First stop was Crystal River, to go snorkeling with manatees (actual manatee not shown). Manatees spend the winter here because the water temperature stays nearly constant due to the springs. However, they mostly left the week before we got there, so we only saw one…and the water was a bit murky.
Pro-Tip: The manatees leave Crystal River as soon as the sea-water becomes warmer than the spring water. We went around March 15 and it was really too late.
Next stop was the Everglades and Big Cypress. We got lucky and spotted a manatee here in a canal in the Everglades. This is about how it looked while snorkeling, by the way: a big blurry blob.
We took a guided kayak tour of the mangrove forest in the Everglades. This is a series of open lakes and mangrove tunnels. Our guide was named Steve, no relation to Steve Irwin, as far as I know.
We took a tram ride in Shark Valley, which is part of the Everglades National Park. This is a pic of a salt-water crocodile: it turns out that the Everglades is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles both live. In case you were only worried about one or the other.
This is a mama gator who is protecting a baby which you can kind of see in the lower right of the pic. She’s got her mouth open as a warning, which didn’t stop tourists from walking RIGHT UP TO HER and snapping pics (I zoomed in, I’m not stupid)
You’ll probably have to go through Miami. But watch out for traffic!
We spent two nights in Islamorada. But we had no time to just lie around like this! We took a boat out to Alligator Reef (alligators not included) to go snorkeling. We went out by that lighthouse. The water was beautiful.
Islamorada is also home to Theater of the Sea. They have several little shows on their tour, including dolphins.
Then we went to Marathon, which is home of the Turtle Hospital. They rescue and rehabilitate, and often release, sea turtles who are stranded, sick, or injured. Marathon is also home to the Dolphin Research Center, where you can get in the water and interact with dolphins.
Key West has a sunset celebration every night, at Mallory Square Dock. This is a great place to visit in general, having lots of shops and restaurants nearby. The square itself will have street performers and vendors in the hours leading up to the celebration.
Pro-Tip: Parking is scarce. If you can, arrive early and you might find some street parking.
Our last stop was Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park. The Dry Tortugas are about 70 miles west of Key West. There’s a daily ferry ride out and back. The Army built a fort here in the 19th century to help protect the shipping lanes. Its biggest claim to fame is probably that Dr. Mudd (who set John Wilkes Booth’s leg, which he broke leaping from Lincoln’s box after the assassination) was a prisoner here for about four years. Mudd actually received a life sentence but was pardoned in 1869, in part for his work while a prison here, treating victims of yellow fever.