With experiences to delight visitors of all ages and interests, The Florida Keys & Key West make an ideal destination for families . Family vacation days in the Keys are unforgettable, entertaining and even educational. Here are six great activities to enjoy in this sub-tropical island chain…
1. Meet Sea Turtles
At the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, dedicated staff members focus on the care and rehabilitation of sick and injured sea turtles. The Turtle Hospital in Marathon is the world’s only licensed veterinary hospital that specializes in sea turtles, and it even has its own turtle ambulance. Kids can take guided tours of the facility to learn about sea turtles, get a behind-the-scenes look at the hospital and rehabilitation facility, and even feed some of the permanent residents. It’s also possible, if you’re lucky, to witness the release of a turtle that has been returned to health. Releases take place at beaches throughout the Keys, and since 1986 the hospital has released more than 1,200 sea turtles back into the ocean. The unique facility is located at mile marker (MM) 48.5 with tours offered multiple times each day.
For more information and to book, visit http://www.turtlehospital.org/
2. Discover Undersea Wonders
Explore the depths of the sea at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park , at MM 102.5 in Key Largo. This famous marine preserve, the first undersea park in the United States, encompasses 70 square miles of coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangrove swamps, a popular beach and a marina. The park was established to protect and preserve a portion of the only living coral reef in the continental United States. In addition, the park extends three miles offshore, and traveling by boat to get there you’ll pass uninhabited mangrove islands, winding creeks and shallow reefs, all which provide marine nurseries for the stunning, large coral-reef formations offshore.
Visitors can enjoy the park’s popular water activities including viewing the reef by glass-bottom-boat or snorkel and scuba tours, as well as canoeing and kayaking on mangrove-lined waterways.
For more information and to book, visit www.pennekamppark.com
3. Walk Among Living Butterflies
The 13,000-square-foot Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory, a wonderland housing thousands of tropical plants and hundreds of the delicate creatures known as “flowers of the sky.” The state-of-the-art solarium and nature exhibit at 1316 Duval St. is one of only three major butterfly facilities in Florida, features a 5,000-square-foot glass-domed tropical butterfly habitat. Visitors can observe hundreds of butterflies from 50 to 60 species, numerous species of colorful exotic birds and two beautiful pink flamingos in the habitat – as well as learn about butterflies’ role in the natural world. An onsite gallery features the nationally acclaimed butterfly artwork of Sam Trophia, the conservatory’s co-founder.
For more information, visit www.keywestbutterfly.com
4. Learn About Dolphins
In the Florida Keys, where dolphins are studied year-round, visitors have an opportunity for a unique encounter – a chance to swim with these gentle animals while learning about them.
Dolphin Research Center , MM 59 bayside on Grassy Key, specializes in presenting marine mammal education and research programs to the public. Founded in 1984 as a non-profit facility, the center is home to a family of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions. The facility daily provides fun-filled narrated dolphin and sea lion behavior sessions and educational presentations every half-hour that teach visitors about marine mammals and the environment.
Dolphin Encounter is the center’s swim program, or visitors can try Dolphin Dip, a wade-in program that offers the opportunity to get waist deep in the water with the dolphins. Trainer for a Dau, Meet the Dolphin and Paint with a Dolphin offer a wide range of interactions. Dolphin Research Center is open daily, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with continuous dolphin and sea lion sessions.
For more information, visit www.dolphins.org
5. Take a Tour of Key West
No visit to the Florida Keys is complete without a ride on the Conch Tour Train , which has been entertaining visitors in Key West since 1958. During your stay, even if it is a day trip to Key West on a cruise ship, get a conch’s eye view of the continental USA’s southernmost city’s attractions and interesting stops as you tour with the “engineers” and helpful staff aboard the train trolleys. Kids aged 12 and under ride free, and discounts for military and seniors are available.
For more information and to book, visit http://www.conchtourtrain.com/
6. Seek Shipwreck Treasure
Seek shipwreck bounty with wreckers at the Key West Shipwreck Museum . Salvaging goods from ships wrecked on Florida Keys reefs made Key West the richest city per capita in the United States in the mid-1800s. The Key West Shipwreck Museum re-creates the salvage or wrecking era through live actors, film and artifacts from the wreck of the Isaac Allerton that sank off the Keys in 1856. Wrecking master Asa Tift guides guests through the museum, explaining the unique industry, and invites them to climb a 65-foot lookout tower to ring a bell signaling that a wreck has been spotted. Located at 1 Whitehead St. beside the aquarium, the Key West Shipwreck Museum is open daily from 9:40 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For more information, visit http://www.keywestshipwreck.com/
Watch the highlights of a family vacation in the Florida Keys: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GpPY36SPBfo
For more information on the Florida Keys and Key West, visit www.fla-keys.com