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Scuba Diving in Fort Lauderdale/Key Largo
It is a couple of years since we visited Fort Lauderdale so decided we would head down South and spend a couple of days there as we had friends who love to dive. Cruising south along State Road A1A just look left for some of the best scuba diving north of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Thank the Gulf Stream, that river within an ocean, for keeping the reefs and wrecks of South Florida teeming with sea life. Then thank the tour operators lined up from Fort Lauderdale to Key Largo, ready to ferry you the few miles it takes to reach deep water for a morning, afternoon or night dive.
Fort Lauderdale’s reef system is made up of three bands of ancient coral beds in 20 to 100 feet of water. The beauty of diving the area’s blue-water reefs is their proximity to shore. You can shop in the morning, dive after lunch and still make it back to your hotel in time for dinner. We tried the Blue Moon Fish Company which served great fresh seafood at its waterside location.
Fort Lauderdale and its surrounding beach towns are known for their ‘drift dives’. The same current that keeps the reefs full of fish, sea turtles and spotted eagle rays provides a ‘conveyor belt’ for diver, who can just sit back and enjoy the ride.
After a 15 minute boat ride from shore, the trip leader drops over the side, tethered to a large orange float. Divers follow two by two and descend to the reef, where the current carries them north. No kicking or pulling required - you can devote all your energy to soaking up the sights.
More adventurous divers like to hear how area counties have been cleaning and intentionally sinking everything from freighters to liberty ships over the last 20 years to serve as artificial reefs. Hotspots include the Mercedes/wreck, the infamous 199 foot freighter that ran agrounds in 1985, and the Princess Ann ferry, a 350 foot car carrier now resting in 95 feet of water.
We then headed south to Key Largo, which offers some of the best diving in the Florida Keys, and in the country. It’s home to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the nation’s first underwater park. It lies at the northern terminus of 190 mile long reef system and provides a prime starting point for exploring the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Underwater, view Christ of the Abyss, an eight and a half foot, 4, 000 pound bronze sculpture, on the ocean floor. Top deepwater dives include The Duane, The Bibb and Spiegel Grove.
If you are thinking about learning to scuba dive, Pennekamp is an ideal place to do it. With a variety of sea conditions - from sheltered water to open ocean reef - novice divers can learn at their own pace. You can rent equipment or bring your own.
A series of inshore reefs in water as shallow as 15 feet is optimal for snorkeling, especially with children. Or, you can stay dry (as we did) and take the glass bottom boat tour.
Nothing beats the home cooking at Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen after an active day on or under the water!
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