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Florida Keys: Family-Friendly Activities that Won’t Break the Bank

I’m going to warn you right now, this post contains MANY photos. It’s a giant slideshow, so if you hate those, come back tomorrow. But I wanted to share some of our pictures because I think it’s the best way to convey what Florida Keys area is all about. It’s a place where people are laid back and life is relatively simple.

Family-friendly Activities in the Florida Keys

It’s a beautiful spot that every American family should visit at least once. If you are on a budget, you can just drive here. I promise, it’s half the fun! Weather-wise, the best time to go is November through April, which makes it an ideal Spring Break destination.

I’ve been wanting to take my mom to Florida Keys for a long time, and I finally made it happen last November. We spent five nights at Ocean Pointe Suites Key Largo. You can read my review of the resort (loosely used term) and decide if it’s the right fit for your family vacation. To us, being based in Key Largo was ideal, but you may want to stay closer to Key West. It just depends on your plans. Check Awardmapper for various hotel points redemption options in the area.

There is a ton to do in the Keys area, and you can see the listings of all the activities and tours on this Trip Advisor page. We are a family on a budget, plus we had to cover my mom’s expenses in addition to our own. This is why I looked for value, something cheap yet cheerful.

John Pennencamp Coral Reef State Park 

If you can  afford only one activity in Florida Keys, make it this one, especially if you’ve never seen coral reefs before. From the websiteThe first undersea park in the U.S., John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park encompasses approximately 70 nautical square miles. While the mangrove swamps and tropical hammocks in the park’s upland areas offer visitors a unique experience, it is the coral reefs and their associated marine life that bring most visitors to the park.

I wholeheartedly recommend the glass bottom boat tour of the reef, which runs several times per day. At $24 per adult ($17 per child), it’s a real bargain. If you go on early morning tour, you’ll get $5 off per person with coupon from the website. Be aware, if they don’t sell enough tickets, they’ll put you on a later tour, but you’ll still get your $5 off. That’s what happened to us. Winning!

We saw a shark, giant turtle and manta ray, not to mention, colorful coral reefs. It’s something you just have to see in person. Neither  mom  or I are divers (my husband used to dive), so this is the next best thing. You can view many photos on TripAdvisor. Unfortunately, most of ours didn’t turn out that good. 

The picture doesn’t do it justice
You better like your neighbors!

After the tour, we walked around the area and just enjoyed the scenery. Fortunately, the weather was great that day.

They have  a small beach area, but there are many sharp rocks. I recommend you bring water shoes.

There are picnic tables where you can enjoy lunch. They do sell food on premises, but it’s a bit expensive.

This state park and boat tour represent terrific value for your hard-earned cash. Plus, where else in Continental US can you see coral reefs? Just go there, you won’t regret it.

Overseas Highway and Key West

Overseas highway is an attraction in its own right and it’s free! Well, aside from gas, of course. There are several lookout points where you can  relax and take pictures of the beautiful water and surrounding islands. We drove to Key West from our resort in Key Largo. It took a little over two hours (with short stops) to reach historic center.

I absolutely love Key West! If you stay in Florida Keys, you MUST visit it. It has a colorful and quirky history, and the residents are that way too. Be aware, some areas of Key West are not family-friendly (obscene t-shirts etc.), but the historic center is usually fine.

I love  walking the streets of Key West

There are several trolleys that will take you around the island

How would you like to go diving while wearing this?

My mom had to try on the helmet as well

The view from the tower of Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum. I believe it’s Westin resort located on a private island. And no, you probably can’t afford it (via cash or points).

Sunset celebration on Mallory square. My mom said it reminded her of Arbat street in Moscow due to various street artists’ performances

Goodbye Key West and thanks for the memories!

Theater of the Sea

I was surprised by how much I liked this park. I went there because I have young kids and it looked like something they would enjoy. But I enjoyed it as well! If I had to describe it in few words, it would be  “poor man’s Sea World.” It feels like a mom-and-pop operation, and there is a good reason for that. Established in 1946 by the P.F. McKenney family, Theater of the Sea is one of the oldest marine mammal facilities in the world. The McKenney family still owns and operates the park today.

From the website: “Theater of the Sea is home to many animals that have been rescued, rehabilitated, and deemed non-releasable for a variety of reasons. This includes dolphins, sea lions, sea turtles, crocodilians and raptors. These animals often require specialized long-term care and treatment that is funded through patronage alone.” You can read individual stories here.

The park covers a small area, but there are no crowds. I wouldn’t say it’s a must-visit attraction, but if you can afford it, I absolutely recommend it. Theater of the sea is located in Islamorada (just a short drive from Key Largo), and the cost is $22.95 (plus tax) for ages 3-10 and $33.95 for ages 11 and over. I think it’s a reasonable price, all things considered. They do offer discounts to various groups, military members get 50% off. The park also offers animal interaction programs, but they cost a fortune.

There are several shows per day where you can see dolphins, sea lions etc.

One of the performances was set to a song by Alessia Cara “Wild things” which was a good fit. Find me where the wild things are…

My daughter got to kiss a dolphin!

There is a relaxing boat ride with an added benefit of dolphins jumping out of the water

Lagoon with sea turtles

The park has many paths with a variety of plants

Gorgeous flower

No, you are not in the Caribbean

They have certain spots where you can pose with parrots and take your own picture for a small fee ($5 per photo, I think?)

Both of my kids loved posing with birds

There is a small “beach” area where children can splash and feed colorful fish while parents are relaxing in a tiki hut. The water was a bit murky, but it didn’t stop my kids from getting in the water.

Overall, I think it’s an enjoyable park and a place I recommend to families with small kids. If you have teens, they will probably be bored. There are no thrilling rides like those you would find at Sea World, but my kids didn’t mind it one bit.

Miles and Points Angle

You can, of course, just use good ol’ cash to pay for the tours. There are a variety of bonuses to choose from, check my page here I’m not certain if all these activities will code as travel, but they might. If that’s the case, using sign-up bonus from Barclaycard Arrival Plus might be a good option.

If you happen to have a premium Chase credit card, you can redeem Ultimate Rewards points toward tours in Key West. And there are many to choose from. If you  have Chase Sapphire Reserve, you’ll get 1.5 cents per point, which is terrific. You’ll have to book your activities through this page:

Bottom Line

Florida Keys area is a great destination for families. It’s packed with various activities which will entertain your little ones for days. And the adults will probably have fun, too! I know I did.

Readers, please  share your must-see attractions in Florida Keys!

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Author: Leana

Leana is the owner and founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.

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6 thoughts on “Florida Keys: Family-Friendly Activities that Won’t Break the Bank

  1. We rented a convertible once for the Miami-Key West drive. Highly recommended! Though admittedly that’s a bit tougher to do if you have kids. I’ve done snorkeling boat trips in both Pennekamp and Key West and I recommend both of those as well. Make sure to do the drive during the day (i.e. don’t fly into Miami in the early evening and drive down to get to your Key West hotel by 10 pm), it really is beautiful.

    And if you’ve got some UR points saved up there’s a Category 4 Hyatt Place in Marathon. I haven’t been there but it looks to be a good value (~ $.02/point) during peak season.

    • @Nick A convertible would be an awesome way to drive to Key West! Of course, it’s a bit tough with kids. We took my husband’s Mustang to a resort once and brought the kids with us. Never again! Fights galore and it’s hard to get them out of the vehicle.
      I think that Hyatt can be a good deal, depending on the season. The renewal certs from Hyatt Visa would be a great option. I think the cost in points is a bit high, but free breakfast is a huge plus. Florida Keys area lodging is a bit expensive unless you are willing to stay in mom-and-pop motels along the road. Those can be fun, but quality varies.

  2. We rarely want to do the keys, but are torn on how well that would work for our 8 and 4 year old. I’m glad nick mentioned snorkeling as that tends to be a favorite of ours, though our 4 year old has very limited experience with it. I haven’t gotten the impression it’s a great area for beaches or massive resorts, so Maybe a trip best left for even the kids are older? Definitely would be fun to do some water sports like kayaking if possible.

      • @Cheapblackdad I actually think that your kids would enjoy it at this age. Of course, I don’t know your family personally, but I can say that mine had a blast. Definitely don’t go there for beaches, this is not the draw of the area. But I’ve heard that snorkeling is good, though I haven’t personally done it.
        To me, the biggest appeal is the fact that it’s part of US, so you are not paying exorbitant taxes on airfare like you would to fly to most Caribbean islands. Also, medical care is reliable and water is safe to drink, which is another good reason to take kids while they are small.
        As far as lodging goes, read my post I’ve linked to. There are actually some nice resorts near Marathon. I recommend Hawk’s Cay resort if you can get a good deal. But it does depend on the season. Spring is very expensive, it’s a “supply vs. demand” issue. But that’s true of many tropical places during that season.

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