Travel Journal: Barefoot Luxury at Hawks Cay

travel-1Situated just off Mile Marker 61 in the tropical enclave of the Florida Keys, lies a lovely 60-acre private island retreat by the name of Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key. Following a $35 million renovation, the resort, known as an ultimate water sports destination, reopened in February of 2008 and has since given new meaning to the term “barefoot luxury.”

My husband, Don, and I hit the road in late July for a quick getaway and Hawks Cay fit the bill perfectly. A short flight landed us in Miami and after a visit to the Hertz #1 Gold counter, we were driving south amidst a sea of cars in the pouring rain. The traffic and the scenery began to lighten up considerably by the time we hit Key Largo. From there the landscape continued to evolve, becoming more lush and tropical. The drive took about 2 ¼ hours total.

Check-in was seamless, taking us little time to get from the parking valet to our newly-renovated guest room. Located on the ground level in the main hotel, it had a huge lanai overlooking the adult tranquility pool. Ah, the adult pool… “they have put us in the perfect spot” was my very first thought! The furnishings in a West Indies style, with its heavy mahogany features, coupled with  light-as-a-feather white linens and a cool shade of gold on the walls, made for a comfortable environment. The bathroom was exquisitely done with an oversized marble shower and double sinks. Just beyond our lanai, the tranquility pool, and a plethora of palm trees gently swaying in the breeze, was the gleaming Atlantic Ocean. It was quite a spectacular vista.

We had dinner two of the three nights at Hawks Cay’s signature restaurant, Alma, which pays homage to Chef Johnny Alamilla’s love of Nuevo Latino cuisine. Alma impresses immediately with its definitive passion for a diverse yet modern interpretation of Latin cooking, utilizing an abundance of exotic and fresh ingredients such as chilies, tubers, exotic vegetables, fruits, and local seafood caught from the waters surrounding Duck Key. Everything we ordered was a delight, from the grouper cheeks wrapped in banana leaves with peppers, onion and aromatic spices, to the Cipi Cipi seafood stew with scallops, mussels, grouper, and shrimp engulfed in a spicy tomato broth.

travel-2The Bar at Alma was also enchanting and sleek where bartender Scott took excellent care of us. I was thrilled to see one of my favorite rums, Ron Zacapa (23 year-old) at the bar. I still savor a good rum and Coke with lime; especially during humid summer months, you just can’t beat it. The signature drink is called the Special Cay made with Plymouth Gin, Pama Pomegranate Liqueur, Canton Ginger Liqueur, fresh cranberry and grapefruit juice. The bar also offers an impressive “six rum flights” tasting.

The following morning brought a hearty breakfast buffet at The Terrace where the usual fare of eggs, bacon, and pancakes was paired with some of the best fresh cut fruit imaginable – watermelon, honeydew melon, and cantaloupe. All pastries are made fresh at the resort by the pastry chef – we loved the cheese Danish.

A visit to the Calm Waters Spa was also on my agenda while at Hawks Cay. Those of you who know me know I am a determined spa enthusiast. A walk over to check out the spa will more than likely result in my having at least one treatment, if at all humanly possible. This trip I opted for a Deep Tissue Sports Massage as my neck and upper back were still aching from a most unfortunate incident just days before with a yellow jacket wasp in our yard, resulting in a minor case of whiplash – funny story but I’ll spare you further details. Therapist Jennifer was quite strong and capable in the art of deep tissue massage, even incorporating her elbow at times, resulting in my quiet protest to ease up a bit. This spa is a slice of cool bliss and put me on cloud nine. What a refreshing escape it was from the terrifically hot temperatures looming outside. The spa team is extremely welcoming and professional. It is obvious they are proud of their facility and rightly so.

travel-3Available recreational activities and water sports at a glance:

  • Dolphin Connection Program – interact with Atlantic bottlenose dolphins
  • World-class fishing charters and boating excursions
  • Sunset cruises complete with beer, wine and champagne
  • Five swimming pools
  • Calm Waters Spa and Fitness Center
  • “The Cove” kids club and teen recreation center
  • Jet ski tours, kayak rentals, parasailing, sailing
  • Scuba, “snuba,” and snorkeling
  • Eco tours
  • Wakeboard and water-ski school
  • Tennis, basketball, and volleyball
  • Mini golf course
  • Bicycle rentals with jogging maps

The entire staff exudes a warmth and genuine hospitality that is most worthy of the several distinguished awards recently bestowed upon them: #32 top resort in the U.S. and #2 in the state of Florida, as well as one of the top 50 resorts in the U.S. and Canada by the readers of Travel + Leisure magazine.

Overall, we were completely pleased with our three-night adventure at Hawks Cay. Turns out “barefoot luxury” was just what the doctor ordered, as we were able to unwind and de-stress fairly quickly. Given the tranquil island atmosphere, the multitude of fun-in-the-sun activities, and world-class wining and dining, especially in the evenings, we could not have asked for a better midsummer escape from reality.


Written By: Helen Benefield Billings