Key West Snorkeling Tip #4: Plan ahead and shop around!
I am about to give you some inside information that will give you a lot of insight into the charter boat industry in Key West. This insight will save you money and get you hooked up with the very best charter to make your vacation here an experience of a lifetime.
To give you some perspective, please allow me to take you back in time to Key West circa 1987. That’s the year I first showed up here as crew aboard a 35 foot catamaran named Troa’. The waterfront then was a collection of shrimp boats and mom & pop chaterboats all working with each other, sharing the abundance of a new tourist economy and most importantly, insuring high quality Key West snorkeling trips .
You got to walk up to the boats and actually talk to the owners. You got invited on your perspective charterboat and saw for yourself what you were getting. If that boat happened to be booked, you got an honest recommendation, knowing it was not tainted by the promise of an outside commission.
Hotel concierges were usually the owners and gave you honest referrals that were based on familiarity and reputation verses a kickback from a corporate charterboat. Duval street was a place ot get a good buzz but not a place to book a charter. Why would you go to a bar to be on the water? Back then if you wanted to take a trip on a boat, you would go to where the boats were. Alas, I reminisce a bit much of days gone by, so let’s deal with the present.
Here is how it works today. Let’s say you arrive in town and want to be spontaneous. You deliberately avoided the Internet and are willing to allow the experience to gain it’s own direction. You head to Duval St., ready to get your ya-ya on, and a voice from the street corner blurts out, “Are you lookin to get out on the water?” You look around, unsure where the voice came from because there is not just one voice; there are hundreds, all asking the same rhetorical question. There is a saying in Key West: if you are unsure where to find a concierge just spit up in the air, and it will land on one.
The modern Key West concierge is the by-product of basically one or two big charter companies whose primary directive is to separate the average tourist from his or her hard earned tourist dollar. The modern Key West concierge is generally a local with the best of intentions, caught between giving the customer quality vacation advice or earning 20 to 30% commission on approved “white list” charters.
What constitutes a “white list” charter? Well, if your boat is one of the two big charter companies, you’re in. If you are a small company and agree to give 30% of your profit to the larger company plus the customary impact fee of $250/month, you may be on the “white list”, that is of course, if you are willing to accept your place in the pecking order.
Staying at a B&B? You may ask your innkeeper about the best charter, but be advised that they are in the same boat with the street concierges. The big boys have gotten to them, too. I can’t blame the innkeepers. They can certainly use the extra dough, but you, the trusting tourist, may be getting the concierge’s ”spliff” of the day (not the Jamaican kind) instead of the trip you dreamed of.
Well, I think you get the point. Now what can you do to insure you get what you pay for? First, just like I did in 1987, go to the waterfront, get off the beaten path. Look at the boats you are interested in and talk to the crew, the owners, or anyone that looks like they can tolerate a hot day on the water. When you find the perfect charter, ask to speak directly with the owner or captain. They may not be able to book the trip, but they will give you the correct advice on who to book through. This alone can save you s0me money, because most boat owners would rather negotiate a 10 to 30% deal with our customers than pay out commissions to our competitors. Second, if you are so inclined, trust the social network. Look on Facebook and Tripadvisor. Read what is being said by people like yourselves.
Hope this helps! See you on the waterfront!
Thanks for reading, J&T