Thinking about combining a cruise from Miami with a relaxing pre- or post-cruise getaway? Head to the nearby Florida Keys. This lovely chain of islands is known for its tropical kitsch, nature-oriented attractions and ecotours, expansive coral reef for snorkeling and diving, soft adventure opportunities, and historic sites.
If you’re planning to vacation in the Florida Keys before or after your cruise, here are five great things to do:
1. Sail Away on a Catamaran. Catamaran cruises are a relaxing way to spend the day and get a close-up view of the Keys’ spectacular nearby reef and crystal blue waters. These ultra-stable, roomy boats take guests out to North America's only living coral reef. Here, you'll have the opportunity to go snorkeling with tropical fish or lazing on the deck soaking up the sun. Operators such as Sundance Watersports at Hawks Cay Resort offer sunset sails as well.
2. Take A Hike. Those who love nature should plan to spend a few hours hiking the many nature trails at Crane Point Hammock in Marathon. Spanning sixty-three acres and owned by the Florida Keys Land and Sea Trust, Crane Point features the Museum of Natural History and Nature Center, a gift shop, miles of hiking trails, a Butterfly Garden, Adderley House – the oldest abode outside of Key West, and the Marathon Wild Bird Center. Since its founding, this organization has rehabilitated and released over 6,000 sick or injured wild birds including hawks, ospreys, pelicans and cormorants.
3. Sample Delicious Key Lime Pie. Key Lime Pie is Florida's official dessert, so make sure to try some while you’re here. Ma’s Fish Camp in Islamorada serves some of the best key lime pie with meringue in the Florida Keys. Their fresh fish tacos and Mahi-Mahi sandwiches are superb, too. If you’d prefer your key lime pie without any meringue, make sure to stop at Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen in Key Largo. Lobster lovers should plan to drop by Keys Fisheries in Marathon to sample their key lime pie along with a delicious lobster reuben. It’s scrumptious and truly unique.
4. Visit the Sea Turtles. Located at Mile Marker 48.5, the Turtle Hospital in Marathon rescues, rehabilitates and releases sea turtles. In conjunction with the University of Florida, the Turtle Hospital also conducts turtle disease-related research as well. Ninety-minute guided tours of this fascinating facility are available several times each day. At the end of the educational tours, guests are invited to feed the Turtle Hospital’s residents. These tours are very popular and advance reservations are strongly advised.
5. Paddle Through the Mangroves. Kayaking around the Keys’ mangrove islands and shallow flats is a popular backcountry adventure. Participants can kayak at a relaxed, comfortable pace and learn more about the wildlife inhabiting this area. Tour operators provide information on this unique environment as you kayak through the Keys’ tranquil waters. Companies such as Sundance Watersports and Bill Keogh of Big Pine Kayak Adventures offers a variety of outings that work well for just about any age group. Make sure to bring a waterproof camera for taking pictures.