Snorkeling the coral reef at John Pennekamp State Park

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Welcome to John Pennekamp State Park

Welcome to John Pennekamp State Park

It was time for some father-daughter bonding as I attempt to maintain a positive relationship with number one teenage daughter. Mrs. LanceAround and number one daughter were nice enough to indulge me as they accompanied me to watch one of my favorite teams who was playing a game in south Florida. So I decided to do something nice for both of them in return.

After the game, I drove them down to Key Largo, the first of the extensive Florida Keys that go from just south of Miami to “mile 0” at Key West, more than 100 miles from Key Largo.

For Mrs. LanceAround, I purchased one night in a nice hotel. Even though it was the off season and I informed the hotel that I worked in the hospitality industry, I could not get a room in the keys for less than $135. Although the outside of the hotel looked more the worse for wear, Mrs. LanceAround loved her room. It featured a thick, firm mattress on the king bed, a pull out sofabed for number one daughter, tiled floors, heavy granite end tables and desks, an upgraded shower with exquisite bathroom fixtures and a large, flat screen TV. At 8:00am the next morning, number one daughter and I snuck out for our morning adventure while Mrs. LanceAround got to enjoy the plush hotel room for a quiet morning respite. She was happy! (And she got some great ideas for the homes we manage for our business.)

For number one, I had planned a snorkeling trip to the large coral reef off the east coast of southern Florida. The trip sailed out of the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. The park was only a half mile up the road from our hotel. We paid $3.00 a person entrance fee to the park and proceeded to the gift and snack shop to purchase our snorkeling tickets. There was also a nice sized visitor’s center that, alas, we did not have time to explore.

Our ship at port

Our ship at port

The park features rental boats as well as the group snorkeling trips, scuba trips and trips on a glass bottom boat. The staff in the park were very friendly and helpful. Number one daughter was in a frolicy mood as she played along with her father’s usual, feeble attempts at humor. When the person at the counter said that the waves were two feet high and we had to be good swimmers I looked at daughter and expressed concern that she had only a few minutes to learn how to swim. Daughter responded by appearing surprised that swimming would be a requirement for a snorkeling trip. The shocked expression on the counter-woman’s face was quickly replaced with a mirthful laugh as she caught on that she was just witnessing a father-daughter moment of bonding. And when she charged us the $72 for the trip for both of us including snorkel (that you get to keep) fins and mask rentals, everyone behind us in line had a chuckle as I gave my credit card to the woman and instructed number one to remember this moment the next time she is tempted to accuse her father of not loving her!

After picking up fins and masks at the outdoor rental counter, we immersed ourselves in sunscreen and embarked on The Encounter with about 20 other passengers, one of whom was wearing a tee shirt advertising the maiden voyage of the Titanic. I wondered aloud whether anyone on board had seen the movie, Open Water. Only one other passenger and Captain Barry laughed, indicating that most had not!

Who are those handsome people?

Who are those handsome people?

After a five minute, very bumpy boat ride where passengers could enjoy standing on the top level or at the bow of the boat, we arrived at the coral reefs. The crew was pleasant, efficient and knowledgeable as they immediately gave clear instructions, got the seasoned swimmers into the water and provided a mini snorkeling lesson for the newbies. Number one daughter and I soon donned our snorkel, fins, mask and emergency inflatable vest and jumped off one of the two back ladders that were dropped into the ocean. A crew member was kind enough to snap a photo of us using the immersible camera number one daughter had purchased in the gift shop.

The water was a balmy 77 degrees and felt fantastic. Number one daughter impressed me with her agility in the water and we were soon swimming above the shallow coral reefs. In some places it was so shallow your knees could scrape the coral. In other places, it was deep enough that it was difficult to dive to the bottom.

Although we encountered some luminescent jellyfish, a couple of barracudas and a few schools of fish, I would have to say that the marine life was not very abundant. One of the other passengers later told us that she had seen a harmless shark, but no one else made such a claim. The reef itself was wonderful to look at. I have seen other reefs that had more color and more abundant sea life but my daughter was clearly having the time of her life as she would excitedly spot things and point them out to me. She took some excellent pictures.

Number One Mermaid

Number One Mermaid

After an hour or so of snorkeling, we were feeling tired so we headed back to the boat which was never more than a few yards away. The crew gave us some books to help identify the fish and coral we had spotted and the 20 minute trip back to the dock was smoother than the bumpy, wavy trip out to the reef.

After turning in our masks and fins, we drove back to the hotel for a quick shower before the noon check out time. Mrs. LanceAround had made the most of her morning, enjoying the quiet elegance of the hotel room as number one daughter and I regaled her with tales of our trip as we each took turns getting a quick shower.

As we traveled to Robert is Here Fruit Stand and the Everglades National Park that afternoon, number one daughter resumed her more typical teenage angst as she sat in the backseat of the van moodily reading her favorite novel, Twilight, and momentarily forgetting just how much her father loves her.

But for one glorious morning father and daughter had a memorable experience that transcended the ordinary–Far Off-the-Beaten-Path and much, much “more than a mouse!™”

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