Photograph by Gregory Wrona, PCL/Photolibrary

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An easy jaunt from Islamorada, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park on Key Largo is a snorkeler's paradise.

Photograph by Gregory Wrona, PCL/Photolibrary

Play the Upper Keys in Islamorada, Florida

Cheeca Lodge & Spa's 27-acre (11-hectare) spread, an hour-and-a-half drive south of Miami on the island of Islamorada, has an impressive roster of aquatic activities. Try snorkeling the only living coral reef in the continental U.S., casting for snappers and grunts off a 525-foot (160-meter) classic wooden pier, or swimming a palm-lined beach.

Cheeca has access to both deep-sea and flats fishing, so charter a boat to try your hand at catching monster tarpon or casting for bonefish among the mangroves, then hand over the day’s catch to resort chefs to prepare your fresh, self-caught dinner. Kids snorkel and feed the fish in the saltwater lagoon or go for a spin in the lodge’s glass-bottom pontoon boat. Waterlogged families retire to Cheeca's West Indies-inspired beachfront suites with large balconies.

Where to Play

Cheeca Rocks, a group of inshore reefs, offers snorkeling among parrotfish, queen triggers, and angelfish. For adults and kids ten and up with scuba experience, Key Dives ($70, equipment not included, runs shallow (up to 25 feet/8 meters) night dives to spot moray eels. Young ones enroll in Camp Cheeca, where they spend days hiking nature trails, fishing off of the pier, and hunting for buried treasure.

At Day's End

With kids entrenched at Camp Cheeca, you are free to take a private, half-day backcountry fishing trip to the Keys and Everglades National Park with Captain Fred Ferreira ($400 for two people, Most nights kids get entertained with pizza and a movie, while parents work over seared red snapper and Florida stone crabs at the lodge's Atlantic's Edge restaurant.


Doubles from $249;

Based on articles from National Geographic Adventure and updated by Greer Schott