It’s a dive trip – but not as you know it!
Finding a great dive destination that we can travel to whilst the World is still in the grips of the COVID pandemic is like trying to catch flies with chopsticks, but we keep trying! Our latest exploration came about from looking at rules and regulations, evaluating them all, making plans, changing them, until finally, we came up with a place that we could go dive that we hadn’t been to before.
Being married to a US Citizen meant that I could enter the USA and having a family house to sell meant that I could also leave the UK, so Florida was on the cards. I had some preconceptions about diving in Florida – I didn’t expect it to be amazing but was so fed up with diving in the fishpond and bathtub that I was of the opinion that anything would do.
How very wrong I was!
Let me open this prose with one fact, to be substantiated later – the diving I experienced in Florida was top notch. I don’t remember surfacing once without a huge smile of my face, and I can also say that I experienced two ‘dives of a lifetime’. Having logged over 2500 dives, this is really saying something!
Now dear readers, I must tell you that this trip was very different to any other trip I have done before. No beach resort, no all-inclusive hotel, no live-aboard leg, and very little of the normal relaxing on the beach in the surface intervals. This was a 100mph experience from start to finish……….
FLORIDA : FLY-DRIVE-DIVE : KEY LARGO
Arriving at Miami International Airport is always an experience – this place is busy with a capital B. Collecting baggage, through the lengthy immigration queues and on to the car rental stations was just the start.
Our intended FLY-DRIVE-DIVE package has divers exploring the Florida coastline from Jupiter in the North to Key Largo in the South, and for me, leaving Miami and heading south to the Keys was the plan.
A quick one-hour road trip through the metropolis of Miami and the edge of the Everglades National Park had us arriving in the beautiful Key Largo, checking in at the Holiday Inn in time for dinner. Neat and tidy rooms, plenty of space, coffee machine and fridge, plus hairdryer and air-conditioning and a choice of pillows – perfect!
Some very windy weather forced the local dive operators to cancel a few days of diving, so we took the opportunity to explore the area. Key Largo – a beautiful place. Only half a mile wide at its widest point, this is the longest of over 800 keys, separated by some 42 bridges! On both sides, the island is dotted with marinas, boat ramps, bars and restaurants, and whilst it is very much a beach town, there is no lack of facilities – if you forget to bring anything, you can get it here! Dive shops (some of warehouse proportions) are everywhere.
Apart from dive gear shopping, visiting the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and chilling by the pool, you must take in the sunsets. We found the aptly named Sundowners on the West side of the Key, and sat on the deck right by the water, catching the most spectacular sunset, whilst enjoying an amazing cocktail or two. And for food lovers, there is no better place in our opinion than the marina-side Sharkeys Sharkbite Grill. We ate here at least 8 times in 6 days it was that good – the BEST fresh grouper and beer boiled shrimp ever! Accompanied by cold beers and live music in the evenings, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Once the wind moved on, we scheduled five days diving in Key Largo, utilising the services of two different operators. Rainbow Reef Divers, one of the biggest operations we have experienced globally and with eight large dive boats, looked after us well for a couple of days. We also scheduled a day of diving with Sea Dwellers. Sea Dwellers are a smaller operator, with two excellent dive boats, and their attention to detail, customer service and quality dive briefings were all excellent. The more personal service they provided was something that we preferred. Both operations were within walking distance of our hotel, and this made humping gear a far lesser chore.
The diving was, quite simply, excellent. Warm and clear waters, enough current to drift properly, and plenty of nooks and crannies to drop into to explore find life to photograph. The reefs here are super-healthy, packed to the surface with marine life, and we saw sharks, turtles, grouper, spadefish, morays, tuna, dolphins to name but a few. Critters galore too – shrimp, crabs, slipper lobsters and the snake-like gold spot morays. Then, there were the wrecks!
There are over 1,000 wrecks of the coast of the Keys, but Key Largo has probably the best – with the Benwood (a phenomenal night dive too), USCG Duane, USCGC Bibb and of course, the largest deliberately sunk wreck in the World, the 160m long USS Spiegel Grove. Sunk in 2002, she is suitable for recreational divers at a depth of 25m to her decks, but technical, extended range and of course side mount and twinset divers are well catered for, as are CCR divers.
We left Key Largo swearing a blood-oath to come back, and soon, and drove up Route 1 towards our next destination, West Palm Beach, full of anticipation, but with a little sadness too – Key Largo is a place that we would go to again and again.
Stay tuned for the next leg of our Fly Drive Dive tour of Florida but in the meantime check out some of our favourite images from Key Largo:
Key facts :
Getting there : This was part of our Fly Drive Dive itinerary, but Key Largo is a destination we would suggest on its own. Nonstop flights to Miami or Orlando are available daily with several car rental companies to choose from based on your needs.
Air temperature : In the spring and summer expect highs of 26 to 32 with milder temperatures in the winter. Rain is more likely June through September.
Water temperature : An average of 25 in the cooler months and 29 in the summer
Visa requirements : An ESTA is required to visit the USA. Currently an ESTA costs $14.00 and is valid for multiple trips for a two-year period. Application can be completed online at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/
Currency : US Dollar with ATM easily found and all major credit cards accepted.
Electricity : 120V with 2 and 3 prong plugs.
Accommodation : Holiday Inn Key Largo. This hotel is just steps away from the Marina and the boats of both Rainbow Reef and Sea Dwellers. And even more importantly Diver's Warehouse is across the street - convenient for divers yet inconvenient for the wallet!
Diving : Rainbow Reef Dive Center has a fleet of 8 boats that offer both morning and afternoon 2 tank charters. Their online calendar makes it simple to pick the dive sites that interest you.
Sea Dwellers offers both morning and afternoon charters in addition to night dives. And once a month they offer a dive or snorkel in collaboration with the Coral Restoration Foundation. Get some training in the morning with diving in the afternoon returning corals to the Carysfort Coral Nursery. How cool is that?!?!
Price Guide : from £1995pp for 7 nights in Key Largo with a 10 dive package, car rental and return flights and from £3695pp for our complete Fly Drive Dive 14 night package with diving in Key Largo, Palm Beach and Jupiter, accommodation, car rental and return flights.
Favourite Dive Sites : Molasses Reef, Hole in the Wall, Christ Statue, French Reef
Favourite Spots : Divers Direct Warehouse! John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Publix, Sharkeys Sharkbite Grill, Sundowner's
Check our website for more information on diving in Florida
Come Dive with Us!