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Diana Ballon

Guest contributor

Diana Ballon is a freelance travel and health writer who has a messy bedroom and prefers the clean spare ones she finds in hotels. Her stories have appeared in various Canadian publications, including Best Health, WestJet Magazine, Canadian Cycling Magazine and Travel Life.

Hawks Cay Resort doubles as a retreat for couples and an action-packed family getaway. Located half way down the Florida Keys, the resort has only recently reopened after a $50 million renovation post-Hurricane Irma. But back it is. The four-diamond triple A resort has had some serious upgrades: It boasts a contemporary coastal vibe with a complete overhaul to all of its 177-rooms in the main building, and some of its 250 villas.

Street cred: It’s all about location

Set on 60 acres on Duck Cay, Hawks Cay is one of the largest resorts in the Keys, and one of a handful of its more upscale family propertiesThe resort is found half way down the narrow 120-mile chain of islands that stretches from the southern tip of mainland Florida, and includes Key Largo in the north and Key West at its southwestern tip. Here you can watch the sun rise over the Atlantic in the morning and the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico in the evening.

To get to Hawks Cay, take the scenic Overseas Highway, US 1 for the roughly two-hour drive from Miami or three hours from Fort Lauderdale. While you’re here, do an easy half-day trip to Key West, a further hour’s drive to the end of the chain.

The resort is only 15 minutes from the town of Marathon, where you can stock up on groceries at the local Publix if you’re staying in a villa or visit the aquarium or turtle hospital with the kids if it’s rainy. 

The contemporary lobby at Hawks Cay hotel in the Florida Keys
The contemporary lobby at Hawks Cay hotel in the Florida Keys

Who hangs here: Is this hotel for you?

The vibe is casual and the style is about approachable luxury. Staff are friendly and accommodating so there’s no attitude, but there is good service. 

Fellow guests are more likely to be sporting shorts, t-shirts, sundresses and flip-flops than they are jackets or fancy dress wear. Because there are separate family and adult-only areas, you’re as likely to find kids splashing around at the pirate pool or kayaking in the salt-water lagoon as grown ups sipping cocktails in the adult-only hot tub. 

Guests are mainly American, but you’ll find people from all over, including Canada and Europe. In summer and over March break the resort is largely booked by families.

Simply-decorated guest room at Hawks Cay resort
Simply-decorated guest room at Hawks Cay resort

The straight goods: What’s in the room?

Rooms start at 376 square feet, so they’re spacious. They vary from two queen beds or one king, to suites with bunk beds for families. Although not one of the highest end rooms, I liked my Lanai guestroom for its walk-out deck overlooking the adult Tranquility pool with chaise lounge and table for my laptop to work al fresco.

Décor is contemporary with a warm coastal vibe: rooms in the main hotel have light wood floors and beige furnishings with a pop of blue in the sliding door to the bathroom and artwork that features mainly flora and fauna. With natural light and white duvets, they are bright and airy by day, but with black-out drapes that ensure total darkness for sleeping. Rooms have flatscreen TVs, a small desk and chair, full-length mirrors, fridges, lots of plugs for electronics, comfy beds and easy-to-use heating and A/C controls. Bathrooms are roomy with a separate toilet room and a marble walk-in shower.

The two-, three- and four-bedroom clapboard villas are spread out over four villages, including the resort’s gated village, The Sanctuary. Most have water views—either of the Atlantic or the back boat basin—and ones that don’t, have their own swimming pool. The design is tropical, and all villas have full kitchens and modern amenities. 

Bragging rights: What else has it got?

One of the most unique features of this resort is its very own Dolphin Connection. Here you’ll find at least five bottlenose dolphins that you can gaze at for free, or choose from one of several packages that could have you swimming with the dolphins, kissing and hugging them from a submerged platform, touching them dockside or being a trainer for the day.

The Coral Cay Activities Center offers extensive kids’ programming. Tots can attend Camp Hawk Kids for a half or full day, or choose a separate environmental education program where they can learn things about Florida’s marine life and other topics. The resort also has a kids’ night out with kid-tastic fun like a touch tank, arts and crafts, scavenger hunt, a special slime night and movie nights. Although video games and movies are not part of the kids’ camps, video games are available in the teen lounge.

For some together time with the kids, there is a pirate ship pool plus a separate family pool and the Coral Grill restaurant. You can also participate in several activities like sand volleyball, basketball, outdoor ping pong and playing the 18-hole putting course.

All amenities on the property are within walking distance or accessible by free shuttle. The resort has six restaurants; five swimming pools; a salt water lagoon where you can swim, paddle board and kayak; and eight tennis courts (including four clay courts) all included in the US$42 per day resort fee. 

The separate adult-only Oasis Cay area has a Tranquility pool, hot tub, restaurant/bar and firepit that is not within eyeshot of the kids’ area, so parents can feel totally free. There is also a spa and a fitness center with seasonally scheduled fitness and yoga classes. 

Ocean-based activities are available on property through a separate outside company, Solé Watersports. This includes snorkelling, kayaking and paddle boarding, sunset cruises and other boat rentals with private captain that leave from the hotel’s marina.

The Angler and Ale restaurant at Hawks Cay
The Angler and Ale restaurant at Hawks Cay

Good eats: Cocktails and cuisine

Sixty-One Prime (named for the resort’s location at mile marker 61) is Hawks Cay’s fabulous new fine dining restaurant off the main lobby with prime steaks, signature seafood dishes and delectable starters like the Wagyu beef carpaccio and key lime tuna tartare. Angler and Ale is a more casual family-friendly restaurant at the marina with an innovative menu: highlights were the tasty tuna nachos, conch fritters, crab cakes and key lime pie.

The resort also offers buffet-style breakfasts and what will soon be grab-and-go lunches at the Marketplace located just off the main pool. As well, there is also the adult-only poolside Oasis Cay; the family-friendly Coral Cay for burgers, wraps and other kid-friendly snacks; and the Tiki Grill for lounging by the pool or lagoon with a cocktail, fish tacos, salad or sandwich.

A few of our favorite things: What stood out?

All staff have nametags with their hometown on them as an icebreaker for conversation with guests, making for a friendly, unpretentious touch.

As well as all the pools, I loved the resort’s salt water lagoon with its small sandy beach. 

Parting shot: If we could change one thing

More eco-friendly room amenities would be welcome, like a small jug of milk in the fridge instead of Coffee Mate creamers, and coffee mugs and glasses rather than paper cups wrapped in plastic.

Diana stayed as a guest of the hotel. The hotel did not have editorial approval.

(Photos courtesy of Hawks Cay)

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