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Old 06/24/2017, 02:42 PM   #401
DivingTheWorld
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We just got back from a vacation in the Florida Keys and I wanted to contribute our experiences. This thread was absolutely outstanding in providing us with ideas of things to do and where to go. As promised Ron, here's my write up:

On the drive down, we stopped at Robbie's on Islamarada to feed the Tarpon. It was a bit commercial feeling and a tourist trap, but the kids loved it.



We stayed at the Marriott Courtyard on Marathon Key which was a great little hotel. Not necessarily cheap, but I wouldn't call it expensive either. It's a newer hotel with plenty of parking, right on the water next to the Turtle Hospital. In the back is an infinity pool overlooking the ocean with lots of lounge chairs, a nice bar and excellent hotel food. The staff is outstanding and I would consider it a family friendly hotel.

Our first day snorkeling was at Bahia Honda, just south. It was windy that day, so the east side (ideal snorkeling per this thread) was too choppy for my first time snorkelers. We hit Calusa beach on the west side which is very sheltered. There wasn't a lot to see in the water, but we did find a bunch of fish at the north end along the jetty. It had rained A LOT just prior to our visit so the water was a little murky, but the kids had a great time!





We also checked out The Rain Barrel on Islamarada which had some really cool art. We picked up a few things. Man, the lobsters grow BIG down in the keys!



The next day we went snorkeling at the Horseshoe on Spanish Harbor Key. That is really a nice snorkeling area. There were only a couple other people there, super calm water and a lot more to see. There were even some mangroves on the shore where my Dad could lounge in the shade. We found the most interesting areas to be around the mouth which is shallow but lots of small stuff and the South side towards land where most of the fish were found. We saw upside down jellies, angels, tang, parrotfish, damsels, etc. I'd include more pictures but almost none of the underwater ones turned out because the vis was so bad.



My 5 year old decided the best way to snorkel was with one arm around my neck.



Then when she got tired, she just rode on my back.



My 7 year old was much more adventurous though, even holding some of the crabs and urchins I picked up for him.






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Old 06/24/2017, 02:49 PM   #402
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Our third full day in the Keys, we headed down to Key West and hit all the sites, the Conch Train, Hemingway's House, Southernmost Point, Key West Aquarium, etc. It was worth a visit, but I don't think I'd want to be down there for more than a day. Marathon is great and relaxing, Key West not so much.



We did find a cool reef there though.



Our favorite restaurant in the Keys was Lazy Days on Islamarada. It's right on the water and out back they have a pier where you can feed Nurse Sharks and Tarpon. We even saw a Black Tip cruising around. It's much nicer and low key than Robbie's and cheaper. A bag of "bait" is only $2 (gloves included!) and no charge to just look. Lazy Days restaurant is excellent and everything we tried was good.





So that's my write up! Thanks again to Ron for such an awesome thread!


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Old 06/24/2017, 05:11 PM   #403
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Sounds like your kids really enjoyed the vacation.


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Old 06/24/2017, 08:32 PM   #404
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Sounds like your kids really enjoyed the vacation.
Yep, they loved it. This was a good warm up for Hawaii which we've been waiting for them to be good swimmers for. We plan to take them there next year.


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Old 06/26/2017, 03:43 AM   #405
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I'm really glad you guys all had a good time and got to do some snorkeling. And I really appreciate the write up here and all the info. You went to a few place that Elaine and I haven't been to yet. And from your descriptions, it sounds like we should visit.

Does the new Marriott Courtyard have a boat ramp?

We've never been to Lazy Days, so that will absolutely get added to our list of places to visit.

We share your view of Key West vs Marathon. We'll be there for a day before we head out to Ft Jefferson and the Dry Tortugas for a 2 night camping/snorkeling/fort touring/night sky watching trip this Fall.

I love the photo of your son with the urchin. What a great teaching experience!

I'm wondering where you may be going in Hawaii? I was there back in the mid 90's and stayed in Kona on the west side of the big island. They had some very good snorkeling, great weather, something like 9" of rain per year yet just 60 miles to the east, Hilo gets over 300" of rain per year! And the volcano visits were spectacular! You can drive to the top of Mauna Kea at 13,800 feet. Looking to the east and you are above the cloud tops, there are several huge telescopes there and when you look down to the west you can see Kona and all the way to sea level! While I was there in February, Mauna Kea still had some snow on the north face but it was warm enough for just a light jacket. And Mauna Loa was active and pouring lava into the ocean!


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Old 06/26/2017, 08:58 AM   #406
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Does the new Marriott Courtyard have a boat ramp?

We've never been to Lazy Days, so that will absolutely get added to our list of places to visit.

We share your view of Key West vs Marathon. We'll be there for a day before we head out to Ft Jefferson and the Dry Tortugas for a 2 night camping/snorkeling/fort touring/night sky watching trip this Fall.

I love the photo of your son with the urchin. What a great teaching experience!

I'm wondering where you may be going in Hawaii? I was there back in the mid 90's and stayed in Kona on the west side of the big island. They had some very good snorkeling, great weather, something like 9" of rain per year yet just 60 miles to the east, Hilo gets over 300" of rain per year! And the volcano visits were spectacular! You can drive to the top of Mauna Kea at 13,800 feet. Looking to the east and you are above the cloud tops, there are several huge telescopes there and when you look down to the west you can see Kona and all the way to sea level! While I was there in February, Mauna Kea still had some snow on the north face but it was warm enough for just a light jacket. And Mauna Loa was active and pouring lava into the ocean!
There is a ramp next to the Marriott, but I don't think it's for guests. You'd have to call them to know for sure.

There are two Lazy Days, one on Marathon and one on Islamarada. The one on Marathon looked nice, but the one on Islamarada was really special.

I've been to Oahu and Maui a few times. We'll probably take the kids to Maui. It's less busy than Oahu, but still has enough going on to keep the kids occupied. Maui has some of the best shore diving in the Islands and some good snorkeling too. It's also a good jumping off point for diving Molokini and Lanai.


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Old 07/11/2017, 03:49 AM   #407
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Well, we are headed for the Keys next week. I sure hope we have our Zodiac back from it's big repair. I realize it's a week away, but the weather forecasts have been looking pretty good.


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Old 07/12/2017, 12:12 PM   #408
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Very envious of your snorkeling/diving opportunities, Ron. A buddy of mine just moved to Key West a couple years ago and I'm trying to get out there. It's been a few years since I've been able to scratch the coral reef itch. Last time it was Roatan.


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Old 07/12/2017, 02:19 PM   #409
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Anyone want some great snorkeling, it's really hard to beat Key Largo...my dive shop, (I'm a scuba instructor)...is Sea Dwellers Dive Center for those of you with divers...those who are not should try a snorkel only place like Sun Diver.
Why? It's the marine life. While the corals have been taking a beating with the warming waters...the marine life is still excellent. WE hope it continues!https://www.seadwellers.com


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Old 07/13/2017, 03:02 PM   #410
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Very envious of your snorkeling/diving opportunities, Ron. A buddy of mine just moved to Key West a couple years ago and I'm trying to get out there. It's been a few years since I've been able to scratch the coral reef itch. Last time it was Roatan.
I don't dive... but I snorkel as often as I can. And I consider myself really lucky that my wife loves it as much or more than I do! Just getting away to the Keys and being on island time is relaxing. But being face down in 2 to 4 feet of clear warm water puts me in a whole different world!

My wife retires in 2 months, I hope we can go snorkel a few more exotic places in the future.


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Old 07/23/2017, 04:45 AM   #411
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We went to the Keys last week and although the weather was sunny with low winds and flat water, I had some issues that put a real damper on the trip. For the first time in many years (probably 30+ visits to the Keys) I had a death in my collection cooler over night and it killed everything but 2 small zoa frags. I'll get over it, I just wanted others who follow me here to know that sometimes even when things seem to be going really well, crap can still happen. Fortunately I didn't have too many critters as I wasn't trying to collect much this trip. Just a handful of turbo snails, a couple of emerald crabs, a couple of gorgonians, 3 small serpent stars and the big loss for me, the first ever red reef lobster I have ever seen in the Keys. It was so small, maybe 1/2" long, I wanted to see if I could keep it in my shallow local reef.

I'll get over it, but I'm going to start using a bigger cooler with more water to help control the ammonia build up when something bad happens.

Our next trip will be in October, out to the Dry Tortugas (Ft Jefferson) 70 miles west of Key West.

https://www.nps.gov/drto/learn/histo...-jefferson.htm

We intend to camp there for 2 nights. One night to do a night snorkel around the outside of the mote wall that surrounds the fort. No collecting as it is a National Park. The second night to try and photograph the Milky Way as we will be 70 miles away from the lights of Key West.


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Old 07/23/2017, 05:59 PM   #412
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Sorry to hear about the losses, Ron.
Do you know what caused the spike in ammonia?

Looking forward to hearing all about the Tortuga trip!


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Old 07/24/2017, 04:24 AM   #413
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There were two possibilities. One of the gorgonians I collected was completely dead and it's soft tissue was falling off after just 18 hours while the other 2 gorgonians were dead but not falling apart yet. So it may have been at fault. The other, more likely scenario was a medium size queen conch shell I found that was empty. I had just tossed it in the boat while we snorkeled. When we got back to the motel I dropped the shell into the collection bucket to give other critters a place to hide. The next day when I was sorting out who was dead and who was alive, I found a medium size hermit crab with no shell. My guess is he was in the conch shell and I just didn't see it. Then it died on the boat and I later added it back into the collection bucket?

We are looking forward to the Tortugas trip as well. We are going out with 3 other couples from our local aquarium club. I've never snorkeled after dark, but at least 2 of the others have done scuba dives at night, so there is some experience in the group. Elaine and I both have good underwater flashlights and Olympus TG-1 cameras to try and take photos. I recently got a Nikon P900 which is the ultimate super zoom point and shoot camera (83X zoom from 24mm to 2000mm). That's what I'll use to try for Milky Way photos. I'll get to test my photo skills in a month as we are going to Clemson, SC to view (and photograph) the total eclipse on Aug 21st. Clemson is directly in the line of totality which will last 2:37 out of a 2pm to 4pm, start to finish eclipse.


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Old 07/25/2017, 09:08 PM   #414
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Interesting.. sure sucks losing things. Especially when you aren't 100% sure what caused it or didn't realize you did something wrong.

Not sure if your photography is any good, but make sure the wife takes lot's of pictures for us!


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Old 07/26/2017, 04:25 AM   #415
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Not sure if your photography is any good, but make sure the wife takes lot's of pictures for us!
Ha!

She's more artistic than me, but I'm more creative, so I end up pushing her to do photos she wouldn't normally think of and then she makes it 'look' better than I would. My best guess is we'll come home with more than 1000 images, maybe 2000. It's not like we are wasting film, but battery life is an issue. There is no electricity other than at the park rangers living quarters and at the tourist souvenir shop!

We'll take some of the boat ride, a lot of the fort and the islands, some of the Milky Way and probably 50% or more from under water. I just hope some of the under water night shots turn out good.


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Old 07/26/2017, 06:30 AM   #416
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Be careful inside that moat, the last time/only time I was there (2006) there were a TON of longspine urchins in there and they were huge.


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Old 07/27/2017, 05:21 AM   #417
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Be careful inside that moat, the last time/only time I was there (2006) there were a TON of longspine urchins in there and they were huge.
Thanks for the info. Now you have me thinking... and that usually dangerous!

A quick check of the Dry Tortugas website confirms that snorkeling inside the mote is strictly prohibited! Our current plan is to snorkel at night outside along the mote wall. I think the idea is to keep the mote wall in front of us. That way if any 'unwanted' spectators (or hunters) approach from the dark water behind us, we can turn to put the wall at our back and prevent those unwanted 'fish' from getting behind us! And if necessary, we can climb out of the water on the mote wall... maybe? Unless something has a good hold of your leg or arm! I mean like your wife or one of your friends! Actually we aren't too concerned about sharks, but we will take serious precautions.

Also, the American Crocodile that used to be out in the waters near the fort has been relocated. It had started to bother snorkelers.


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