keep the tempo mellow with tunes by James Taylor and the Eagles.
Water sports: Hitch a ride on the complimentary tram where you can book a fishing trip, go parasailing, SNUBA, SCUBA, launch a kayak or join group paddle boarding. Bonus: If you hit it right (late afternoon) you might see frolicking manatee.
Spa: Conde Nast rated this spa one of the country’s best. A cool and calm enclave, there are only eight treatment rooms, so book ahead.
In the end, Hawks Cay offers a little slice of paradise for everyone in the family. In the evening, let the Florida Keys do what they do best: Deliver a sunset so riotous with Technicolor pink and orange that your kids, like my daughter, may ask, “Is this a show or is it for real?”
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