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Published: March 4th 2012
We drove from Miami Beach down to Key Largo, mainly using the interstates. The GPS system we hired from the car hire company is proving invaluable, at a reasonable rate of $12 per day. The main thing you notice about American Roads are how large they are. There can be up to 5 or 6 lanes, and people stick to them.
We made good time to Key Largo, and found a visitors information centre in the town before Key Largo, known as Redland. They reccommended that as it was presidents day weekend, and all the hotels would be fully booked and if they weren't, would be overcharging, that we try to find a local hotel around there. Luckily, we managed to find a Travelodge motel at a reasonable rate with only a few rooms left.
Once you get out of Miami, keep your eyes open for coupon books. You won't have to look hard, they are everywhere, and you can get loads of money off everything if you use them all.
Once we were settled, we drove down to Key Largo, which is reached by driving along a long interstate road. On one side is water, the other
is the Everglades. It was noticeable that now we were out of Miami, the tours on offer were all now Everglades 'airboat' tours and 'snorkelling' tours - it's obvious people here like to economise!
Key Largo itself is a city (I use city in the American terms - an area, rather than a large British city) located around a central road, which continues to the other islands included in the keys, which end in Key West, about a 3 hour drive.
We went in a few shops (the Shell shop is highly reccomended) and found a place offering snorkelling tours, on a boat named the Sundiver III. We booked our tour and found the location of the boat.
Once we were suited up with wetsuits (optional but I'm a wuss in cold water) we left on the boat, which gave us a brief tour of the Keys and the beautiful houses located there (another 'millionaires row'😉 before going out into the open waters and powering onwards towards the place we were to be snorkelling, known as the 'John Pennekamp State Coral Reef' underwater park.
The snorkelling wasn't great - a lot of the reef was dead
- but the water was clear and it was a nice experience.
The second day, will probably be one of the most memorable days of my life. I booked in to swim with dolphins, at Dolphins Cove (http://www.dolphinscove.com/
) and Dolphins Plus (http://www.dolphinsplus.com/
They are two sister companies which offer different swim programs. First of all, I went to Dolphins Cove for my 'structured swim'. This involved a 45 minute briefing covering information about the dolphins, what we were going to be doing, and some basic safety instructions. After being fitted with a wetsuit, we then proceeded to the water, which was a lagoon type area with several platforms placed around its edge.
The structured swim comprised of touching and stroking the dolphins, handshakes, jumping through hoops, water fights, talking, dorsal fin pulls, foot pushes and the 'superman'. At one time we were joined by another dolphin and it was an amazing experience being so close to, and touching, these magnificent animals. The whole experience lasted about 1 hour in the water and cost $115 - expensive, but worth it. (It was cheaper as it was combined with the afternoon swim).
In the afternoon, I headed
off to Dolphins Plus for my 'natural dolphin swim' which is where you are provided with googles, snorkle and fins, and you swim loose with the dolphins. After another 45 minute briefing where some behaviours which we might expect from the dolphins were explained, we headed to the water, which was two areas off a small canal. We were then allowed to swim loose for an hour with the dolphins, which felt like you were swimming in the wild with them. Every now and again you would get a glimpse, and then suddenly you would have a dolphin (or two) swimming alongside you, wanting to interact with you, and get you to play. I took an underwater camera with me, and I definately recommend you take one.
This experience cost $135, also expensive, but a once in a lifetime opportunity which was definately worth the money.
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