Saltwater sprays my face and I grin, sinking back into my seat on a small boat powering through the Atlantic Ocean en route to the Coffins Patch Sanctuary Preservation Area, home to some of the best snorkelling in Florida’s Middle Keys. It’s day three of our stay at Hawks Cay Resort, a 60-acre destination resort on tiny Duck Key, and already I’m besotted.

Hawks Cay Sunrise - Photo Shelley Cameron-McCarron

Hawks Cay Sunrise – Photo Shelley Cameron-McCarron

“You don’t need your shoes here,” says Robert, our tanned and barefoot captain with Solé Watersports, Hawks Cay’s watersports partner, who three years ago chucked the cold of northern Michigan for life in the Keys and never looked back. For a moment, I’m tempted to do likewise.

See that’s the magic of life by these blue, blue seas. Things just seem different here, more relaxed, somehow. At least that’s the vibe at Hawks Cay, a sprawling, babes-to-boomers resort located just off the Overseas Highway, two hours south of Miami and 90 minutes north of Key West.

To see more photos from Hawks Cay, visit our Hawks Cay Photo Gallery

Everything is casual, yet carefully considered—even more so after a recent $50 million renovation brought on by damages sustained from Hurricane Irma in 2017. The resort closed for a year and launched the retrofit with a focus on the main hotel and a completely new coastal design concept. Two new restaurants opened, and the lobby itself is more open, grander. Couples actually postponed their weddings for over a year so they could say “I do,” here.

And I get it. Several sun-drenched hours in, and we’ve succumbed to island sensibility. And while I didn’t pack it in to stay, I did return home more patient, more grounded. Here’s what makes Hawks Cay such a great family vacation:

All Ages Fun
Of the many well-planned things at Hawks Cay, perhaps one of the most noteworthy is the fact that Coral Cay Activities and Adventures is located steps from the Calm Waters Spa. Coincidence? I think not! Parents can drop their wee ones off for an afternoon of incredible, boisterous fun at the award-winning Camp Hawk and then meander next door to a haven of relaxation and indulgence. (Try the Elemis Superfood Pro-Radiance Facial.) Not just for the younger set, teens too will appreciate Coral Cay as a space to unwind, play video games and challenge new friends to foosball or on the sports fields.

Hawks Cay pirate ship - Photo Shelley Cameron-McCarron

Hawks Cay pirate ship – Photo Shelley Cameron-McCarron


Hawks Cay kayak - Photo Shelley Cameron-McCarron

Kayaks for all  – Photo Shelley Cameron-McCarron

Activities abound
With its own marina, guests can charter a boat to snorkel amazing shallow reefs or perhaps try their hand at deep-sea fishing or scuba diving. The roster of activities continues on dry land with a fleet of complimentary white bikes that guests can take out for a cruise around the island, as well as a selection of paddleboards and kayaks to try. With five pools, guests can swim in a saltwater lagoon, make some waves at the pirate ship pool, or enjoy reading time by the tranquillity pool before a beach bonfire, or even join a sunset cruise. Hawks Cay is also the only resort in the Continental U.S. with free viewing of dolphins. The Dolphin Connection program is an education-based encounter where people can get up close and learn about conservation through dockside programs and in-water swims.

Room For All
Large family rooms with oversize bunk beds? Sweet! Spacious townhouse-style villas where you can dock your boat, host a crowd, and cook your meals? Yes, please! What’s really great about the resort is that it offers rooms to suit different budgets. Guests will find options from standard rooms to swish lanai rooms that open directly onto an adults-only tranquillity pool to spacious villas (perfect for accommodating larger families or groups of friends with kitchens and separate bedrooms). Each winter, Hawks Cay has a special Canadian offer that includes a stay in the villas.

Hawks Cay bunk bed room - Photo Shelley Cameron-McCarron

Hawks Cay bunk-bed room – Photo Shelley Cameron-McCarron


Hawks Cay dinner view - Photo Shelley Cameron-McCarron

Hawks Cay dinner view – Photo Shelley Cameron-McCarron

To see more photos from Hawks Cay, visit our Hawks Cay Photo Gallery

Sweet Service
Staff members at Hawks Cay—wearing conversation starter name tags with their hometowns: Marathon, Montreal, South Africa, Jamaica, Akron—are unfailingly friendly. “My pleasure,” they’ll say refilling your water glass before you even know it’s dipped. They’ll show you to the shadiest chair in the Tiki Grill, saying, “I’ll take care of you,” as you order a strawberry lemonade and mahi-mahi fish tacos to eat while you watch a group of teens take out stand-up paddleboards, and they’ll happily sing ‘happy birthday’ as they deliver a surprise celebration cake to a family that’s gathered on the sand under the tiki huts by the lagoon.

Hawks Cay tranquility pool - Photo Shelley Cameron-McCarron

Hawks Cay tranquillity pool – Photo Shelley Cameron-McCarron

Hook and Cook Good Eats
Life revolves around the water in these parts so you’ll find lots of fresh seafood filling the menus at all Hawks Cay restaurants. Gone fishing yourself? You can even bring your catch back to the wharf-side Angler & Ale restaurant where they’ll cook it up for you. Expect tasty meals at all six resort options, from the breakfast buffet at Hawks Cay Marketplace to the lobster bisque enjoyed at Sixty-One Prime as the sun sets gloriously behind swaying palms. If, like me, you plan to eat as much key lime pie as time permits, know that each onsite restaurant offers a slightly different version. All are good, but the tangy slice at Angler & Ale has my vote (and some undying love).

Hawks Cay sunset - Photo Shelley Cameron-McCarron

The sun setting on Hawks Cay, but we’ll be back! Photo Shelley Cameron-McCarron