Hawks Cay Resort was almost completely renovated in 2018, after it was impacted by Hurricane Irma. The facelift brought an approachable upscale vibe and there's a seemingly never-ending list of vacation amenities and activities, from a dolphin experience to a full spa to five swimming pools to paddleboarding on the manmade lagoon. Seven restaurant options are equally varied and high quality. The 177 rooms and suites are contemporary coastal with upscale amenities and glossy bathrooms. There's also a selection of privately owned villas to rent with full kitchens and laundry facilities. It's a two-hour drive to Miami International Airport, though many guests arrive via boat to the resort's 85-slip marina. Note that there's a daily resort fee and some of the activities cost extra. For something with fewer bells and whistles, Seafarer Resort and Beach in Key Largo is a good choice.
60 acres of resort activities on a man-made lagoon
It's difficult to tell just how large Hawks Cay Resort is, but the 177 rooms, 250 villas, five pools, lagoon, marina, seven restaurants, and full spa are thoughtfully tucked into 60 acres. It's all entirely walkable, but trams are on-hand for guests who prefer a ride. The resort was almost completely renovated in 2018 after damage from Hurricane Irma. The renovation brought a fresh and upscale look to the public areas and rooms. The lobby features elegant palm-shaped fans that lazily blow a fresh scent throughout the space. Luxe wicker seats and huge windows that look out onto the pool and lagoon give the space a beachy vibe. The grounds are beautifully tended. Amazingly, the resort's towering palm trees survived the hurricane, and it's worth a boat ride to view the resort's architecture and grounds from the water. Don't worry, the dolphins were safely transported to an aquarium during the hurricane.
The resort is exceptionally popular with families (including lots of repeat local visitors), but couples stay here too. There's a main activity pool for everyone, and an adult-only pool, hot tub, and bar and grill just for adults. It's a buzzy place, with lots of activities, but there are quiet corners for those looking to escape and relax.
Mile marker 61, on tiny Duck Key, about halfway between Key Largo and Key West
Hawks Cay Resort takes up a sizable portion of the 60-acre Duck Key and there's little of interest within walking distance outside of the resort. Marathon is the nearest town (about a 10-minute drive), home to grocery stores (for stocking kitchen villas), beach gear shops, the popular turtle hospital, Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters, and the quirky Castaway Waterfront Restaurant & Sushi Bar. Key Largo is about a 50-minute drive north. Key West is about an hour's drive south. Plan on about a two-hour drive (mostly via the scenic Overseas Highway) to Miami International Airport. Note that many of Hawks Cay's visitors arrive by boat and dock at the resort's marina.
Contemporary coastal rooms with coffeemakers, flat-screen TVs, and renovated bathrooms -- some with direct pool access
All of the rooms were renovated in 2018, and the updates brought a whole new look. Overall, the decor is tropical contemporary, with laminate wood floors, an ocean-inspired color palette, and large sliding doors that let in lots of light. Features include a flat-screen TV, coffeemaker, air-conditioning, mini-fridge, free Wi-Fi, and safe. Size and layout are similar across the board, the biggest difference is the view. Vistas range from full water view to the resort grounds. Water View Lanai Rooms have a large furnished patio, and easy access to either the adult-only pool or the main resort pool. Spacious bathrooms are equipped with large vanities, glass-enclosed showers, and a private water closet. Toiletries and hairdryers are provided.
For families and groups that want to self cater, Hawks Cay has an inventory of 250 villas with full kitchens, laundry facilities, and multiple bedrooms. These are individually owned time-share properties, but the owners must maintain certain standards and the decor was chosen from a pre-approved package, so you won't get any surprises. Availability ranges based on when owners want to rent out their units. All villas are serviced by housekeeping and guests get access to the full range of Hawks Cay facilities.
The list of features at Hawks Cay is impressive. It's one of the only resorts in the continental United States where guests can view on-site dolphins for free. Of course, if you want to get up close and personal with the swimming mammals, Dolphin Experience is the place to do it. (Located near the main swimming pool). There are all sorts of paid packages that allow for everything from cute dry photo-ops on the dock to getting in the water with the dolphins to an entire trainer for a day experience.
Guests can also swim, stand-up paddleboard, and kayak in the manmade saltwater lagoon. It has a zero-entry beach for little ones, plus sun loungers and umbrellas on the sand. Note that the lagoon is pretty small, and it's better to rent equipment from SOLE water sports (also on property) if you want to get out on the open water. Five swimming pools are sprinkled around the property, including a large main resort pool and a quiet adult-only pool.
Over at Coral Cay (still part of the property, about a three-minute walk from the resort's main building) there's a family pool and a fun pool with an interactive pirate ship. A cast of characters, such as a mermaid and a pirate, make regular appearances. Coral Cay also has a small lunch restaurant, sports court, 18-hole mini-golf, playground equipment, and a weekend Swashbuckling Show.
Hawks runs an excellent daily kids' camp (for a fee) at Coral Cay. The dedicated staff arranges a full morning, afternoon, or all-day session for ages 5 to 12. Activities take place indoors and out, and there's a fun environmental component -- plus kids' stuff like making slime and art projects. Occasional night-time activities are also offered.
For adults, Calm Waters Spa is an excellent place to relax. There's a co-ed relaxation area with snacks, teas, and fruit-infused waters. Treatments include facials, massages, and wraps using local influences from the Florida Keys. Salon services are also available. The adjacent fitness center offers a variety of LifeFitness cardio machines, strength-training equipment, and a stretching room. Yoga is available for an additional fee. Outside, there are full tennis courts.
The resort fee covers fast Wi-Fi, valet parking, water sports in the lagoon, and bikes to borrow.
Seven dining options cater to a variety of budgets and tastes
Many guests eat all of their meals at the resort, though guests in villas do have full kitchens. Room service is also available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner until late night -- though it's not offered 24 hours. Boxed lunches are available for guests headed out on the water or a road trip.
Hawks Cay Marketplace offers a hot breakfast buffet (occasionally not offered during low occupancy) with items such as pancakes, eggs, bacon, fresh juice, oatmeal, pastries, and make-your-own waffles. The area then transforms (starting December 2018) to a grab-and-go market or casual sit down option for paninis, salads, and sandwiches. Indoor and outdoor seating is available.
Tiki Grill (lunch and dinner) is a casual poolside restaurant with outdoor seating and a large, covered bar. The menu offers healthy salads, fish tacos, burgers, and Florida Key favorites. Tropical cocktails, cold beer, and wines are also on offer.
Oasis Cay (lunch only) is much like the TIki Grill, but it's by the adult-only pool. So, no kids allowed.
Coral Grill is a casual option by the family pool. It's open seasonally (though guests can order from other restaurants if Coral grill is closed) and offers kid-friendly fare like burgers and hot dogs.
Island Time Coffee Bar is located inside the gift shop just off the lobby. This is the place to grab a Starbucks coffee or treat throughout the day.
Sixty-One Prime is the upscale dinner restaurant, located off the lobby. It has an industrial beach vibe and the menu serves excellent and creative fare that can include pork belly, fresh fish, lobster, steaks, octopus, and gourmet salads. Dessert and wine lists are high quality and extensive. Guests can also arrange private outdoor dining with Sixty-One Prime.
Angler and Ale (lunch and dinner) opened in 2018 as a family-friendly and lively dining option. It offers indoor and outdoor dining, water views, and fun events like trivia contests. Menu highlights include Key lime pie, conch fritters, lobster mac and cheese, tuna nachos, whole snapper, and a bison burger. There's also a kids' menu and extensive bar.