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The 3rd largest living coral reef in the world is located just off the Florida Keys. The reef is a biological wonder filled with tropical fish, coral, reef sharks, dolphins, turtles and much more. It is a "not to be missed Key West experience"!
If traditional monohulled sailing boats are your style, try Floridays , Danger Charters, or Namaste Sailing. Floridays is a Trip Advisor 2013 & 2014 Certificate of Excellence Winner. Both Floridays and Danger are 60 to 72 foot sailboats that take only about eighteen guests, ranging in price from $45.00 -$90.00 per person plus tax. Namaste Sailing is at the higher end of the price range with individual pricing set at $125 per person which is well worth it if small groups is your preference. Also, Namaste Sailing is one of the few reef excursions that will take out parties as small as two guests. Floridays offers shaded comfort and seating under the bimini or stretch out on the deck areas to take advantage of the sun. Floridays swim platform make getting in and out of the water easy and is docked behind the Hyatt hotel right on Front Street in downtown Key West. Floridays offers snorkeling trips twice a day to the reef and champagne sunset cruise every evening. Danger offers kayaking trips to the backcountry and a wine sunset sail each night. Floridays and Danger serve a variety of drinks that are included in the price. Namaste Sailing allows you take up to eight people and provides lots of individual attention, snorkel instruction if necessary, in water snorkel guide, and free underwater photos of you and your guests.
If power boats are your choice you might want to choose Clearly Unique Charters. Their 34ft & 24ft fully shaded power Catamarans are designed for comfort and stability. The power cats are 3 times faster than sailing, which allows them the flexibility to choose the best location for the day and spend more time doing the activities. They typically do combination kayak and snorkeling tour, but also can also arrange snorkel only tours or design a trip with what you have in mind. The 34ft can carry up to 22 passengers but cuts the number off around 16 to keep it comfortable. The 24ft takes only 6 people and is a more private snorkeling tour. The prices range from $75 - $89 per person with private charters negotiable.
Another private snorkel charter company is Fun In The Sun Charters And Boat Rentals. They offer combination trips and give you the ability to customize your day, while having the boat all to yourself. Not only can you choose to snorkel, but you can add other activities such as fishing, relaxing sandbar trips, spearfishing, lobstering, and pretty much anything else you wish. They have very comfortable 24ft & 21ft power deck boats that are well equipped with all the gear you need. Boat and gear are available for rental if you have boating experience and would like to be your own captain while snorkeling, for charters all gear is provided. The duration of their trips are anywhere from 2-8 hours. They go to many of the low boat traffic areas that have an array of undisturbed wildlife to be seen. The charter boat can hold up to 6 people (for larger groups both boats can be used) and the price for their most popular 4 hour half day is $495. The rental boat can hold up to 8 people and the prices are $250+fuel for 4hrs, $380+fuel for up to 8hrs.
Before allowing people to enter the water, the crew members on all of the boats explain how to use the equipment, where to swim to see the best variety of fish and coral formations, and what to do in case there is any kind of problem. They explain what to do while in the water in order not to become too tired while snorkeling, and what not to do in order that visitors do not damage the reef. A few, like Namaste Sailing provide an in water Eco guide to actually take you to the best parts of the reef and point out interesting creatures. They always strike a nice balance between being entertaining and informative. Also, it's nice to know there's an expert close at hand in case you need assistance or just want to ask a question about what you see.
Most of the boats go out three times each day, once in the morning, usually from 9:30 to 12:30, once early in the afternoon, usually from 1:00 to 4:00, and once later in the afternoon for a combination snorkel and sunset sail. These go out at approximately 4:30 or 5:00 and get back at 7:30 or 8:00, depending on the season. Namaste Sailing offers one mixed private trip a day at noon when the sun is highest and visibility is best. If you book a private trip, you get to pick the time, and you might want to schedule a Sunset Snorkel Combo. While you might give up the primo visibility offered by a high noon trip, the price is the same, so you effectively get a bonus Sunset Sail.
You might want to consider sailing on a catamaran that can take up to 120 passengers. They are more stable than single-hulled boats and provide a lot of shade underneath the roof over the passenger area, and you can either stand at the rail or stretch out on the foredeck and enjoy the trip out. They also provide a “stairway to the sea,” a ramp that is let down in the front of the boat and which makes it easier to get into and out of the water. Either the Fury or the Sebago will cost approximately $35.00 - $40.00 per person, plus tax, with a discount for children, and you generally save a few dollars by either booking on-line in advance, by using a coupon, or by visiting a so-called “Bob-in-a-box,” people who sell tickets for various activities from small kiosks on the streets in Key West. Also, Tortuga Sailing Adventures offers up thier 42' private luxury catamaran for all-inclusive, customized, crowd-free trips. Their basic trips last 4 hours. Prices begin at $82pp and includes sailing enroute to a less traveled reef or wreck for snorkeling. They provide all equipment, guideance and are typically in the water with you and thier cameras. Other choices trips are thier sunset dinner sails and crewed multi-day vacation getaways. They offer a wide selection of toys and guests can stay as busy as they want or do absolutely nothing at all. Some favorites are snorkeling, kayaking, SUP, lobstering, fishing, island hopping, sandbar shuffles, dolphin & turtle watching, cocktails & dining and stargazing at night.
If you're a Scuba diver, another consideration is to go out with one of the scuba boats in the afternoon. The price is usually the same no matter which dive outfit you go with. Seaduction Key West (Formerly Subtropic) is a good choice since they have plenty of bottled water and juices for refreshments, or Lost Reef Adventures. Both companies cost between $35-$45, and are hardly ever full, so you get a more personal experience and don't feel like you are on a cattle boat. Also scuba companies go to two different reefs and spend an hour at each reef. Often they are ones that the snorkel only boats don't go to, so you may see some more pristine reefs than EDR, for example, which is suffering really bad from too many swimmers standing on / polluting / and or bumping into the coral. Both companies depart daily at 1:30 PM, and have a 1:00 PM check-in time to secure your spot on the boat, listen to the safety briefings, etc.
And lastly, there are two “All-Day” snorkeling trips. There are the Sebago Island T’ing, and Danger Charters' snorkel / kayak combo. They both go out mid-morning and come back at approximately 4 PM. The trips are significantly different from one another. Sebago is a catamaran and goes to the reef (and provides a "continental breakfast" during the sail, and then give you approximately one hour to snorkel. Danger, on the other hand, is a "Skipjack" sailing schooner, and goes into the Florida Keys National Marine Wildlife Sanctuary to snorkel with staff ecologists amongst the young, developing reef systems. At noon (or so) both companies put out a lunch and drinks. (Sebago's lunch provided by their own in-house catering company, Danger's catered by local gourmet favorite, the Waterfront Market.) Sebago then moves to a mangrove island. while Danger heads deeper into the Sanctuary. The passengers are lead on a kayak trips around the island, where they are told about the formation of the island and its flora and fauna. But remember, if you really like kayaking, you are better off to book a kayak-only eco-tour. You will likely be disappointed by the short amount of time you spend in the kayak and the small area you can explore on one of the "do-it-all" snorkel trips. For more information about kayak tours, visit the Watersports Traveler Article.
Both trips will try to find dolphins on the sail back to Key West. Danger Charters lists the all-day trip for $90.00 per person, the Sebago Island T’ing is $85.00 per person but you can find coupons for this. All plus tax. And two fill up quickly and limit the number of people that they take, so it is highly recommended to book at least a day in advance. The cost is higher for these because of the exclusitivity (18 or so guests, and highly-personalized service, as opposed to upwards of 100 people on the various other trips), and if you were to just go out on a single snorkel trip and have breakfast and lunch in Key West, you will have spent about the same amount.
A few other considerations: One is that if the weather is clear and calm it won’t matter when you go out; conditions at the reef will be good. If there is much wind or there has been rain, go out on an afternoon trip if you can. The captains on the morning trips will have found if conditions at the reef are bad and try to go somewhere else in the afternoon. If you want to try to take underwater photos, also go out in the afternoon. The sun will be at its highest then, and the light will be better than in the morning or late afternoon. And no snorkeling trip can guarantee where they are going. They may even start out for one part of the reef and change to another part on the way out. And you should consider taking a snorkeling trip as early as possible during your vacation. Waiting may cause you to miss a trip because of bad weather or conditions, and if you enjoy one trip early in your vacation you may want to try another during your stay in Key West. Most companies will give you a 10 to 20 % discount for booking any second trip with them.
And there is always the question as to whether or not to pre-book a snorkeling trip. The large catamarans, the Fury and the Sebago, which go out for a two hour morning and afternoon trip hold just over 100 people. These trips almost never fill up, and so you could just walk up a half-hour before departure and take the trip. But for a trip on a smaller boat or on one of the all-day trips it is highly advisable to book at least one day in advance. If you are visiting Key West during the high season or during one of the special weeks, spring break or Hemingway Days, you might even want to pre-book on-line before you leave for your vacation to guarentee places on the boat. This is especially true for Namaste Sailing, Floridays, Danger Charters, Clearly Unique Charters and the Sebago Island T'ing,. If the weather is bad or they do not go out, all of the trips will allow you to re-schedule your trip or give you a refund if you cannot go another day. And pre-booking any trip may allow you to take advantage of a discount.
And remember all of the boats take both a maximum number of passengers and a minimum number. If you do not pre-book, your boat may not be filled up and cancel on the day you want to go, and it is a courtesy to the captain and crew to let them know you are coming.