Hands down, my favorite day in our Keys vacation was the day we went snorkeling. It was so neat to see the kids experience something so new and adventurous. I was a little worried about how they would do, but I was so happy to see them push themselves outside of their (and my own!) comfort zone to try something new.
We booked a snorkeling tour through John Pennekamp State Park. It was about $30 a person for a two and a half hour snorkeling tour and it was worth every penny. I made our reservation actually for the day before, but the weather was overcast and there was a “strong swimmer” advisory because of the waves at the reef. We weren’t so much worried about if the kids could swim in it (they are all pretty strong swimmers and would be wearing life jackets, too), but we didn’t think it sounded like it would be too much fun because not only was it predicted to be rough seas, but the visibility was supposed to be low, too. I called the park on the morning of our reservation and they very easily moved our reservation to the next day without a pause, which was really nice. The day that we ended up going out was beautiful. Flat seas and clear visibility to the reef. So, I was really glad we had made the call to wait a day.
We got to the park almost two hours before the tour left in order to claim our reserved spot. If you aren’t there that early, they give your spot away to walk-ups, so we wanted to be sure to get there in time. We rented snorkeling equipment for everyone except me and Bean because we had our own masks and snorkels, but when we actually got out on the water, both mine and Bean’s masks were not nearly as good as everyone else’s rented equipment. At only $4 a rental, I really wished we had rented for everyone. Luckily, our super awesome (and ONLY all-female captain and crew in the park) were really great and gave us two extras that they had stashed on the boat when mine and Bean’s masks started leaking.
(P.S. Gracie sat in her snorkel gear for an hour before we even got on the boat.)
Bean and Gracie were a little hesitant about snorkeling at first. The boat pulled up close to the reef, but they can’t get too close, so you have to swim a little ways to get out to the reef and fish. And you are swimming over sea grass, which means you can’t see what you are swimming over very well. Even I didn’t like that part. Bean and Chris pushed past any nerves and quickly made it out to the reef, but Gracie was out in the water for about 3 minutes before she was crying and begging to get back in the boat. I didn’t want her to be scared because that is the WORST feeling when you are scared of something and someone forces you to do it, so I didn’t argue with her at all. We just turned right around and climbed back up in the boat.
I told her we could sit there for as long as she wanted and assured her that I wouldn’t make her get back into the water if she didn’t want to. The worst thing you can do if psh Gracie into something. She will say no and then it is impossible to get her to change her mind. So, we just kind of chilled on the boat for about 15 minutes, watching everyone else snorkel about 100 yards away from us. We finally picked out Bean and Chris in the water and once Gracie saw Bean, she instantly said, “He’s not that far out there. Can we just go that far and not any further?”
I knew once she got out there, she’d be okay, but I went ahead and agreed to just going out a little ways. She bravely put her mask, snorkel, and fins back on and we jumped into the water to try again. She was still a little hesitant over the sea grass, but as soon as we got over the sand and started to get close to the reef, I could feel her immediately loosen up. I kept reminding her that whenever she wanted to go back to the boat, we could, but she stayed out in the water for the rest of the time and had a ball!
We spent the next hour snorkeling around the reef. Chris and I each took one of the kids with us and we swam holding their hands. Thankfully with the fins, we were able to keep up with each other most of the time and ended up spending most of our time snorkeling very close together as a group of four. It was a little difficult snorkeling with kids. For one thing, before they got the hang of it, neither of them wanted to put their faces in the water. They were trying to tread water while holding onto us, but it is really hard to tread water with fins on your feet. That also made it hard to hold them up, too, because Chris and I were also in fins. But once we got them to put their faces in the water and swim, instead of trying to talk and tread, it became easier for everyone.
We saw so much! The coral was beautiful and the fish were huge and so vibrant. We saw angel fish, rainbow fish, parrot fish, fire coral, barracuda, and even found a lobster up under a piece of brain coral. Some others reported seeing a giant string ray, but we didn’t see him. To be honest, I spent a lot of my time just watching the kids watching the reef. Their little faces were so excited as they pointed out things they saw or places they wanted to explore. I was so proud of them!
I’m not big on getting outside my own comfort zone. I’m not adventurous or a risk taker and so the idea of jumping off a boat in the middle of a coral reef even makes me take pause if I stop to think too much about it. But I was so proud of the kids for jumping in and trying something that scared them a little bit. It pushed all of us to try something new and we had a blast!
To read about Day One of our Florida Keys trip, click here.
To read about Day Two of our Florida Keys trip, click here.
To read my restaurant reviews for our Florida Keys trip, click here.