When I knew I was heading down to Florida for a winter getaway, I knew that snorkelling Key West was high up there on my list of things I wanted to do! There are several different companies offering all sorts of snorkel trips but I opted to go with Fury!
Disclosure: I was provided with a VIP press pass which gave me discounted or complimentary tours while in Key West. I personally chose Fury from the list and all opinions are my own.
I love the water but ironically I’m not the best when it comes to boats. But I’ve found over the years that I do better on catamaran boats than I do on regular boats. They usually give a smoother ride and lessen my sea-sickness. (HOWEVER I do still opt to sit outside with the breeze smacking me in the face, rather than sit inside and risk seeing the horizon bob up and down through a window, catamaran or no catamaran!). So the fact that Fury ran a fleet of catamarans was a big deciding factor!
I was also a little pushed for time and they had a wide range of tours and departure times which slotted in perfectly with my schedule!
Snorkelling Key West
I was debating between a sunset snorkelling tour and the double dip option. In the end I knocked the sunset tour on the head because I wanted to see the sunset as part of the Mallory Square sunset celebration (which I still ended up missing because I was on the Conch Tour Train!), so went for the morning 3 hour double dip cruise.
Now, snorkelling is very much an activity that can be affected by the weather and certain conditions. Not only in the sense of things like rain, but then visibility of the water can change thanks to adverse conditions.
Key West is actually one of the closest points to North America’s only coral reef. It sits 7 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean. I was excited that I’d be able to tick this reef off my list having visited the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the 2nd largest reef in the world in Belize.
But unfortunately conditions weren’t on my side, the wind had been really bad all week and had churned the water up around the reef making visibility almost next to nothing. The captain was totally honest with us and gave us the opportunity to rebook onto another tour for free, or still take the trip but visit a different reef 7 miles into the Gulf of Mexico which had slightly better visibility (12m).
I was sad to miss out on seeing ‘North America’s only living coral reef’ but it’s one of those things that you have to expect when you’re pushed for time and plans aren’t very flexible. So off into the Gulf of Mexico we went!
The journey to the reef takes around 45 minutes. The staff on board run through a bunch of rules and tips during this time and tell you how to set up the gear. The cost of the trip includes all snorkel gear:
- Mask & snorkel
- Life vest
As it was December we were also offered the use of a wetsuit if we wanted, but I thought the water temperature was perfectly OK without one.
Related Reading: Key West In December: A Winter Sun Getaway in Florida, USA!
I call it a life vest rather than a life jacket as it’s technically ‘flat’…imagine the ones you see during an airplane safety demonstration “don’t inflate the life vest until you are outside of the cabin”. They technically have no buoyancy, they are more so you can be seen in the water as they are BRIGHT orange.
However, I can swim fine, but when I snorkel, I like to have something that helps me float a little as I find it easier to take photos and videos underwater that way. A couple of puffs into the vest is enough to give you a little bit of buoyancy…too many puffs will have you rolling over and floating on your back so a couple is definitely enough. Those that can’t swim have the option to use full life jackets or pool noodles.
On our sail out, we were really lucky as we came across a couple of dolphins, so the captain stopped for a little bit so we were able to watch them (we couldn’t jump in with them though). It’s always great when you get a ‘free’ dolphin watching tour chucked in for the price!
The Fury catamarans are really cool and is probably one of the best snorkel boats that I’ve been on. You have 2 options for entering the water: jumping off the side (which was my favourite, it’s not a huge drop, I think they said it was around 5 foot), or the ‘Stairway to the Sea’ which gives you really EASY access into and out of the water.
On the day of my snorkel trip, the water was quite choppy and it is a bit of a swim out to the reef area. Compared to other reefs I’ve snorkelled, it was quite ‘quiet’, I didn’t really see much in the form of wildlife. One guy on the trip free dived down deeper and saw a nurse shark (if you visit The Stoned Crab restaurant at the Ibis Bay Beach Resort in Key West, you can join in with free nurse shark feeding twice a day!).
Like I mentioned, snorkelling is one of those things that can be different every time you go. When snorkelling Key West, I saw dolphins on my trip, I could have gone another time and not seen them. Turtles live around Key West, you may or may not see them. The other guy saw a shark. A lot of the time it’s luck if you happen to be in the right place at the right time!
I still had a great time on my trip. The crew were really nice and made us all feel welcome and made the effort to get to know us all. The group we had were with were fun. I just kept going up the steps and jumping in. We had a ‘catch the flip flop’ incident that had fallen over board. It was a very enjoyable morning. We ended up only going to one spot due to the visibility but we were all fine with this.
On the return leg of the journey, after we’d all finished swimming, we were served complimentary beer or wine. Throughout the whole trip though we had access to free water and soft drinks that we could just help ourselves to. I find I get so thirsty when I snorkel…I think I swallow too much sea water…so the soft drinks were definitely much needed!
There are toilets on board the boat and a small indoor area, the rest of the boat is all ‘open air’. There’s nowhere to keep belongings so only really take what you need. A good thing is that the back of the boat stays fairly dry, with people getting in and out up the front end of the boat.
*Tip* Make sure you bring tips for the crew as they aren’t included in the cost of the tour and they do a great job of looking after everyone! Even when I am comp-ed a tour, still I ALWAYS tip.
You can check out Fury’s range of Key West snorkelling tours and other boat trips on the Fury website. You can save 10% if you book online!
Snorkelling in Key West Without a Boat Trip
It is said that the best snorkelling in Key West without going on a boat trip, is at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. I went with the intention of snorkelling, however the current was REALLY strong on the day of my visit. I tried to get out into the water but it was quite rough and I think my snorkel tube would have just filled up with water anyway!
It’s advertised as having really calm water perfect for swimming and snorkelling, I guess I was just unlucky during my visit! I may not have been able to snorkel there, but the beach is still definitely worth checking out!
Is snorkelling Key West on your bucket list?
Disclosure: Thanks again to Fury for the great tour and to The Florida Keys & Key West for the kind hospitality during my stay!
Inspired to go snorkelling in Key West?!
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