It took nearly a year for Hawks Cay Resort to be rebuilt, refurbished, and overall reimagined in many ways. While the extended closure of the resort was unplanned, it allowed everyone involved in its transformation to rethink how to improve on what was already a well-loved and respected AAA 4-Diamond property.

“Out of adversity comes opportunity.”

That wise saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin is one the staff of Hawks Cay Resort fully embraced after the Florida Keys resort sustained serious damage from Hurricane Irma in September 2017.

As soon as the resort announced it was ready to accept reservations in August 2018, the phones began to ring and online reservations steadily came in. When I arrived nine months later for a three-night stay, everything was operating seamlessly. It was just as I remembered it from my first visit seven years earlier, only better.

Who comes to Hawks Cay Resort?

Although there is no perfect place to vacation in the Florida Keys, I’d say Hawks Cay Resort comes darn close.

With 177 guest rooms and 250 two- and three-bedroom villas, all privately owned and furnished, it is one of the largest resorts in the Keys, covering 60 acres of Duck Key, a 500+ acre islet located at Mile Marker 61. But it’s not just its size that matters.

Duck Key Aerial

Hawks Cay Resort covers 60 acres of Duck Key’s 500+ acres. (Credit: Hawks Cay Resort)

You’ll be hard-pressed to find another resort that offers enough activities and services to attract every age group and interest, from couples and singles to families with kids and those who travel with grandparents and extended families.

Nearly a third of Hawks Cay guests have previously stayed at the resort; some have been regulars for generations. Those who live within driving distance often come for a weekend, while the average stay of those who fly in is 3 to 4 days; villas are often booked by the week.

Families and Multi-Generational Groups

Multigenerational travel has been a top vacation trend for several years and it’s continuing to grow.

Hawks Cay Villas

Two- and three-bedroom individually owned villas are perfect for multi-generational travelers. (Credit: Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

The two- and three-bedroom villas, all individually owned and furnished, are a perfect way for families to stay together and be able to eat some of their meals in. The local Publix supermarket has recently added delivery service, which makes it possible to have the kitchen stocked with groceries shortly after arrival.

Kids and Teens

Pirate Ship pool

Coral Cay’s Pirate Ship pool is popular with kids and teens. (Credit: Hawks Cay Resort)

Coral Cay is like a resort within a resort, with a Pirate Ship pool and activities just for kids from 5-12 and for teens 13-17. There are lots of free activities in the “kids club” building, but parents can also sign children up to participate in two types of half-day sessions for an extra fee. One is an Environmental Education Program, where kids learn about dolphins, the Everglades, coral reef restoration and the creatures of Florida; the other, Camp Adventure, includes themed age-appropriate games and activities.

Couples and Singles

Tranquility Area sign

Sign at the entrance to Oasis Cay, the adults only area of the resort (Credit: Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

Oasis Cay Lanai Deck

All Oasis Cay rooms have private lanai decks overlooking the pool. (Credit: Hawks Cay Resort)

Oasis Cay, another resort within a resort, is the one I happily called home during my stay.

It’s perfect for an adults-only retreat. Signage at the entrance declares it to be a “Tranquility Area – must be 21 or older (Maturity Optional).” All rooms have private lanai decks overlooking the pool. Cabanas line one side, lounge chairs the other; a hot tub is steps away, and a new bar and grill area has been added. Beverage and lunch orders can be enjoyed there or while relaxing under the tall palms that surround the pool.

Oasis Cay pool at sunset

Oasis Cay pool at sunset (Credit: Hawks Cay Resort)

Plenty of couples come to Hawks Cay each year to tie the knot; others come to renew their vows or celebrate a special occasion. Girlfriend getaways are gaining in popularity, too, especially in the 50+ group.

Calm Waters Spa

Hitch a ride on a tram from the resort entrance to Calm Waters Spa for a relaxing massage or facial. Readers of Travel + Leisure ranked it among the Top 100 Resort Spas In The World in 2014, and I will add my vote as well. Fitness center access is complimentary.

Meetings and Events

Meetings and event planners have found Hawks Cay to be an amazing place to mix business and pleasure as well. Check out the venues here: Conferences and Meetings  It offers more waterfront meeting space — 20,000 sq. ft.— than any resort in the Florida Keys.

Why stay at Hawks Cay Resort?

Connect with a Dolphin…

The Dolphin Connection is unique since it is the only resort-based program of its type in the mainland U.S.* Guests can view the dolphins anytime in the ocean-fed saltwater lagoon they call home or choose to interact with them in several ways.

Dockside program, Dolphin Connection

Dockside program, Dolphin Connection (Credit: Hawks Cay Resort)

Dolphin Kiss, Dolphin Connection

This was the second time I’d been privileged to have this unforgettable experience. When I mentioned Sebastian was a dolphin I’d shared some special time with during my 2010 visit, I found out that I’d just received a slightly wet dolphin kiss from Balla, Sebastian’s son!

The Dockside experience, ideal for children or those who aren’t comfortable with in-water contact, offers several up close and personal interactions, too. The Dolphin Discovery and Dolphin Encounter programs begin with a 15-minute educational class to learn more about these amazing mammals, followed by 30 minutes in the water with them.

The ultimate experience is the Dolphin Trainer for a Day. If you’ve always dreamed of working with dolphins, this three-hour hands-on program may be for you!

Although cameras aren’t allowed on the dolphin dock, a professional photographer captured all our special moments with the dolphins. (Photos are available for purchase following the program.) Check out all the options for Dolphin Connection experiences here.

Hawks Cay Marina

Hawks Cay Marina

Hawks Cay’s 85-slip Marina (Credit: Hawks Cay Resort)

Fishing charters at Hawks Cay Marina

Book a charter fishing expedition, then have your catch cooked to order at Angler and Ale. (Credit: Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

Hawks Cays’ 85-slip Marina is where the action is for boating and fishing. Book a charter fishing expedition, then have your catch cooked to order at the new Angler & Ale restaurant, located steps away. Guests arriving by boat can choose to stay at the resort or liveaboard boaters have access to the pools, restaurants and attractions.


Sunset cruise with Solé Watersports

Sunset cruise with Solé Watersports (Credit: Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

Solé Watersports, based at the Marina, offers group snorkeling trips, paddleboard and kayak rentals, and sunset cruises aboard its 45′ catamaran. That’s how we ended our second evening at Hawks Cay — cruising around Duck Key, sipping a brew or some bubbly as the sun slipped below the horizon.

Scuba diving at Hawks Cay

I’ve stayed at Hawks Cay twice but never with my husband, who is also my “dive buddy.” Next time, I’d like to make scuba diving a priority, exploring the coral reefs in the surrounding waters.

Guests can arrange to take SCUBA classes while staying at Hawks Cay or, if course work has been completed elsewhere, they can finish their dive certification with an experienced PADI-certified dive instructor.

SNUBA in action, Hawks Cay Resort

SNUBA in action (Credit: Hawks Cay Resort)

To experience what scuba diving is like without all the gear (and training), try SNUBA® (Surface Nexus Underwater Breathing Apparatus). Following a 20-minute orientation, SNUBA® divers are able to dive as deep as 20 feet wearing a tank like a scuba diver while staying connected by a hose to a floating air supply. SNUBA® is available to confident swimmers as young as eight years old. What a great way to introduce kids and grandkids to the underwater world!

The Saltwater Lagoon

Saltwater Lagoon, Hawks Cay Resort

Try Stand-up Paddleboarding (SUP) and kayaking on the  Saltwater Lagoon, Hawks Cay Resort (Credit: Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

Hawks Cay Resort, Duck Key, FL

A focal point of the resort is the ocean-fed saltwater lagoon. (Credit: Hawks Cay Resort)

Besides the on-site Dolphin Connection, a major focal point of the resort is the ocean-fed saltwater lagoon. With its own sandy beach, it’s an ideal spot to relax with a frozen drink, shaded by thatched Tiki huts, wade in the tranquil waters, or safely practice stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking, with no chance of being swept out to sea.

Dining Options

With six restaurants and a coffee bar, there are dining options to suit every appetite and age group, with ambiance to match.

Dinner on our first evening was in Sixty-One Prime steak and seafood restaurant (formerly called Alma), the most upscale of all the dining choices at Hawks Cay. Located off the main lobby, its elegant redesign is matched by menu items with a gourmet touch. My travel companions and I sampled grilled octopus and Key Lime tuna tartare, before savoring entrees that included a seafood pepperpot stew and Florida lobster tail.

Tiki Grill, Hawks Cay Resort

Tiki Grill (Credit: Hawks Cay Resort)

We enjoyed more casual fare at the Tiki Grill near the main pool and saltwater lagoon (the fish tacos and superfoods salad were favorites, but don’t forget to try the Key Lime pie). The same menu is available at the adults-only poolside Oasis Cay Grill.

Key Lime Pie, Hawks Cay

Key Lime Pie (Credit: Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

We visited the Marketplace restaurant each morning for a breakfast buffet, including omelets made to order and fresh fruit smoothies.

Angler and Ale, Hawks Cay Resort

Angler and Ale (Credit: Hawks Cay Resort)

Every item on the menu at Angler and Ale, a new dockside restaurant at the marina, is a winner. I could easily go through the Starters — conch chowder, smoked fish dip, tuna nachos, conch fritters and peel ‘n eat shrimp and be quite content. But then there are the entrees to consider, including Florida Keys lobster roll, jumbo lump crab cakes, and the fresh catch, served with rice, beans and veggies.

Tuna nachos, Angler and Ale

Tuna nachos, Angler and Ale (Credit: Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

Coral Grill is open seasonally near the Pirate Ship Pool.


Getting There

  • Unless you are fortunate enough to be able to drive to the Keys (or you enjoy long road trips), you will most likely fly into the Miami International Airport (MIA) or the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL).
  • Located midway down the chain of islands that make up the Florida Keys, Hawks Cay Resort is on Duck Key, Mile Marker 61 on U.S. Hwy. 1. It’s an easy two-hour drive from the Miami Airport and is nearly three hours from the Ft. Lauderdale airport.
  • Rent a car so you’ll have transportation to get out and about while you’re there or book the Florida Keys Express Shuttle to pick you up at the airport.

What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?

Hawks Cay isn’t an all-inclusive resort but there are plenty of inclusives guests can take advantage of within the daily resort fee ($42 per guest at the time of publication). Wi-Fi throughout the resort is a given these days, but there is much more:

  • Complimentary self and valet parking
  • Transportation via tram throughout the resort (great for spa visits and trips to and from the Marina and Angler & Ale restaurant)
  • Use of the putting course, sports field, and tennis courts
  • Use of bicycles (explore the resort as well as the residential areas on Duck Key)
  • Use of standup paddleboards (SUP) and kayaks in the Saltwater Lagoon
  • Access to Calm Waters Spa’s fitness center (Spa treatments at additional cost)

Take note

  • *Although there is some controversy associated with swimming with dolphins, my talks with dolphin trainers at the resort reassured me that dolphins at Hawks Cay are treated humanely and none are taken from the wild for these swim programs.
  • Two nearby sights may lure you away from Hawks Cay for half-day outings. Transportation via Uber or taxi can be arranged.
Turtle Hospital, Marathon, FL

(Credit:Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

  • The Turtle Hospital in Marathon rehabs sea turtles and returns them to their natural habitat. Over 1500 sea turtles have been successfully treated and released since its founding in 1986.
Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters

(Credit: Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

  • Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters in Marathon, opened in 2014, is an immersive and interactive aquarium in a unique, open-air setting. Take a guided tour of this marine park that focuses on conservation and education.

Disclosure: The author’s visit was hosted by Hawks Cay Resort.


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