Though I live in Florida, I’m always excited to explore different parts of the state – it’s so diverse, much more than people think, and there are plenty of surprises to be found. And it’s no different in the Florida Keys.
Not too long ago I joined a group of friends at Hawks Cay Resort, Spa & Marina (pronounced “key”) on Duck Key for some fun in the sun, an especially welcome respite for those who had suffered a long winter in the northeast.
Hawks Cay is ideally situated in the middle of the Florida Keys, between Key Largo to the north, and, of course, Key West to the south, and about a two-hour drive from Miami. The vibe at Hawks Cay is totally laid back and chill, which is definitely the speed that I prefer.
The sprawling resort sits right on the Gulf of Mexico and like many destinations in the Keys, doesn’t have a beach, per se. But there’s plenty of water-filled fun to be had, what with the pools that dot the property, one of which is especially fun for kids, and one just for adults. Guess which I preferred? The tropical lagoon, surrounded by lounge chairs, is another favorite spot to soak up some vitamin D.
I was ready for a bit more of an adrenaline rush, and joined two of my friends on a jet ski tour with Sundance Watersports. We putt putted around the waters just away from the resort, but when we got to some open space, I went full throttle and sliced through the water at full speed. I don’t ride a motorcycle, but I’m pretty sure the feeling of the wind against your face must be quite similar. Such fun!
Just after sunrise on one of the days I was at Hawks Cay, I had the chance to say “good morning” to one of Hawks Cay’s resident dolphins, Tatum. I’ve been close to dolphins before, and even held dolphin movie star Winter (“Dolphin’s Tale”) when she first arrived at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, when I was a volunteer on the stranding team. But it’s no less exhilarating to be so close to these amazing animals. Definitely an amazing way to start any day!
The dolphins at Hawks Cay are part of the Dolphin Connection, a non-profit conservation and education organization that encourages guests to interact with dolphins, to inspire them to be aware of how fragile our environment is.
Speaking of marine life and conservation and education, we spent some time getting to know the guests and residents at the Turtle Hospital, on Marathon. I have a special place in my heart for sea turtles, as I also worked with them at the aquarium, and I was thrilled to see all of the amazing work that’s done by the staff and volunteers at the hospital. You can’t help but fall in love with their cute little turtle faces!
Surprisingly, there’s a lot of history to be found in the Florida Keys. We took some time to visit historic Pigeon Key, which is a short ferry ride away from Marathon Key, just to the south of Hawks Cay. The tiny, five-acre island is where workers and their families lived – and where their kids even went to school! – while building Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad to Key West in the early-1900s. Several of the buildings stand today, housing artifacts from a bygone era. For a real treat, rent the quaint guesthouse and essentially have the island to yourself!
Back at the resort, a massage is nearly always in order, and the one I had at the award-winning Calm Waters Spa certainly put my mind and body even more at ease than they were already. Next time I visit, I’m thinking I may try Gentle Waves, a massage with bamboo rods; the spa menu’s full of options!
I’m convinced there’s no way to go hungry at Hawks Cay, what with their terrific variety restaurants – from casual to elegant – from which to choose, and we dined at all of them! Lunch and dinner at Beach Grill right on the water, and breakfast and dinner at Ocean, right in the middle of the property, and fine dining at Alma. With all of the fabulous eats, I probably should have laced up my running shoes, but I was just too relaxed.
Hawks Cay is undergoing major renovations this summer – they’ll be open throughout with minimal interruption to guests, of course! – and I can’t wait to return after they’re through to see how the management team has improved an already near-perfect destination.
Many thanks to Hawks Cay Resort for hosting me and making me feel more than welcome during my stay.
Susan B. Barnes is a travel writer and photographer. A proud Army brat, she was born on a military base in Belgium and has been on the go ever since. While Susan has traveled across the United States and into Canada, she has also managed to visit such European cultural hot spots as Paris, London, Ireland, Athens and Rome, and has even explored the second largest reef in the world off the coast of Belize and the cloud forest of Venezuela, among many other exotic locales. Having learned to rock climb in Yosemite National Park, surf in La Jolla and swim with whale sharks in Mexico, she’s always looking forward to her next adventure. Be sure to follow Susan on Twitter to keep up with her latest adventures @travlin_girl.