Thinking about combining a cruise from Miami or Fort Lauderdale with a relaxing pre- or post-cruise getaway? Head to the nearby Florida Keys. This lovely chain of islands is known for its tropical kitsch, nature-oriented attractions and ecotours, expansive coral reefs for snorkeling and diving, soft adventure opportunities and historic sites. The Keys also have a wide array of accommodations perfectly suited for any kind of escape. Choosing the right one is important for maximizing your fun.
If you’re planning to vacation in the Florida Keys before or after your cruise, here are five great things to do:
1. Sail Away on a Catamaran. Catamaran cruises are a relaxing way to spend the day and get a close-up view of the Keys’ spectacular nearby reef and crystal blue waters. These ultra-stable, roomy boats take guests out to North America's only living coral reef. Here, you'll have the opportunity to go snorkeling with tropical fish or lazing on the deck soaking up the sun. Sundance Watersports at Hawks Cay Resort offers sunset sails from their marina as well.
2. Take A Hike. Those who love nature should plan to spend a few hours hiking the many nature trails at Crane Point Hammock in Marathon. Spanning sixty-three acres and owned by the Florida Keys Land and Sea Trust, Crane Point features the Museum of Natural History and Nature Center, a gift shop, miles of hiking trails, a Butterfly Garden, Adderley House – the oldest abode outside of Key West, and the Marathon Wild Bird Center. Since its founding, this organization has rehabilitated and released over 6,000 sick or injured wild birds including hawks, ospreys, pelicans and cormorants.
3. Swim With the Dolphins. Dolphin encounters are incredibly popular with cruise passengers and land-based vacationers alike. The Florida Keys have a number of facilities where guests can swim and interact with dolphins, including the Dolphin Connection at Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key. Each place offers slightly different programs and approaches, ranging from dock or shallow water encounters all the way to Trainer or Researcher for a Day experiences. Programs book quickly, so make your reservations as far in advance as possible.
4. Visit the Sea Turtles. Located at Mile Marker 48.5, the Turtle Hospital in Marathon rescues, rehabilitates and releases sea turtles. In conjunction with the University of Florida, the Turtle Hospital also conducts turtle disease-related research as well. Ninety-minute guided tours of this fascinating facility are available several times each day. At the end of the educational tours, guests are invited to feed the Turtle Hospital’s residents. These tours are very popular and advance reservations are strongly advised.
5. Paddle Through the Mangroves. Kayaking around the Keys’ mangrove islands and shallow flats is a popular backcountry adventure. Participants can kayak at a relaxed, comfortable pace and learn more about the wildlife inhabiting this area. With kayaks rented from Hawks Cay Resort’s Sundance Watersports, visitors can kayak to remote islands and along Duck Key’s tranquil waterways. Make sure to bring a waterproof camera for taking pictures.
In addition, don't forget to sample a few of the Conch Republic's mouthwatering delicacies during your stay. Key Lime Pie is Florida's official dessert, so make sure to try some while you’re there. Ma’s Fish Camp in Islamorada serves some of the best key lime pie with meringue in the Florida Keys. Their fresh fish tacos and Mahi-Mahi sandwiches are superb, too. Blue Heaven in Key West is another top choice for key lime pay with meringue. If you’d prefer your key lime pie without any meringue, make sure to stop at Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen in Key Largo. Lobster lovers should plan to drop by Keys Fisheries in Marathon to taste their delicious lobster reuben – it’s truly unique.
Planning Your Escape
Finding the right place to stay is critical for a relaxing pre- or post-cruise escape. It’s important to travel far enough down the island chain to capture the true feeling of the Florida Keys, but cruisers don’t want to spend too much of their limited time driving. That’s why staying at a resort in the Middle Keys works so well.
Cruises offer a wide variety of activities all in one convenient location, so it’s good to find a land-based resort that does the same thing. Hawks Cay Resort fits the bill perfectly. As the resort says, it’s “the only key you’ll need.” Set on 60 waterfront acres on Duck Key, Hawks Cay is a family-friendly AAA Four-Diamond Award-winning resort with plenty of room to spread out. This property features 420 two- and three-bedroom villas and spacious hotel rooms, as well as four restaurants, the resort’s Cliff Drysdale Tennis program with eight lighted courts, and the award-winning 7,000 square foot Calm Waters Spa.
Hawks Cay also has Coral Cay, a massive well-equipped adventures and activities facility for kids. It features a cool Pirate Ship Pool with slides, tunnels and even water shooting cannons. There’s a large shallow-entry pool there, too. Hawks Cay is known for its outstanding kids programs including Camp Hawk for ages 5-12 and an awesome game room with activities for teens 13-17. Babysitting is available for little ones. Families also enjoy biking around the resort’s property and intimate Duck Key, kayaking and fishing.
Hawks Cay is a paradise for nature and watersports lovers. The property features a massive saltwater lagoon and five swimming pools. The resort’s full-service marina offers diving, SNUBA, snorkeling excursions as well as a full array of watersports including kayaking, jetskiing, paddleboarding and kiteboarding. As the home base for the highly rated NBC Sports’ “Saltwater Experience” fishing show, Hawks Cay is also a dream destination for anglers as well.
Another Hawks Cay feature offering peak experiences for guests is its Dolphin Connection Program. Hawks Cay has the only resort-based program where guests can mingle and swim with dolphins in their natural environment, and it’s the only facility in the mainland U.S. where visitors can watch trained dolphin viewing free of charge. Guests, including young children, can take part in the Dolphin Connection’s programs which range from Dockside Dolphins (where interactions take place from training docks) and shallow water Dolphin Discovery interactions – all the way up to the in-depth Dolphin Trainer for a Day experiences. These programs are very popular and reservations are strongly recommended. Book your program as far in advance as possible to ensure getting the date and time of your choice.
For more information on planning your vacation at Hawks Cay Resort, visit their website at www.hawkscay.com.