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Local Experts' 10 Best Scuba Diving & Snorkeling



The Florida Keys are home to the only living barrier reef in the United States – meaning the reefs are found in the deeper waters further from the shore. They are abundant with marine life including hogfish, butterfly fish, blue tang, snapper, swordfish, and barracuda – not to mention some gnarly species of coral. Since the reefs are so far off the coast, you’re going to have to make a day of it on one of Key West’s copious snorkeling excursions. While many opt to join the masses on a catamaran for a booze and snorkeling trip, we recommend catching a ride on smaller vessels that offer a more personalized experience.  Divers also flock to the area to explore the Vandenberg and other modern shipwrecks and Spanish galleons, some of which the famous treasure hunter, Mel Fisher, made his fortune on. Adventure Watersports and Dive Key West are just two of the many outfits that offer dive trips. Here is our list of 10Best scuba diving and snorkeling companies to help you plan your underwater venture.


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Sebago Watersports
Photo courtesy of Schooner Appledore II


Sebago Watersports has it all: jet skiing, snorkeling, fishing, and kayaking – among other water adventures. The company also partners with the Schooner Appledore II, a traditional sailing vessel built by the Harvey Gamage Shipyard in South Bristol, Maine. From November through mid May the Appledore II is located in Key West, where it sails on day itineraries as well as its "Tall Ships and Tapas" sunset cruise featuring menu items like duck empanadas, crab sliders, Moroccan beef tenderloins, and some fruity sangria.

Local Expert tip: When the Appledore II leaves for Maine in May, Sebago continues to offer day cruises on its catamaran.

Read more about Sebago Watersports →




Danger Charters specializes in sunset cruises, including their signature Wind and Wine cruise. As the sun slips below the horizon, eight different fine wines, a selection of cheese, fresh fruits, beer, and hors d'oeuvres are served aboard the Danger Prize, a 65-foot schooner. The company also offers half and full-day snorkeling and kayak trips that are equally as memorable, plus a 10 percent discount for returning customers. Half-day tours include snacks and equipment and full day snorkeling also bundles a picnic lunch.

Local Expert tip: If you opt to book both tours in one day, go for the half-day tour. Several hours on the water can be exhausting by the time sunset rolls around.

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Kayak Kings of Key West
Photo courtesy of Amber Nolan


Kayak Kings is a new venture by a veteran kayak guide, Alec James. Trips are offered for every skill level that include a combination of snorkeling and kayaking some of Key West's remote areas and ship wrecks. AJ also customizes tours including longer, "off-the-path" trips to Cayo Agua and beyond. Safety is the primary concern with this company, and its enthusiastic owner works tirelessly to ensure guests have a wonderful experience.

Local Expert tip: Ask AJ about his kayaking trip to Loggerhead Key, and you'll get an idea how much he loves the sport.

Read more about Kayak Kings of Key West →


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One of Florida's best kept secrets are the Dry Tortugas, a series of remote islands accessible by seaplane, private boat, or the Yankee Freedom II, a high-speed catamaran that departs from Key West. The Dry Tortugas are a protected national park with crystal-clear waters, spellbinding coral reefs, and the curious Fort Jefferson, which doubled as a prison during the Civil War. Tickets include the 70-mile, round-trip ride, breakfast and lunch, snorkeling rentals, and a 40-minute tour of Fort Jefferson on Garden Key. On board the vessel, guests will find amenities such as a galley, cash bar, air conditioning, cushioned seats, restrooms, and a souvenir shop.

Local Expert tip: The ride can be rough for those prone to sea sickness.

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This company offers both fishing and diving charters, including trips to the pristine Marquesa Keys, a doughnut-shaped chain 25 miles west of Key West that consists of 10 uninhabited islands that are the only natural atoll in the Western Hemisphere. With numerous unmarked shipwrecks and clear waters, the diving here is nonpareil. Adventure Watersports Charter brings divers on a 10-hour day trip that includes four dives and lunch.

Local Expert tip: Don't be surprised if you spot Cuban refugee boats on the shores of the Marquesas. There are frequent landings on the islands.

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Dive Key West
Photo courtesy of Dive Key West


This reputable dive operator has been in the business for 40 years and is Key West's largest professional diving center. They offer scuba school with certifications in four or five days, as well as refresher courses if it has been a while. Beginners can dive numerous outer reefs or Joe's Tugboat, while advance divers can check out the Cayman Salvage Master and the impressive Vandenberg wreck – the 520 ft. long steel hulled and missile tracking ship. Day and night dives are available.

Local Expert tip: Guests of the Southernmost Hotel Collection and the Hilton Double Tree receive additional savings on their dive package.

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Captain's Corner
Photo courtesy of Captain's Corner/Rob


This PADI gold 5-star diving facility offers on-site pool and classroom for basic scuba certifications and advanced technical diving. The 60-foot Sea Eagle is an aluminum dive boat that was featured in the James Bond film "License to Kill." The center offers snorkeling trips, night dives, and day dives to most major sites, including the Vandenberg wreck. Exclusive trips are available to the Henrietta Marie, a merchant slave ship that sank in 1700 en route from Jamaica.

Local Expert tip: If you do dive the Henrietta Marie, be sure to check out the Mel Fisher Museum which displays the artifacts that were discovered from the shipwreck.

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Floridays
Photo courtesy of Floridays


A trip on Floridays includes an hour of snorkeling at the reef with a two-hour ride (there and back) on a gorgeous, intimate sailboat. Free beer, wine, and sodas are included on the day trips, and during their sunset sails champagne and margaritas are also bundled in the price. The crew is very informative and tells patrons exactly what to expect of the water conditions. Floridays is located at the Hyatt Resort Hotel, so the front desk can assist with your snorkeling reservation.

Local Expert tip: Thanks to the partnership with the Hyatt, you can also snag some great specials at their bar and restaurant as well.

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Lost Reef Adventures
Photo courtesy of Lost Reef Adventures


Unlike some of the other snorkeling trips, Lost Reef gives guests two full hours of snorkeling at two different coral reefs. One day scuba dive "sample" courses, as well as more advance reef and wreck dives are offered as well. If the seas are rough during the dive, the staff will poll the divers and give them the option of diving or not. Up to 16 divers can travel on their 40-foot custom boat and a smaller, 26-foot vessel ferries parties of four to more remote sites east and west of the island.

Local Expert tip: If you visit during the winter, be aware that it is also the windy season and seas can be rough from time to time. Bring Dramamine.

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Captain Seaweed
Photo courtesy of Captain Seaweed


Captain Seaweed, the owner's slightly spoiled dog, rides along on some dolphin-spotting voyages and will jump in and swim alongside these marine mammals. The owner, Donna, believes that Seaweed is convinced that these trips are "made for her" and that travelers just come along. Excursions combine snorkeling in the backwaters of Key West, dolphin watching, and eco-tours in the mangroves plus snacks on board the vessel "Bite Me."

Local Expert tip: Full charters area also available.

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Meet Amber Nolan

Originally from upstate New York, this restless traveler has a knack for befriending interesting characters. You can usually find her just about anywhere that has a hammock. Amber's favorite...  More About Amber

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