Florida – 05/2017
This park is a place of adventure due to the uniquely limited accessibility, pristine oceanic beauty, and remote location. Located off the tip of the Florida Keys, it is accessible via float plane or boat. Take your children here to cruise across the sea on tranquil turquoise waters while they look for diving sea turtles. Take your family here to explore a 19th century fort, so historically intense you will feel as though you just stepped off a pirate ship. Go to spend hours snorkeling along the fort’s moat wall with barracuda, sting ray, brain coral and many other tropical fish. Take pictures of your children with salty sparkles shining in their hair, and glorious freckles peeking beneath sun kissed smiles. Go here for yourself, to stand upon the deck of the Yankee Freedom Ferry (the most common transport to the island) and feel the wind in your hair, feel young, vibrant, alive and joyful. I am still left in awe over this trip, it was pure magic, almost too beautiful to have been real.
Dehydration and Sea Sickness.
Drink plenty of water the night before your trip, during breakfast, and during the trip. Yes, you will have to journey to the restroom facilities, but you will be in the warm sun for a substantial amount of time. You will also be very active walking around the fort and swimming or snorkeling. Keep track of children’s fluid intake and be sure to push plenty of water among the plentiful on-board soda pop. Dehydration can lead to nausea and be easily mistaken for motion sickness or exacerbate the condition.
Consider motion sickness ahead of time. Motion aboard the Yankee Freedom Ferry can be relatively significant. Our family didn’t experience any trouble, but if you are prone to sea sickness be sure to ask your doctor for recommendations before your trip. Waiting to take motion sickness medication until you are sick is not advised. Some motion sickness medication can make you drowsy. It has been recommended to me to take it the night before. This helps alleviate the drowsiness, but may still reduce motion sickness. Talk to your physician and pediatrician.
Plan to arrive early. If taking the ferry, you will access it via the ferry terminal. When you arrive at the terminal, sit along the west wall to board early as there are no seating assignments. On board, we preferred to sit in the booth like seating area along the windows in the food galley. It offered shade, and quick access to the front of the lower boat deck where we could stand against the rails. It was a thrill to ride the waves and watch for sea life.
Bring your own snorkel gear. This is especially important if you intend your children to actively snorkel. Being familiar with your gear will make ocean time a more comfortable experience. No need to purchase, however, as the ferry does provide free gear. Utilize the buoyancy compensators provided by the Yankee Freedom Ferry if you plan to snorkel for any length of time (especially if you plan to go completely around the moat wall). You will be more comfortable, worry less about your children, and enjoy yourselves significantly better. Even though you are along the wall, you cannot use it as a place of rest due to its height and wave action.
Tour the fort and finish the Junior Ranger Badge, lunch, and then ocean swimming. You will get a bit warm walking around the fort and a nice dip in the ocean before boarding for the return is refreshing. However, watch the time while the kids are finishing their ranger booklets and guide them accordingly so that you have plenty of time to explore the waters. We enjoyed lunch back on board the Yankee Freedom between fort and snorkel activities. Allow yourself time to rinse-off with fresh water at the back of the boat after you swim and before you board.
Where to Stay
We did not camp on the island. I am sure that it would be a spectacular experience, but we couldn’t facilitate camping gear on this trip. If you are considering camping, there is plenty of information available on the Yankee Freedom Ferry and National Park Service websites. Please read camping information carefully.
The drive from Key Largo (base of Florida) to Key West is over 2 hours. So, it is best to stay closer to Key West the night before your trip to Dry Tortugas as the Yankee Freedom Ferry boards at 7:30 AM. Key West offers plenty of hotel amenities. However, our family enjoyed staying at the Holiday Inn Express in Marathon, Florida which is located 1 hour from Key West. Marathon Key was one of our favorite areas as it is smaller and more sparsely populated. We loved the Tarpon Creek Bar and Grill on the hotel property. We also enjoyed watching manatees at Sparky’s Landing located within walking distance.
Where to Eat
Grab a quick breakfast at your hotel. Bring along snacks and bottles of water. If you plan to take the Yankee Freedom Ferry, lunch is included. For dinner, take a short walk to the iconic Half Shell Raw Bar in Key West.
When to Go
I would avoid peak hurricane season, between August and October. We went in late May, and it was perfect!