The boys have a new favorite national park – Biscayne! We only had one day, but we absolutely made the most of the experience. Due to Covid-19, we had a hard time getting in contact with park personnel to be sure that we had a good overview of the park activities. Candace normally speaks to park employees before we leave in order to get a good overview of possible activities. You can always use the park websites, but sometimes different trails are closed or other activities are canceled. We have arrived with missing information too many times, so we rely on these calls before departure to get a better idea of what to do once there. However, this wasn’t an option as the phones weren’t being answered during the quarantine. So, we decided to just see how it went. Here are a few things we learned!
#1 Don’t forget bug spray! The mosquitos are vicious!
Once we arrived at the visitor center, we were immediately swarmed by biting flies and mosquitos. It was truly horrid. We thought Texas had bad mosquitos, wow. It was rough. Luckily, only 5% of the park is land and the water isn’t plagued with these insects. We were fine once we left land, but we would have worn bug spray if we had known!
#2 Do plan a boat trip as the beach water is only that clear blue/green from the islands!
We, perhaps foolishly, thought that the beach area off of the main land would also have the gorgeous green/blue waters famous for the Miami area. Well, no. The waters may be clear, but it is over heavy dark grasses giving a dark color to the look of the water and detracting from a “beach” experience. In the park (and through most of the keys), you have to take a boat to the islands and away from the bay in order to see the gorgeous water at its best. More on the boat options in a bit, but you get the idea! The picture above is from the island of Boca Chita. We highly recommend this trip. On a holiday weekend, you might easily have 100 boats full of people looking for space on the small island, but it was just us!
#3 Do consider the pros and cons of sailing vs power boat!
When we were originally planning, we had a power boat trip paired with kayaking. We just weren’t really sure how well the boys would do with snorkeling as sometimes it can be quite challenging to master swimming in currents and using the equipment. We really went back and forth about our plans. Eventually, we settled on the all-day sailing excursion. It was expensive at over $600, but it was worth every penny. This is the certainly the most we have ever spent on an excursion, and it was unforgettable. Brian had sailed once before, but it was new to everyone else.
A power boat will, of course, get your party to the island faster, and sailing is a much slower pace. Also, a power boat will carry more people. If you want a more private and personalized experience, we definitely recommend sailing. We had this sail boat all to ourselves. It only holds six, and we were the only booking. So, it was just us and the ocean. Also, the boys got to operate the sails and learn about the culture of sailing.
Our guide Hans was simply incredible. He had a natural ability to teach and interactive with children. They really learned the different approaches and had to work hard to hoist the sails. It was a windy day, so the conditions were great for the lessons. A power boat would have zipped us out to the island, the sailing was another amazing experience that we were glad to enjoy.
#4 Don’t panic but, yes, there are sharks!
Right as we set off from the beach in our kayaks, the guide pointed out a large nurse shark swimming right towards us. This was perfectly timed with Brian falling from his paddle board into the water. After a brief panic from the kids, Hans explained that the nurse shark doesn’t have the right teeth to eat us even if he wanted to. So, that was an exciting start!
#5 Don’t trust Google Maps!
Google maps wanted to take us waayyyy off course with this bizarre location. Luckily, Candace double checked the address. It was over an hour different. Convoy Point is the main visitor center and marina of the park. This should be your meeting point. Make sure you ask before heading out. We absolutely would have missed our tour and lost our money!
#6 Do ask the National Park Institute for Advice!
The Biscayne National Park Institute is a nonprofit operating inside the park with full support of the Biscayne National Park office. They are the only operator inside the park and offer a wide variety of trips to suit anyone’s needs. They offer a very large range of options including everything from a few hours of snorkeling to a full day of sailing and more. You can absolutely customize your options. Our favorite feature was the text option. You can have a texting conversation back-and-forth with one of these experienced guides to really get the best idea of what works for your group. We even made a last-minute change the night before, and it was not an issue. For example, we learned that they are not letting you borrow snorkel gear right now with the onset of the virus. So, we made a quick run to Walmart on the way. We were concerned that the poor quality at Walmart would not be suitable for our experience, but they assured us that it should not be a problem. You will also get a detailed history lesson throughout your trip. Our guide Hans was actually a marine biologist. We truly felt that this was the best possible experience at the park.
These seasoned guides have a wealth of knowledge to help you decide what is best for your group. We were concerned about the physicality of snorkeling, but we also know it was an amazing opportunity. We really went through all the options, and decided on a full day of activities. our trip was sailing, snorkeling, kayaking and paddle boarding and time at the beach! If you choose a powerful option you’ll probably have more people in your group; however, if you go with the sale in option, our bill would only holds six people. We were the only booking for the day, so it was just us! The forecast called for rain and overcast conditions, but we got very, very lucky and had good sailing winds on the way out to the island. It seems like the second we stepped off the boat, the clouds disappeared and the sun came out. We shared the entire island with only one other boat, our incredibly lucky day was magical.