by Terry Ward
If one Florida Keys resort manages to be all things to all families, it’s Hawks Cay. Sure, that’s a big call to make. But when you consider all there is to do on this sprawling property, a week scarcely suffices to fit in all the fun.
Sadly, Hawks Cay saw considerable damage during Hurricane Irma in 2017. Heavy winds blew sideways rain inside many of the buildings and the damage was done. The difficult decision to close the resort was made, and for one year, the entire property was restored and repaired. Hawks Cay reopened in August, 2018 following $5o million in renovations — and we’re here to tell you it’s better than ever.
The resort is located where the Upper Keys meet the Middle Keys on the island of Duck Key — about 100 miles from Miami and another 60 miles to Key West. Duck Key is actually five small islands separated by boat canals and spread across 60 acres. Hawks Cay occupies the first island, along with Duck Key Marina. The other four islands of Duck Key are residential areas where you can go for a stroll or pedal your bike. Hawks Cay’s location features the unique opportunity to view fantastic sunsets AND sunrises. Both can be seen from different spots at the resort and the colors over the shimmering water cannot be beat.
With 177 hotel guestrooms and 250 additional mutli-bedroom villas , there are a few different lodging options — from the standard hotel rooms in the main building to two-story villas spread out on the property, featuring multiple bedrooms, full kitchens and private laundry facilities. If you’re planning on staying more than a few days with the whole family, the villas are definitely the way to go since you can prepare your kids’ meals in the full kitchens and really spread out.
The resort has five pools, including a dedicated family pool near the kids’ center and the much-loved pirate ship pool, with its water play features, fountains and slides. But despite the resort’s oceanfront setting, you can’t actually swim in the ocean here (the closest thing to it is a shallow, man-made saltwater lagoon with a sandy bottom and inflow of saltwater that doesn’t look nearly as inviting as the open water). The lagoon pool tends to get warm since it’s shallow, and it’s a good, safe place for kids to swim. There’s another family pool area on the property, near the kids’ center, as well as an adults-only tranquility pool.
The resort’s kids club, called Camp Hawk, is housed in a separate facility surrounded by beach volleyball courts, mini-golf, the pirate ship pool and family pool, and a nice playground area shaded by large banyan trees. There is a sports court, soccer field, air conditioned and high-tech hangout area for teens. Bike rentals are available, too.
Kids will love the resort’s own dolphin adventure. Dolphin Encounters is set in the canal just a few steps away from the main pool area. Families can watch from the dock as the dolphins are trained and fed each day or participate in a program where you can hang out in the water with these 300 pound mammals. Kids can pet the dolphins, shake fins and even get a kiss and give a hug. This unique experience is a must when staying at Hawks Cay.
Duck Key Marina is just a short walk from the main hotel building and villas. The marina sustained damage during the 2017 hurricane season and is currently in the process of being repaired. While the boat docks are not yet functional, water sports are still available to rent here. You can set out on a snorkeling or kayaking adventure or take a sunset cruise out on the water.
Despite the fact that the rooms and villas are spread out across the property and the main dining areas are found in the main building, Hawks Cay is a very walkable resort, with sidewalks linking the marina to the main building and villas (you can consider renting a golf cart to get around, but it’s not necessary — there’s even an open-air shuttle bus making rounds to transport guests from point A to point B on property).
And as for your fellow guests? While some couples come to Hawks Cay for a romantic escape, they soon realize this is very much a family-oriented destination. With the exception of the adults-only pool area and restaurant, kids are welcome everywhere. As a result, vacationing families abound.
Our Editor Loves
- Spacious villas with kitchens
- Dolphin Connection and recreational activities
- Supervised activities for kids of all ages
- Water Sports
- Children Programs
- Family Room 5+
- Free Wi-Fi
- Game Room
- Kids' Pool
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
Following the 2017 hurricane season when Hawks Cay saw significant damage, all of the hotel guestrooms and the villas were completely renovated. Everything from the walls to the pillows were replaced. The former West Indies decor was updated to a more calm, coastal vibe with cool, neutral colors throughout. Bathrooms are contemporary and stylish, with tiling throughout and granite countertops. Most of the standard hotel rooms have balconies and are very spacious. Complimentary Wi-Fi is available throughout the hotel and included in the resort fee.
There are 177 hotel rooms in total, all housed in the main building, and staying here gives you the closest access to the main pool, ocean views and resort restaurants. Some of the guestrooms offer a very large outdoor deck area that walks our directly to the pool area. Glass doors open to the deck and families are just steps away from splashing in the pool.
For extended stays, the resort's 250 villas are the way to go. They can sleep between six or eight people and are ideal for families. Divided into several villages, the villas, all two stories, are configured like rowhouses and have patios and/or screened-in porches, many of which overlook canals and bobbing boats. The villas (two or three bedrooms, with additional pullout sofas) are connected by boardwalks from which you can fish or launch your bought (if you brought one, of course). The villas are fully furnished with complete kitchens, a washer and dryer, ensuite bathrooms and living rooms, making it very tempting to settle in and stay a while. Most of the villas offer 1.5 bathrooms, but some feature two. Some of the villas even offer their own private pool so there's no need to share with the rest of the hotel guests! Villa guests are permitted all of the same hotel amenities as the hotel guests, and there is daily housekeeping available.
My husband’s medical conference took place at Hawks Cay resort. All the pools, hot tubs and outdoor fire areas are very nice. We also thoroughly enjoyed the lagoon and got a kick out of the iguanas walking around. Tiki bar was fun and service was always great. I do feel that the food and drinks were overpriced even by resort standards. Thankfully at least the drinks were strong so that dampened the sting of the cost. We both had massages by Brian and loved it. I did utilize the gym and there was plenty of options to satisfy most workout needs.
We stayed in a villa in Sunset Village. Our villa was well maintained, stocked and decorated. We loved having a full kitchen and would typically eat breakfast and then pack a lunch to take. The view was nice of the water and it was so nice to just sit on the porch in the mornings and enjoy it. Unfortunately, the bathroom shower upstairs leaked, dripped down through the dining room light m fixture, burst a bulb, and then began leaking through the ceiling itself about a foot or so from the dining room light. Things break and need maintenance - we get. It stinks but clearly not anything intentional. It was late at night, so we called and they moved us to another villa as we felt the whole electrical/water thing was a fire hazard.
The staff member told us that we would only be sleeping there for the night and that in the morning we would be moved “to a much nicer villa”. We understood why she said that when we saw villa #2. It was nowhere near the same quality as our original villa. It had the most disgusting, stained, brown carpet - it was nasty and we all made sure to put on shoes to go up and down the stairs. The furniture looked like it was from the 90’s and paint throughout was chipped off and tile cracked in the kitchen. It was late at night, so we just crashed.
I called in the morning but they were swapping night/day staff, so later we went in person. We spoke to front desk staff and were told they definitely wouldn’t have anything for us until 4pm and told us they would try to move us. I then realized they were clearly trying to keep us in that gross villa - so I made it clear to the staff member that it was not what we paid for quality-wise and that it would not be acceptable for us to continue to stay there. The staff member speaks to a manager, comes back and says and they would “try and put a hold on a room for us”.
We leave, but then realize that we will be on the ocean and likely unable to receive calls at the time we’ve been told to check back in. We call again, and they say they don’t have anything available for us. They offer us $100 off a night to continue to stay in the gross villa. We decline, as none of the 4 of us want to stay there. The call is ended as the staff member has to speak to a manager again. They call back but again and say for sure they have something for Saturday night but don’t have answer for us
For Friday night. We tell them we don’t want to move 3 nights in a row, and that we will call back after our fishing trip. We call after the trip and I am told they don’t have anything for us, which makes no sense as we were told lots of people were checking out that day (Friday, the last day of the conference). From what I can gather, they did not have enough staff to clean the vacated rooms. I’m really upset at this point as I feel I’ve had to fight tooth and nail just to be placed in the same caliber villa we had originally. While I’m asking for it to be explained why they don’t have a room, she says hold, they may have something, she has to check. She get back on and says they do - an upgrade. A larger villa with a private pool. We check out the villa - it’s lovely, and we take it.
We were happy with the upgrade, but upset it was such a hassle and we had to fight so much just for them to make it right. As a business owner, this is not how I treat my clients. If I mess up, I fix it, I don’t make my client have to fight for me to make it right. I just do it - and for this reason the way we treated really ticked me off.
Other than the room debacle, we enjoyed our stay and loved the amenities that being in a Villa provided and that of the resort itself.
by Mark P
The hotel is old and outdated and full of funky smells. The service can best be described as condescending. All of the pictures on the hotel website along with the price point lead you to believe that this is a 5 star luxury resort experience but the pictures lie. The breakfast was repulsively bad. Burnt coffee, horrible eggs and the same disdainful service as everywhere else in the hotel from the front desk, to room service, to the eating establishments and stores. It’s as if nobody really wants to work there and they don’t like you. Any requests to the front desk were ignored. The water sports snorkeling/fishing etc were closed because they felt like it and there is nothing to do otherwise. This place is boring. No room service or any other basic things you would expect from a hotel of half the price point. Go somewhere else or just stay home.
Hawks Cay was designed with family travel and entertainment in mind. And whether you enroll the kids in Camp Hawk for a half- or full-day programming or set off around the resort in search of a family adventure together, the range of things to do reads like a summer camp schedule for the entire gang.
Pools and Saltwater Lagoon
There are five resort pools situated around the property, including a family pool and an adults-only pool. The family pool can be found in Coral Cay, the family section of the resort. The main pool, with music and an upbeat atmosphere, is centrally located on the property, and the adults-only tranquility pool is found just around the corner, away from the hustle and bustle. The saltwater lagoon is its own little oasis, offering a beach vibe with sand and thatched umbrellas. Pool toys can be requested and pool towels are provided. Lounge chairs and umbrellas surround all of the pools and restrooms and rinse showers are never a far walk away. You can also get poolside food service at the main pool and the saltwater lagoon.
This family-friendly section of the resort is set a short walk from the main hotel building, but is the place your kids will want to hang out the most. Coral Cay features a pirate ship splash pad right in the center and is the ultimate fun zone for younger kids, with all sorts of splash features and slides. There is a soccer field; sports court; beach volleyball area; playground with swings, slides and climbing walls; mini-golf and more. You can also rent bicycles here.
The family pool is also situated here, as is Coral Grill for sandwiches, salads and more. Coral Cay is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and a parent must accompany children while there. Restrooms are available at Coral Cay.
The supervised kids’ club, called Camp Hawk, is also found inside at Coral Cay. For an additional cost, parents can leave kids ages 5 to 12 at camp for a morning, afternoon or all-day session. The kids will have a great time doing arts and crafts, making slime, playing games outside, exploring the touch tank of marine life, going on a scavenger hunt or playing board games in the game room. There is also an environmental education program the kids can join where there is a different theme each day and they learn all about marine life.
The game room can be found inside at Coral Cay and kids will find foosball, video games, lots of board games, and arts and crafts.
Kids Night Out
Kids Night Out is offered for kids ages 5 to 12 three times a week, from 6 to 9 p.m. For a reasonable fee per kid, they'll be supervised while playing games, doing crafts and having a pizza party. Teens Night Out in the teen game room is also offered to kids ages 13 to 17, with a minimal cover charge, every Friday and Saturday from 8 to 10 p.m.
The resort’s resident dolphins, which were evacuated during Hurricane Irma along with their trainers, were happy to return to their home when the resort reopened. The dolphins, who are extremely well fed and cared for, never do anything they don’t want to do and can frankly jump the fence surrounding their swim area at any time if they want to leave! Families can watch the dolphins swim and be trained from the elevated boardwalk area at no cost. It’s fun to see them be playful and jump through the air.
But if you want to get more up close and personal with the dolphins, there are several programs from which families can choose, no matter your comfort level with the 300-pound mammals. Families can do a dockside version of the program, which allows those who may be nervous about getting in the water with the dolphins, an opportunity to interact. The dockside program is great for younger children or those who are unsure about the experience. Families can also get into the water with the dolphins and give them a hug and a kiss, and shake fins or be a trainer for the day and do everything a dolphin trainer does. All of the experiences begin with an educational session where guests can learn about dolphins and the history of how these specific dolphins were rescued and now live at Hawks Cay. There is a height, not an age requirement, to swim with the dolphins. Children must be at least 54 inches tall to participate.
Recreation and Water Sports
In the saltwater lagoon and at the marina, paddleboards and kayaks are available for guests to use at no additional cost. Bikes are available to rent at Coral Cay -- pedal around the resort and the island! Kids' bikes and helmets are available. There are several tennis courts, including clay courts, where guests can practice their swing. Tennis clinics for kids and adults are always taking place as well.
Duck Key Marina
While the resort’s marina is not fully back in service yet following the 2017 hurricane season, it offers guests a boat ramp, and paddleboard and kayak rentals. Sunset boat cruises or fishing excursions can be booked here as well, through a third party company.
Teenagers like to hang out at the main pool, where they can get their hair braided for a few dollars or get a free lesson on SNUBA (like scuba diving, but with a surface hose apparatus and no compressed air) and listen to music under water. Special Teen Social Nights are also scheduled, and might include a friendly volleyball game or extended hours in the video room, so teens can mix and mingle with peers. Water sports offerings at Duck Key are another teen highlight, as teens can learn a new sport (kiteboarding or standup paddleboarding). And renting bikes is another fun thing for tween and teens, since they can pedal through the residential areas and feel like they're exploring the greater island.
All of the restaurants at Hawks Cay -- including the fine dining option -- have kid-friendly menus with the usual array of pizza, burgers and chicken nuggets. And kids are welcome everywhere around the resort's restaurants, except the bar and adults-only areas.
This fine-dining restaurant is located just off the lobby and offers excellent seafood and steak options. Open for dinner only, reservations are recommended. Children are welcome here, but parents may want to reserve this restaurant for a date night. The dining room is open from 6 to 9 p.m. and the bar area is open from 5 to 10 p.m. and offers excellent cocktails.
Angler and Ale
The resort’s newest restaurant situated by the marina, Angler and Ale offers a casual setting with both indoor and outdoor seating overlooking the water. Open for lunch and dinner, things like salads, ribs, burgers, fish tacos, chicken and more are available. The kids’ menu offers chicken fingers, hot dogs, grilled chicken, fish and chips and more. This restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Reservations are recommended.
Hawks Cay Marketplace
This marketplace is situated right by the main pool and is open for breakfast. Buffet, cooked-to-order and grab-and-go options are available here. Indoor and outdoor seating is also available. The Marketplace is open from 7 to 11 a.m.
Open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., the Tiki Grill serves sandwiches, salads, ice-cold beers and refreshing cocktails by the pool.
Located at the family section of the resort, Coral Grill is open for lunch and serves things like burgers, sandwiches and salads. There is indoor seating, as well as tables in the sand outside. Coral Grill is situated right next to the pirate ship splash pad so the kids won’t have to tear themselves too far away for lunch! Hours vary by season.
Island Time Coffee Bar
Located in the lobby is this gift shop/convenience store/coffee shop. Starbucks coffee drinks and baked goods are available for purchase, along with any items you may have forgotten at home. You can treat the little ones to a kiddie cappuccino (frothed milk and chocolate, minus the espresso), too! The coffee shop opens at 7 a.m.
In-Room Dining & Boxed Lunches
Families seeking quick and easy convenience may be interested in the in-room dining or boxed lunch options. Full menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner are available for in-room dining. Guests will find the menus in the guestrooms. In-room dining is available from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Boxed lunches are perfect if you plan to head out on the water or leave the resort for the day. All lunches include a sandwich, chips, cookie, fruit and water. Order must be placed by 6 p.m. the day prior and can be picked up at Island Time Coffee Bar.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
The daily resort fee includes valet and self-parking, Wi-Fi throughout the resort, towel service at the pools, kayaks and paddle boards at the lagoon, and onsite resort transportation.
Self and valet parking is included in the resort fee.
Complimentary Wi-Fi is included in the resort fee and available throughout the resort.
The fitness center can be found by the spa and features cardio and weight machines, yoga mats and more for guest use. Children between the ages of 12 and 16 are welcome in the fitness area, but must be accompanied by an adult. Fitness and yoga classes are available throughout the week, as well, so check the schedule when you arrive to see what is being offered during your stay.
Childcare services with babysitters who are all Hawks Cay employees can be arranged for an hourly fee (for up to two children). Babysitters are happy to watch the kids in your room or villa, or you can request that they play with them on the playground or in any of the other common areas. Be sure to arrange for babysitting 24 hours in advance.
Island Time Store
Located in the lobby is this gift shop/convenience store/coffee shop. Families can purchase any essential items like sunscreen or beach toys here, along with clothing, bathing suits and jewelry. A Starbucks coffee shop is also located inside.
The resort hosts special holiday events throughout the year, including appearances by Santa and Mrs. Claus over Christmas and Easter Egg hunts.
First Responders Weekend
Heroes are honored annually at Hawks Cay. In late August/early September, first responders or military members are welcome to stay at the resort at a discounted rate. There’s also a fun run, BBQ, fireworks and video display where you can submit photos of your hero so everyone at the resort can say thank you.
The Best Time to Visit
When children are out of school, Hawks Cay is at its busiest. The summer months and school holidays are busy at the resort while the fall can sometimes be a bit slower.
Weather-wise, the Keys are a great destination year-round. Sure, the summer months are hot and sticky, but you're on the water here with the pools and ocean to keep you cool, so it's definitely bearable. The most pleasant months of the year tend to be November through March, but April and May are often relatively mild, too. Hurricane season in these parts stretches from June 1 to November 30. During the summer months, afternoon thunderstorms can be intense, but fleeting.
The resort is situated at mile marker 61 in the Keys. It is about a two-hour drive from Miami International Airport. Vehicles can be rented at Miami Airport or at nearby Marathon Airport (which only offers private charter plane service). Car or shuttle service from the Miami Airport can be arranged for an additional fee. If you're flying into Miami, renting a car is a good idea as it allows the option of taking a day trip from here to Key Largo or Key West, which is about a 90-minute drive south.
The resort is easily walkable. If you are staying in the hotel guestrooms you are just steps away from the main pool and restaurant and if you are staying in the villas, everything is just a short walk away. A free resort tram shuttle is available for those who don’t want to walk, though. There are tram stops situated throughout the resort, and they run about every 10 minutes. Or you are welcome to call guest services for a quicker ride.
The spa area is set back away from the hotel, closer to the family area of Coral Cay. Adults can enjoy a variety of treatments at this full service spa, featuring everything from massages and facials to salon services. Teen services are also available, but children under 18 years old must be accompanied by an adult.
Oasis Cay is the resort’s adults-only section, just around the corner from the main pool (but blissfully out of shrieking distance). It features a large tranquility pool area and hot tub, a sand pit fire pit that overlooks the water, and an adults-only bar and grill serving light bites and cocktails. There are plenty of lounge chairs and umbrellas, and cabanas are available to rent. If you're looking for a break from the kiddos, Oasis Cay will bring you some much-needed relaxation.