In September 2017, Hurricane Irma plowed through the Florida Keys, leaving destruction in its wake. Like many properties in the region, Hawks Cay Resort was devastated. Employees had to be laid off as the favorite family vacation spot was forced to shutter its doors.
That could have been the end of the story, but it wasn't.
Walking around the property on a warm, sunny morning in February, it's hard to imagine that a category 4 hurricane had struck a little over a year ago. In the 12 months or so following Irma, the resort underwent a $50 million renovation, refreshing and redesigning guest rooms and adding two new restaurant concepts and an expanded adults-only area.
What a difference a year can make. Hawks Cay celebrated its grand reopening on August 30, 2018, and with the reopening of the full-service marina in February 2019, it's fully back and better than ever.
Something old, something new
Hawks Cay Resort welcomed its first guests in 1959 as the Indies Inn, a single building in the middle of an orchard. Today, the 60-acre destination resort comprises a main hotel with 177 guest rooms, as well as 250 two- and three-bedroom villas, popular with groups and families, many of whom come back year after year.
"We're bringing back what guests loved about Hawks Cay with a fresh design in the main hotel and new experiences that will take the resort into a new era," said Sheldon Suga, Hawks Cay Resort VP managing director.
New additions include coastal-inspired decor with a lighter color scheme throughout the main hotel lobby and guest rooms, as well as two new restaurants. Sixty-one Prime serves a menu of steak and seafood, much of it sourced locally within Florida, while the new Hawks Cay Marketplace offers a fast casual place to enjoy breakfast (and in the near future) lunch.
Many Hawks Cay villas come with their own dock in the backyard — Photo courtesy of Hawks Cay Resort
Bringing the family back together again
Closing the resort after Hurricane Irma meant laying off hundreds of employees in what was one of the most difficult decisions in the wake of the storm, according to a statement from Suga. In advance of the grand reopening, Hawks Cay Resort welcomed back many of their former staff members.
The resort also brought back some other valuable members of the team, the five Atlantic bottlenose dolphins that call the resort home.
When it became clear in September of 2017 that Irma would indeed strike the Keys, the dolphins were evacuated to SeaWorld Orlando, where they had their own behind-the-scenes pool and their own trainers (four Hawks Cay trainers left their homes in the Keys to join the dolphins in Orlando).
With the boys back in town (all five dolphins are males) Hawks Cay Resort is once again the only hotel or resort in the mainland U.S. where the public can view trained dolphins free of charge. Guests can also enter the water of the ocean-fed saltwater lagoon, interact with the mammals from the dock or participate in a Trainer for a Day program to get deeper insight into the close relationship between dolphin and trainer.
Dolphin Connection at Hawks Cay Resort offers three different dolphin interactions — Photo courtesy of Hawks Cay Resort
For the kids, for the couples
One striking feature of Hawks Cay Resort is how well it caters to both families with kids and adults looking for a peaceful escape. Families have plenty of space to spread out, with access to four swimming pools (including the popular Pirate Ship pool) and an enclosed saltwater lagoon. The Coral Cay activity and adventure center caters to families with programs for kids ages 5 to 17.
Adults have their own slice of paradise in Oasis Cay. This adults-only zone which once consisted of the Tranquility Pool pre-Irma has been expanded to feature a bar and grill with its own island-inspired menu, as well as a fire pit and lounge area. The award-winning Calm Waters Spa offers a full menu of locally influenced treatments, as well as a whirlpool, dry sauna and a eucalyptus steam room.
An aerial view of Hawks Cay Resort — Photo courtesy of Hawks Cay Resort
A complete vacation in one package
Situated on Duck Key 90 miles south of Miami and 60 miles north of Key West, Hawks Cay Resort is a vacation destination in its own right. While there's plenty to do on the neighboring island of Marathon (including a turtle hospital and an outdoor aquarium), it wouldn't be hard to spend a week at the property without ever leaving.
The newly re-opened Hawks Cay Marina serves as a base for aquatic sports of all varieties. Fishing charters take guests offshore in search of tarpon, bonefish, redfish and snook in some of the world's best waters for deep-sea fishing. Divers and snorkelers can explore the only living coral reef system in the continental United States.
Guests also find double hulled stand-up paddleboards, boats and kayaks for rent at the marina, perfect for exploring the canals and protected waters surrounding the island.
Back on dry land, the resort's Cliff Drysdale Tennis center comprises eight lighted courts. Guests are free to pick up bicycles from Coral Cay for a leisurely peddle around the property.