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The key to romance: between key largo and key west, hawks cay soars above other resorts,.

I grew up on the East Coast, so it seems strange to me that I'd never been to the Florida Keys before. They sounded so far away and hard to get to. Turns out, neither of those things are really true. And even if they were, it'd be worth the trip to get to this self-contained little paradise.

Paradise means different things to different people. To me it means great scenery, great food, great things to do without having to spend time tracking them down, and, most importantly, the freedom to be with my partner without worrying about how we might be treated. The latter is definitely not a problem in this Dart of the universe, especially in Key West, known for its vibrant LGBT party scene.

But since I was looking to "have it all" and "get away from it all," I decided to check out Hawks Cay on Duck Key.

When you check in and pick up your room key, the front desk receptionist says, "It's the only key you'll need." A silly pun but also refreshingly true. Everything at Hawks Cay can be charged to your room, from swimming with the resort's own pod of dolphins at Dolphin Connection to deep-sea or inshore fishing outings.

Same goes for SNUBA and scuba diving, tennis, and water sports like kiteboarding, jet skiing, kayaking, snorkeling or stand up paddleboarding. And there are almost as many dining options as there are activities. Ocean offers a Mediterranean-inspired menu, while Alma boasts an impressive array of Latin dishes. For more casual options, the Beach Grill and the Island Time certainly fit the bill.

I managed to try out every one of these places while I was there. The chilled shrimp at Ocean was one of the freshest seafood dishes I've ever had, and perfectly cooked. The fiat breads there are dangerous. If you're having one as an appetizer, be sure to share or you'll never get to your main course. The pan-roasted scallops were render and well seasoned at Alma. The tacos and the ambiance at the Beach Grill made it all too easy to have a three-hour lunch. So many resorts have one main restaurant and a bar with snacks. That can get old after a couple of days. Being a Hawks Cay felt more like staying in a resort town, as opposed to simply one hotel.

One of my favorite features of the place is the adults-only area. It is home to the Tranquility Pool, which is exactly what it sounds like and also houses comfy, free, private cabanas. At the end of the 2013, it will also have its own al fresco restaurant in the sand.

One afternoon, I wandered off the property to check out the Turtle Hospital in nearby Marathon. It was so sad to see a turtle needing emergency surgery after a run-in with the trash that people throw in the ocean. But it was also inspiring to see the rehabilitated turtles released and happily swimming into the ocean, enjoying their new healthy life.

That evening I took a sunset catamaran cruise, which I would highly recommend. The cruise includes dangerously tasty cocktails and cold beer, as well as appetizers. And how good is the view? Suffice it to say--so good that it's hard to take a bad photo.

Another activity I would recommend is learning to wake-board. I didn't think I would ever be able to do it. But I got the hang of it on my second try! The guys at Keys Cable Park had me up on a board in minutes. The park is super-close to the resort and can handle clients from beginners to pros.

If you are traveling with kids 5 to 12 years old, you can still enjoy every bit of Hawks Cay by allowing them to enjoy the activities at Camp Hawk. Translation: you at the Tranquility Pool and the kids having a blast. The resort also offers babysitters at night, should you want some adult time after hours. And when the whole family is together, Hawks Cay has a family pool that tends to be less busy than its four other pools, making it a great place to take the younger set.

And I don't know what the word is for "better than gay-friendly: But whatever it is, that's Hawks Cay. I saw a number of LGBT couples throughout my trip, holding hands, stealing a kiss, having a romantic dinner. Plus, Hawks Cay has played host to a number of LGBT commitment ceremonies. To my mind, that's one of the biggest commitments a resort can make: guaranteeing equal treatment for its guests. (hawkscay.com)

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Author:Block, Jenny
Publication:Curve
Date:Jul 1, 2013
Words:813
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