Dorothy and her companions set out on the yellow brick road to reach the Emerald Palace, a place of incomparable beauty and leisure. Today, the band of heroes would load into Dorothy’s SUV and head down a different fancifully-named road, the Overseas Highway. With gas prices nearing record lows, and the fantastic quality of the U.S. interstate system, they’d effortlessly find themselves arriving at Duck Key, and checking into Hawks Cay before you could say, “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” And if they had reserved a villa, there would even be room for long-suffering Auntie Em and Uncle Henry too!

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Hawks Cay is truly a welcome break from reality. U.S. 1, with its perfect views and leisure—demanding speed limits is part of the magic, before you know it you will have slowed down, no longer running pace with the slings and arrows of the work-a-day life, but instead enjoying the island-life tempo. The day begins when the sun rises, it ends when the sun sets (or the drinks stop flowing), and everything in-between is an opportunity to enjoy beaches, pina coladas, and Jimmy Buffet music. It’s always “island-o-clock” in the keys.

Reaching Hawks Cay requires a final journey across a short private causeway, and you are here. The resort offers traditional rooms in the main building, and a separate section of attached two-story villas. The whole resort is lovely, but the villas are an extra- special treasure. With multiple bedrooms, upstairs and downstairs spaces, and full kitchen, this is truly a waterfront home away from home. The front porch of each villa opens onto a canal complete with a dock for securing a boat, and a lush green grass yard covers the small distance from your rear porch to the community dock. Many of our fellow visitors had trailered their boats with them from home, and now those same boats floated happily just steps away from each guest’s own villa.

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I found the villa experience to be a slice of Norman Rockwell’s old-time America plus powerboats. It was interesting to meet our neighborhood on our walks back and forth to the Hawks Cay main building with its dining, pool, and lagoon facilities. People from diverse backgrounds were all brought together by the common joy of a vacation in the sun. Our neighbors included many Floridia mainlanders, as well as tourists from the midwest. My kids played chase with a couple of adorable kids a few units away that greeted us with both “hello” and “hola.” It’s always interesting how different people can be away from their day to day stressors. A memorable quirk of our trip, I noticed that a Muslim family in traditional dress was staying in the unit attached to that of an orthodox Jewish family, complete with kippah and tzitzit. The odds of these two families being reserved next door to each other seems astronomical, but I saw the men outside on the shared dock talking pleasantly, so, one point goes to Hawks Cay for encouraging world peace. A neighbor gave us a good bit of advice for boaters, especially those staying for a longer trip. If you use the boat frequently, the convenience of the back-yard dockage is well worth the fee the resort charges. If, the neighbor told us in confidence, you are only an occasional boater, it’s cheaper to store your boat at the nearby marina.

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Hawks Cays offers a paradise for your children. The youth center is a sprawling facility with an art room, a game room (foosball table of course!), a volleyball court, a soccer field and an 18-hole miniature golf course shaded by a gorgeous banyan tree. I told my skeptical kids to watch for “baby dragons” during a round of mini-golf. The kid’s eyes bugged-out, cartoon-style, when they spotted an enormous iguana with a black crest and a red wattle watching us from the banyan’s branches. Bring a bathing suit and things get even better. The splash-and-play area has fountains and a climbable pirate ship. A full-sized, shallow-depth pool and a food kiosk complete the area.

Hawks Cay offers child care in three slots, from 9a-12, 1p-4p, and 5p-9p. The young man who served as camp counselor during our visit, William, was fantastic. I asked about the big screen TV on the wall and what movies they might watch during camp, and William replied, “Why would we watch TV? There is too much great stuff to do!” My kids loved painting and coloring reef and ocean themed art as well as playing outdoor games. They begged to go back for a morning session.

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On a scale of one to 10, the service was easily an 11. At every interaction with the team at Hawks Cay, we were met with a warm and rich smile. And when we had special requests, the staff went above and beyond. We bought food at a nearby supermarket to cook in our villa, on returning to our villa we found that we had secured neither butter nor salt. A quick trip to the main foyer and the positivity of the staff was such that they approached my requests like it was a fun distraction for them, rather than a task. I walked away with a coffee cup full of salt, butter packets scavenged from the kitchen, and even a small container of soy sauce.

The happy place feeling peaked on our last day when I went to check-out. I headed over early, and was probably the first person of the morning. As I came in the big front doors, a member of the janitorial staff was polishing the floors, and, like a scene in a film, he was dancing with his push-polisher and singing along to the happy pop song coming out of the overhead speakers.

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Hurricane Irma gave the resort quite a beating. Everything on the ground floor of any unit or common space was washed away or destroyed by high waters, and had to be replaced. Of course, what one sees now is the result of the $55 million dollars of improvements, upgrades and facility enhancements. Everything is like new, because it is new. The staff still have stories though. Most spectacular of these is probably that they returned to the resort to find a full-sized yacht had been carried over the beach and dry land isthmus, and into their shallow swimming lagoon, where it sat for some time while repairs were underway.

The marketing manager who gave us our media tour also told of how he, his wife, their three-month-old baby, and his mother-in-law had been evacuated from their home on Marathon. The home was irreparably damaged in the storm, but, because the mother-in-law had insisted on storing all the family treasures on the highest shelves, things like photo albums and other memories had survived. Like so many citizens of the Keys, he was grateful for the positives. Their new home has been built on stilts and to modern standards and his face lit up with joy when he spoke about the idyllic island life his baby would have growing-up. Storms come and go, but the island life survives.

Hawk’s Cay is home to a plethora of animals, birds and iguana, but, more exceptionally, a half dozen full-grown dolphins are also in permanent residence. If you are planning a trip, sign up now for one of the interaction programs. Touching and communicating one-on-one with the two dolphins our family was assigned, Hubert and Bobbers, was absolutely amazing. The sheer number of tricks that the dolphins know is unexpected, and the sense of fun that exists between these huge animals and their trainers was reminiscent of the bond between loving dogs and their trainers. The resort staff took lots of photos of my family and myself engaging with the dolphins. You can see all of us gaping with child-like joy as Hubert leaps and flies in the air inches away from our family on the floating dock. Of course the real wildlife is only a short jaunt away in Key West. That’s where the mimes, street musicians and acrobats perform in the rosy light of the setting sun in Mallory Square and the key lime pies and daiquiris are universally served deliciously cold.

It’s a very beautiful one-hour drive, and so a not-to-be-missed side trip. We left early and headed to our favorite breakfast destination, Blue Heaven. Some of the bloom seems to be off the rose though. Apparently Irma blew the colorful chicken population away, and the food just isn’t as exciting as it used to be. Their banana bread is still spectacular though. Next trip to Key West we will forgo breakfast there and try some new places, stopping by only to pick up a half dozen loaves of banana bread to bring home to friends and family.

Every time we go to Key West, we enjoy both old and new favorites. We love the quirky character of Red Buoy coffee, and their famed donuts never disappoint. Next time, we will certainly plan ahead and make sure we have a reservation to visit Key West Room Escape, where they gave us a quick tour, but we couldn’t wait for the next open session in their escape rooms. My wife is drawn to the tiny bohemian store, Wanderlust KW, and we always find things there that we buy as gifts. Walking Duval Street brings joy, and it’s nice to see what’s new and what’s unchanged. A calm half hour shopping and browsing Books & Books @ The Studios of Key West is a nice, quiet change of pace from the sunny streets.

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With so many dining options, we didn’t make it to the on-premise Angler and Ale restaurant until the last day, and discovered maybe we had been missing something! We started with the Smoked Fish Dip and the Dill Pickle Chips. The kids demolished the dip, giving mom and dad time to crunch away at the pickles. The Conch Chowder is excellent—tomato broth, bacon and a splash of sherry, all conspire to make it a riot of salty and tangy. The Bison Burger was filling and excellent, but the real pleasure was the Mason Mixers, mixed drinks served in mason jars. I highly recommend the Mangrove Mojito—Conch Republic White Rum, mint, watermelon, lime and simple syrup. The Caribbean Mule with Ketel One Vodka, ginger beer, simple syrup, lime, muddled pineapple was also incredible. If I tried a third, I don’t remember it, but I can say for certain that the night was beautiful and the full moon lit the view with a gorgeous white glow.

Leaving Hawks Cay Resort was tough on all of us. The kids were begging to stay for just one more morning at the youth center, and my wife and I both would have loved an extra morning lounging around the adults-only Tranquility Pool. There’s no better recommendation for a travel destination, than when you plan your return trip before you’ve even left on the last day, and if we had had Dorothy’s magical slippers, with their power to send one home, they would never get used. Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key is the sort of place you will love when you visit, and you will want to share the discovery as well. We look forward to visiting Hawks Cay again, and the next time we come, it will likely be with a passel of extended family in tow.