“I see fish!” my eight-year-old son said, as soon as he put his face in the water. We were snorkeling in Key Largo. It wasn’t our family’s first time snorkeling, but it was our two sons’ first time snorkeling off a boat in water deeper than their dad is tall.
“Yeah, this is great,” our older son seconded.
It had been years since my husband and I had snorkeled the reefs in Key Largo, mainly because we like to include our kids in our adventures. Avid swimmers on a local swim team, the boys were ready to strap on a mask, slip on fins, and slip into the open ocean.
We thought a snorkeling trip would be more fun with friends, so we invited some to come along, who in turn invited more friends to come along. We filled up the boat with the exception of one couple on vacation, and the captain and first mate.
Even with friends along, though, and even though he was a strong swimmer, my youngest was hesitant to leave the boat. He and I were the last to leave at the first two of the three stops our tour boat made. When his dad and brother swam away and friends were already taking reef selfies, my youngest and I were sitting on the back of the boat.
“I’m right with you, and it’s going to be so fun!” I encouraged him. “We can stay right near the boat if you want.”
Seeing the fish and corals and feeling weightless as we bobbed with the ebb and flow of the ocean were freeing — as was watching my little guy try something new and succeed.
Our tour boat’s second stop was the Christ of the Abyss statue in the Dry Rocks. It is a copy of a statue in the Mediterranean Sea in Italy. Standing on a hefty base, the 8-foot Florida statue is in 20-30 feet of water. All of us on the boat were eager to see how close we could get to the statue, although our first mate warned us not to touch it because fire coral growing on it would sting. My son ventured farther from the boat this time. Unfortunately, the water here was choppy enough to make some of our friends seasick, and our time in the water was cut short.
By our third stop north of there, where the water was much calmer, my son was eager to get into the water with me — we actually weren’t the last on the boat this time. We caught up with friends and floated over corals. It was almost like a party.
Back on the boat, he enjoyed sitting at the bow to see the expanse of blue we had just explored. We enjoyed chatting with our friends and the captain until we pulled up to the dock after a full day.
Tips for snorkeling in Key Largo
There are several snorkel and scuba diving tours in Key Largo. Our group went with Keys Diver, which has a storefront base right on the main road through the Florida Keys, U.S. 1. Everyone was friendly and knowledgeable, and the pricing was good. All equipment was included, but we brought most of our own gear.
We learned from the first mate that in addition to the PFD/vest that you wear, slipping a pool noodle across your chest through the armholes provides extra flotation.
Use reef-safe sunscreen to protect both your skin and the corals. We have used and liked both Alba Botanica spray and Reef Safe sunscreen lotion. Be sure to reapply frequently.
Some kids will be excited to snorkel and jump right in the ocean. If your child (or an adult!) is afraid to snorkel, don’t push it. Start by swimming in a pool, then using a mask and snorkel in a pool. Work up to snorkeling along a shore, if possible, before going out on a boat. Most reef snorkeling sites in Key Largo are 8 feet and deeper, which can make some people nervous.
The reef is up to about 8 miles offshore, so you could be on a boat for a while to get there. I’m just mentioning this because some people think the reef is right off the shoreline. While you might be able to find fish and coral there and still have a great time, that isn’t the reef. If you are prone to seasickness, prepare for that. You can take your own watercraft or a rental to the reef as well, if you can find your way.
You can acquaint yourself with Florida Keys snorkel sites with Snorkeling the Florida Keys.
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