I received travel and accommodations on this trip for the purpose of review, but all opinions are my own.
When you think of the Florida Keys, visions of sandy beaches and fruity drinks on the sand probably come to mind. While you can definitely find plenty of those things when you visit, the Florida Keys have so much more to offer. There are a wide range of various family friendly eco-adventures that are perfect for not only having fun, but learning about the history and various eco-environments of The Keys. When I visited on a media trip a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to explore many of the eco-adventure options available in both Marathon and Islamorada, and I walked away knowing that I have to return again soon so that I can experience them all with my boys!
Coral Reef Snorkeling
I have gone snorkeling at other locations in Florida, but nothing prepared me for the beauty or variety of sea life I would experience in the crystal blue waters of the Florida Keys. Hall’s Diving Center in Marathon took us out to Sombrero Reef for some snorkeling, and even provided me with a prescription mask. I had never been given a prescription mask before, and it made the experience a million times better for me. I could see all of the fish and other sea creatures perfectly. From Barracuda to the indigenous Key’s Hogfish, I enjoyed exploring the reef at my own pace. In fact, I was the last one in the boat, and could have easily stayed out all day.
There is no better way to get children up close and personal with the sea life that frequents the reefs that with a snorkeling trip. You are provided with life vests, and are free to snorkel close to the boat, so as long as a responsible adult is nearby, children 12 and under are allowed to go on the snorkeling adventures. Rates for a four hour snorkeling trip are $45 for adults and $35 for children.
Okay, before you start freaking out and write it off all together like I almost did, this is one activity that you honestly need to try at least once. I probably wasn’t saying this same thing when I found myself strapped to a board at Keys Cable about to be yanked around on said board. In fact, just as I was thinking “I’ve got this,” I failed. Hard. It took me all of three seconds to face plant into the water, but you know what? After that, it was pretty easy to get the hang of, and a ton of fun! When they tell you to “Do less,” they really mean it. If you just chill out on the board and let the cable do the work, it’s pretty smooth sailing. Well, at least until you try to make a turn.
Keys Cable is run by Matthew Sexton and Mike and Shana Walsh, it is a shoot off of their oTHErside Boardsports and is located in Marathon. If you aren’t familiar with cable wakeboarding, instead of a boat, an electrical cable system is used to pull you back and forth across the water. Key’s Cable has two 2 point systems, allowing you to have a continuous ride back and forth. I talked with Matthew about the age range for this activity, and he assured me that they have had small children out there having a blast. I know my boys would love to do this. Rates start at $22 for a half hour, but a family of 5 or more can privately rent out a cable for $150/hr and everyone can ride for less!
Have you ever dreamed of swimming with a dolphin, helping to train them, or just getting a chance to reach out and touch one? At the Dolphin Research Center, you can do all this and more. This place is an amazing haven for the dolphins who call it home, they really strive to create a safe and stimulating environment for their animals, and when they talk about them, you can feel the love they have for each one.
On my visit, we spent our time taking a tour, giving the dolphin some hand signals and even getting the chance to shake hands with him. It was an amazing experience, and you can do everything from a fun-filled full day of training dolphins to a quick meet and greet. The Dolphin Research Center also focuses on helping animals in distress in the surrounding areas and even rescue manatees. They are a must stop location for those who love dolphins and care about he marine life of the Keys. Admission is $23 for adults and $18 for children, with dolphin encounters starting at only $25.
I know, the thought of being propelled into the air by a jetpack doesn’t exactly scream family friendly and it isn’t for those with young children. However, if your child is at least 85 pounds, 14 years old and lives for adventure, then the Jetpacking experience offered at Tiki Jet in Islamorada is the perfect once in a lifetime experience. I was so nervous going into this, and even though I had an epic fail while up in the air almost doing a back flip, you definitely have to try this if you get the chance!
Being on a jetpack was unlike anything else I have ever experienced, and it is definitely a unique way to see the Florida Keys. Those who have a hard time giving up control like I do may struggle a bit, but even when you crash it isn’t painful, and is well worth the experience. Rates are seasonal, so visit the Tiki Jet website for more information.
Touring The Turtle Hospital
Before my visit to the Keys, I had no idea that there was such a thing as a turtle hospital. The Turtle Hospital in Marathon is very real however, and has been helping to rescue, rehabilitate and when possible, release sea turtles since 1986. Tours are available where you can learn more about sea turtles, have the chance to see a surgery in action, and observe the turtles in their recovery tanks.
Many of the turtles at the hospital suffer from Bubble Butt disease where they have a bubble of air under their shell and always float to the top. Weights are put on to help gradually reduce the bubble of air.
Children will love getting up close to these amazing marine animals, and the education factor cannot be ignored. Tours are presented in a fun way, and you even get the chance to throw some food to the sea turtles in the main tank while learning about the various health issues they face. Tours at The Turtle Hospital are approximately 90 minutes long and are $18 for adults and $9 for children.
There are definitely a wealth of adventures awaiting any family in the Florida Keys, no matter what you might be looking for. For information on these and other eco-adventure options, you can visit the official site for the Florida Keys and Key West.