Family Style in the Florida KeysJune 3, 2011 No Comments
Want a real family resort in the Florida Keys? Check out the well known, six-decade-old Hawks Cay Resort. With four kid-friendly pools, and one adults-only option, this comfortable resort is great for kids of all ages, and parents after some rest and relaxation, too. With families making up a growing portion of visitors to the Keys, there’s plenty to do besides sip Margaritas (although virgin Margarita options are available).
Hawks Cay Resort is located on Duck Key (don’t ask why it isn’t the Duck Key Resort, we didn’t). The resort is about mid-way through the jeweled green islands that make up the Florida Keys, and its forty acres take up most of the space on Duck Key island. There’s fishing, a salt water lagoon, and those truly lovely pools, best of all the villa style rooms offer family-perfect full kitchens and more than one bedroom. The resort has great features for kids in all age groups, the five to twelve year old set have fish feedings, scavenger hunts, group pool parties and nature hikes available as an option when they get tired of just hanging out with their families and luxuriating pool side, where we were handed some free ice creams in the middle of the hot afternoon. The hotel can put together snorkeling or boating packages that can be shaped to accommodate even the youngest travelers.
When we left the resort, which was difficult to do, we loved checking out Big Pine Key and its miniature deer. Like the chickens in Key West, the pint size deer are ubiquitous and made for some great photos. We also scheduled a glass bottom boat excursion, which let us take a look at a coral reef and its fishy denizens without having to don a snorkel mask. We also enjoyed keeping on the watch for alligators in The Blue Hole, a fenced off water hole with some great aviary life, turtles, and the ‘gators. Unfortunately we also spotted plenty of mosquitos, so a bug repellant is a good thing to have handy if you visit here.
Nearby is the beautiful, long flat sand bar that makes up Bahia Honda State Park. It’s a beautiful beach to stroll and the water is very shallow for a long, long stretch. We set our beach chairs right in the water, and looked out at – nothing but ocean, flat, calm ocean that made for excellent splashing and swimming. One caveat, at low tide during certain seasons there can be seaweed on the shore line, and a lot of it. Skip over it, set your chairs in the water, and enjoy the herons and egrets flying by, small fish swimming between your toes and the blissfully calm, safe, warm water.
You can reach the town of Marathon by crossing the visually stunning Seven Mile Bridge, which separates Marathon from the Lower Florida Keys. You’ll recognize this visual landmark from films, and the kids will love its never ending quality and those sea views. We also enjoyed parking and taking a walk on the abandoned former Highway A1A – broken remnants of bridges past are still walkable, and it’s a treat to stroll on a car-less bridge looking out at boats and more sea, beautiful blue and aqua sea.
And if you’re looking for a relaxed park type ambiance – and a great place to man a family kayak or just rest out on the sand, Long Key has a lovely, if narrow beach with calm waters just off the road.
Further south, we loved visiting The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. Kids of all ages will be enthralled in this fairy-tale like experience. The Conservatory here holds literally hundreds of different butterflies and exotic birds and plants as well. We followed a path through the landscaped garden. Best of all, many butterflies are raised on site, and we were able to show the kids the entire process of butterfly from cocoon to winged beauty. Butterflies of every shape and color winged around us and overhead.
Back in the middle keys, another nature experience we loved was the Turtle Hospital. The riveting tour guide explained to us all about the many different types of sea turtles in the Keys, their habits, and what brings them into the hospital. An excellent place to learn about conservation as well as the turtles themselves, the absorbing tour ended with a visit to the turtle tank for up close and personal looks at the awesome sea creatures. You’ll spend about ninety minutes here, and think twice about the ecological ramifications of litter on these magnificent animals in the future. It’s fun, and it’s moving both at once.
After this tour, we were ready for a lunch, and we found The Island Fish Company in the heart of Marathon – with an ocean view, of course, is a great lunch spot, with fresh fish caught locally and prepared to order. Open for dinner too, with excellent sunsets free of charge.
Back at Hawk’s Cay, if you don’t feel like cooking in your villa, step on down to the waterfront eatery at the resort, Tom’s Harbor House. A nice feature of the family-style meals is the idea of Hook and Cook – catch your own fish and they’ll prepare it for you, fresh and tasty in any style you select.
Then just lean back and watch another great Florida Keys sunset, someone somewhere will be strumming a guitar, and sure enough you’ll find your sleepy tots taking one last dance after dinner.