The truth about snorkel tours in the Florida Keys, especially in Key West, is: All reef trips are not the same! What may be a dream come true for a college student on spring break could be a virtual nightmare for a couple on their long awaited honeymoon.
Key West is a small island with a lot of people earning a living from tourism. On Duval street, every block has at least one “concierge ” trying to sell you a boat trip. If successful, he will collect 30% of the hard-earned money you pay for that trip and quickly move on to the next opportunity. Its easy money for the concierge but not always a good thing for the customer or the reef. So what do you do?
Local Knowledge is always your most valuable tool in making an informed decision. Unfortunately finding a trusted source of local knowledge can be problematic. Do you trust the booth “concierge” on the street who is getting 30% of the cut? I wouldn’t. Do you believe the kind innkeeper at your Bed&Breakfast when she tells you her favorite? Guest what, she’s getting a kickback too. That leaves very few options except for perhaps a friend or family member who lives in the Keys. Thats where we come in. Although we are naturally biased about our excursions we are also very much interested in attracting informed customers. The best way to guarantee an informed customer is to give them access to local knowledge and thats precisely why we publish useful content instead of distracting you with catch phrases, phony “stock” reef photos, and marketing hype.
Here is what we know:
There are basically three choices for snorkeling excursions in the Florida Keys.
Choice #1 -The “Cattle Boat” Tour
Cattle boats are most popular choice because they are inexpensive and provide free beer. The average cattle boat holds anywhere between 20 and 150 snorkelers and will cost you anywhere between $40 and $95 per person. Cattle boats will take you out to the most popular destinations which are saturated with up to 150,000 snorkelers a year (not so good for the reef). Once there, you will encounter some reef fish, a few patches of live coral, and up to 250 other snorkelers. You will be allowed to snorkel for about 45 minutes, after which time someone will blow a whistle and herd you back to the boat (hence the term cattle boat). If this your idea of a fun time, then by all means enjoy!
Choice #2 – Private Charter
The private charter is a great way to see the reef but can be a bit cost prohibitive, especially if there are less than 4 people. The boats range in size from 28 to 50 feet, and they typically serve good food and beverages. With a little advance knowledge and favorable weather, you can usually persuade your captain to take you to some of the better “locals only” reefs which are really nice. You will experience lots of fish, lots of healthy live coral, and most of all, no crowds kicking you in the face. Some captains and mates will accompany you in the water and, if you’re lucky, will point out some of the really cool reef creatures.
Choice #3 – Namaste Eco Excursions
Of course, we have saved the best for last. Yes, we are heavily biased about our product, but after 9 years of running eco-excursions in Key West, we have good idea of how to do it right. First, unlike the cattle boats, we are not the cheap seats. We provide an excellent experience and must charge accordingly. Also, our business model is based entirely on the merits of sustainable tourism. Our guests share our philosophy and are happy to pay a little extra to insure that their experience is crowd free and the least stressful on themselves as well as the reef. Our small group eco-excursions cost $129 per person, and for that investment you will get a high quality experience that far exceeds anything else available in the Florida Keys. That is the truth. Check out our Facebook posts, Read our TripAdvisor reviews (both good and bad). Better yet, call us directly. Well informed guests are always the best!
Use discount code “reef” for 10% discount
- In water ecology guides that are not happy until you see what all the fuss is about,
- No more than 6 guests per boat, guaranteed!
- Plenty of healthy snacks including fresh fruit, cheeses, and fresh bottled spring water,
- Comfortable and safe destinations that we hand pick for calm conditions, abundant ecology, and few people!
- “One-on-One” in-water instruction for beginners and timid swimmers.
- Both morning and afternoon excursions
All day excursions include a 30 minute ecology presentation of which we are quite proud. Basically, we have condensed 12 years of acquired knowledge into a short presentation complete with antidotal stories, props, and visuals. Its fun, informative, and complements your time with nature.
The best and most colorful reefs we travel to are the secluded offshore barrier reefs. These reefs are anywhere from 4 to 7 miles from our location on Stock Island. Barrier reefs are accessible and safe on calm days (winds less than 15 mph). Near shore destinations feature calmer conditions which makes for easier snorkeling. Near shore excursions tend to favor the smaller patch reefs and mangrove estuaries.
To increase your chances for a offshore experience here are some tips:
- Book with us well in advance (Early planning will go along way to guaranteeing a spot on a offshore trip).
- When booking, pick the earliest date you can go out and leave later dates in reserve in case we need to reschedule.
- If you are planning for the best snorkeling season, then consider May through September
- Know the weather!
The Truth About Weather!
Starting in late April and ending in early October we are blessed with many days of light wind, calm seas and an occasional afternoon thunderstorm. These conditions translate into great coral viewing and comfortable snorkeling conditions. In addition the water temperature is as good as it gets during the summer season.
Starting in late October the weather starts to change and planning offshore snorkel excursions becomes more problematic. Our cold fronts don’t really drop the temperatures too much but they do increase the seas and stir up our normally “Gin Clear” water. For this reason we plan for the passage of theses cold fronts. On days when the wind and seas are higher we absolutely will not put you in at the offshore barrier reefs. Quite honestly, on the rough days, offshore snorkeling is not an experience we would choose for ourselves, much less our paying customers. On the days when offshore conditions are not conducive to a comfortable experience we will opt for our inshore destinations which includes inshore patch reefs, mangrove estuaries (natural fish nurseries), and inshore mangrove lakes.
Our Weather Cancellation Policy
On those unusual days, when the both near shore and offshore conditions are too rough we will give you the following options:
- Reschedule for a better weather day
- Cancel your reservation and provide you with a full refund.
Small Group Excursions- $129 per guest (maximum 6 guests)
Mixed private excursions are well suited for smaller groups. These trips run twice daily with the morning trip beginning at 9:00 and the afternoon trip departing at 2:00 and returning at sunset. Depending on our guest numbers and destinations, we utilize either our 53 foot sailboat, Namaste’, or our 38 foot sailboat, Compass Rose.
Mixed Private Excursion Times:
Departs at 11:00 and returns by 3:00
Private Excursions- $799 (6 guests per boat)
Private excursions are great for guests who like the luxury of their own boat. The private excursions are longer, usually lasting 4 to 5 hours and allows for at least 2 hours in the water. Another big advantage of booking a private excursion is flexible scheduling. Many of our private excursion guests opt for a late afternoon departure, which allows for a nice snorkel followed by a sunset sail. We can accommodate groups up to 6.
All excursions include equipment, instruction, refreshments, fresh fruit, and bottled spring water.
Special Overnight Excursions
Our favorite trip is our weeklong ecology excursions which we limit to educational groups and Boy Scouts. We only book these trips in the late spring and summer months and limit it to 4 trips per season. We can accomodate up to 20 students/scouts and utilized private charter boats with our own captains and ecology guides. This trip usualy averages between $950 to $1100 per person.
What makes us so special:
We are very proud of our excursions and give 150% to all our guests. We are self-admitted “reef geeks” and proud of it. We love sharing our passion, and if authentic coral discovery is your thing, then we certaintly have just the trip for you.
We specialize in accommodating novices and are very adept with folks who may be a little skittish with the challenge of aquatic adventures. We customize each trip based on what we see and hear from you.
We never put anyone out in bad conditions. If the weather is not right for a trip, we work with you and plan around your schedule, so that you see the reef on an optimal day. For us, the bottom line is not the money in our pockets, but the smiles we see at the end of the day.