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A Look at the Kid-Friendly Florida Keys

by Susan Barnes

Jun 28, 2018

© Romrodinka | Dreamstime.com

Age Specific / Kids

When people think of the Florida Keys, many probably instantly think of Key West, with its charming architecture, southernmost spot in the continental United States fame and party vibes, and that’s perfectly fine. But there is more to the Florida Keys than Key West. In fact, the 125-mile island chain is filled with fun activities kids can enjoy, too – my then 6-year-old nephew and I found that out on a visit a few years ago.

After setting up our base camp at Cheeca Lodge & Spa in Islamorada, central in the Keys and within easy driving distance to spots to the north and south, we were off for fun and exploration. One thing to note about Cheeca Lodge, some of its rooms are ideal for families traveling together; ours had a bedroom separate from a living room and kitchen, complete with stove top, microwave and refrigerator — perfect for fueling up before our days out and about. Cheeca Lodge & Spa recently reopened after making repairs to damages wrought by Hurricane Irma last year.

Snorkeling in the Keys is some of the best found on the U.S. mainland, and one of the best spots is at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo. Beginning and advanced snorkelers are invited to dive into the clear waters to take a look at the undersea world, but everyone needs to know how to swim before jumping in. It was spring break when we visited the park and it was teeming with visitors just like us; fortunately, we made advanced reservations and made it out onto the water that day.

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park - Key Largo, FL

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park – Key Largo, FL © Sandra Foyt | Dreamstime.com

We took a second snorkeling trip with the staff at the Cheeca Lodge, and the best spot we snorkeled over the two trips was the Donut Hole — seemingly thousands of fish swam around us, unbothered by our presence. It was magical.

For those who prefer their wildlife encounters a bit more reeled in, Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters in Marathon fits the bill. During our visit, we opted to stay out of the water and instead fed and pet stingrays and sharks tank-side. Next time, though, I’m sure we’ll want to get right in with the rays for the Stingray Encounter, or maybe even sharpen our snorkeling skills in the lagoon or get into the huge tank with fish and stingrays for the Coral Reef Encounter. There’s shark feeding, too, though through a thick glass wall — not up close and personal!

I’d been to the Turtle Hospital in Marathon before, but couldn’t wait to show my nephew the amazing animals up close. While we were there, we learned about the different types of turtles that make the waters in the Keys their home, and even saw one of the patients undergoing surgery to remove some growths. The hospital works hard to rehabilitate and release their patients, and we saw many well on the road to recovery to go back home to the sea.

There’s so much more to do on our next visit to the Keys, too, from visiting wild birds in rehabilitation at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center, to trying to spot elusive Key deer and maybe even painting with a dolphin at the Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key. And when we get to Key West and the southernmost point, we’ll visit the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory, the Key West Aquarium and the Key West Shipwreck Museum. Ahoy, matey!


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