PICK OF THE SOUTH
Best For » The full Florida Keys experience. Wildly sought out for its island lifestyle — every spit of land connecting the Florida Keys is a piece
of paradise. About halfway down the archipelago sits Duck Key and the 60-acre Hawks Cay Resort — a two-hour drive from Miami, a little over an hour from Key West International Airport.
Checking In » Sun-kissed, smiling attendants serving glasses of lemonade circulate the bustling West Indies-inspired lobby. An indoor waterfall, wicker-paddle fans and a towering bird of paradise floral display lead to an open view of the lush palm- tree-framed pool and stone fire pit, where at dusk sipping on a dark ’n’ stormy and telling fish tales is de rigueur. A $42 million redo in 2008 turned the hotel’s 177 rooms into elegant island hideaways. Dark-wood poster beds are dressed in embroidered white linens, framed seashell collections adorn the walls, and bathrooms have rustic tile, beadboard and a row of big hooks to keep all those wet swimsuits and towels off the floor. Two-story waterfront villas, with front porches designed for rocking chairs, accommodate families and the bring-your-own boat crowd.
The Marina » Life in the Keys revolves around water, and the adjacent marina is your epicenter. Water-sports junkies check in with instructor Aaron Osters (305.942.9635). While daredevils get a kiteboarding lesson, the faint of heart can learn stand-up paddle boarding (SUP). “It’s like kayaking, only you’re standing up and the view is better,” Osters says of the fast-growing sport. Lining the dock are eye-catching purple and yellow faux shacks where guests sign up for snorkel and dive trips to the reefs. For wannabe divers, there’s a one-day resort course or snuba, a family-friendly technique using a 20-foot breathing hose that allows you to get face to face with angelfish in the shallow reefs. This marina is so cool, it even has the latest water-sports toy: Jetlev. George Shattuck, owner of Sundance Watersports (305.743.0145), straps the George Jetson-style backpack device to guests. Its two jets catapult you into the air over the water of nearby Tom’s Harbor. “Once you get off of it, you want to do one more thing, and that’s get back on,” Shattuck’s first student says.
Cast a Line » At 8 a.m. the boat traffic in the channel glides past the resort’s saltwater lagoon as deep-sea fishing charters with all the bells and whistles head out to the Atlantic Ocean to snag game fish. Fisherman Steve Carr, visiting from Milwaukee with his family, returned with a couple dozen yellowtail snappers and even an amberjack that created quite a dockside stir when it weighed in at 84 pounds! (Average weight is 40 pounds.) The smaller light-tackle vessels ply the Gulf’s aqua waters en route to reel in grouper for dinner. Tom’s Harbor House, the resort’s marina restaurant, will fry, grill or blacken your catch, then pair it with a nice mango salsa. Insider fishing tip: For a jaunt into the Gulf, our pick is Tarpon Time (305.776.1485). Captain Jeff Malone, a 14-year veteran, knows the best spots to snag black grouper and battle a nurse shark or two.
Jump In » The saltwater lagoon, encircled by a sandy beach dotted with thatched huts and chaises, is the centerpiece. Kayak, snorkel, jump off the raft or enter a paddle-board race in the pond. Choose from five more pools. The adults-only tranquility pool is perfect for couples who want to enjoy each other’s company, sip poolside cocktails and soak in a hot tub. Send the kids to the pirate ship pool at the supervised Indies Club, where faux palm trees with water-dumping coconuts get giggles out of youngsters.
Eats » Florida spiny lobster plucked from local waters, broiled and dipped in drawn butter is good reason to dine at Alma, a dimly lit hideaway for an intimate dinner. Casual fare — conch fritters and the Florida-brewed Key West Sunset Ale — is served at the alfresco Beach Grill. In the morning, the breakfast buffet at the Terrace presents a lovely selection of French cheeses, fluffy Belgian waffles and made-to-order omelets.
Escapism » The Key Lime Mojito body treatment at the Calm Waters Spa will definitely have your skin glowing, thanks to a two-step exfoliating sugar scrub and Vichy shower. The scent of Key lime awakens your senses when your hair is shampooed, and then you’re wrapped in a warm cocoon and left to unwind in total bliss.
Unexpected » Schedule a play date with Lucky, Hastings, Sebastian, Balla and Nemo at the Dolphin Connection. Together with trainer Sean Sutherland, step into the resort’s private dolphin lagoon and learn a thing or two about these amazing sea mammals. Dolphin hugs and kisses included.