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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.
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 website: The 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.
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
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:
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!
Leana is the 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.