I used to spend my winters working in Florida (less glamorous than it sounds, believe me) and I’m willing to try almost anything once (unless it involves jumping out of anything or close encounters with carnivorous animals). On a weekend getaway to Key West, my then-boyfriend (now husband) suggested going snorkeling, and despite my initial anxiety about ocean creatures, we had a blast at Looe Key.
The Looe Key Reef Resort and Dive Center is reasonably priced and came highly recommended by our resident Key West expert/friend who lives in the Keys. For $39 per person, you get a half day of snorkeling plus all the equipment that comes with. If forget sunscreen, they also sell biodegradable, reef-friendly sunscreen for only a few bucks (I was 100% convinced I would shell out $20 for an 8-ounce container. Not so!).
The dive center is actually located on Ramrod Key, about a 35-minute drive from Key West proper. We were staying on Summerland Key, so it was a bit shorter from there. It’s super easy to find and is literally right off the highway, so you can’t miss it.
The staff was super helpful and friendly, and we boarded the boat with about a dozen or so other people. Based on my first snorkeling experience, I assumed we would be staying right by the shore. I thought that was the only place you could go snorkeling – going further out was clearly for scuba diving and advanced people far beyond my bravery level.
I didn’t realize we were legitimately going out into the ocean. Quickly, the shoreline disappeared as we motored into open water. Coupled with the fact that our boat captain told us we would see “anything and everything” (read: sharks), by the time we stopped at our first dive site I was starting to worry I was getting in over my head.
I reminded myself that thousands of idiots go snorkeling every year, and silenced the anxiety devil on my shoulder. I hopped in the water with only a sliiiight death grip on Billy’s hand. As soon as I looked underwater (again, no experience necessary – put on the mask, the fins, keep the tube above water, and breathe) I knew this adventure was going to be worth it.
Unfortunately, I have no pictures of the thousands of beautiful tropical fish we saw amongst the coral reef, so you’ll have to take my word for it that they were there. They have a professional photographer that follows you around, but I quickly discovered I looked much less graceful underwater than I imagined. We didn’t get any photos.
We saw a ton of different fish, including a goliath grouper that scared the pants off of me. They weigh about 200 pounds, and this one was particularly friendly and kept trying to swim at my face.
And yes, we saw a shark.
A small-ish blacktip shark that was very far away and not swimming at me. Thanks to the herd mentality, I remained calm and could actually enjoy the fact that I was seeing this incredibly cool creature. It’s amazing what happens when you’re in a group of other people that are all dying to see a shark.
The staff at Looe Key is awesome and have the sense of humor that comes with running a touristy business. We had everyone from experienced scuba divers to extremely stupid spring breakers on our boat, and we all had a blast. Except for the one spring breaker who got horrifically seasick, which was actually awesome because he wasn’t barfing, just sick enough that he stopped talking, which is what everyone really wanted.
For the perpetually hungry, like myself, there were snacks on the boat and our captain even grilled up some hot dogs. You have to pay for lunch, but the captain just keeps a tab and charges your card when you get back, which is super convenient. After lunch, we motored around to another destination for more diving, before circling around a shallower area to look for sea turtles.
For completing your dive, you also get a drink ticket to the oh-so-Floridian tiki bar back on dry land. Delicious tropical drinks, excellent adventuring, and plenty of sunshine – what more could you ask for?
Answer: this hat.