Flightseeing Adventures

By: Kate Pursell

Seaplanes of Key West tours reveal a view that includes the dazzling Gulf of Mexico, turn-of-the-century shipwrecks, darting sharks and dolphins, and mangrove islands.

This Technicolor blockbuster won't be coming soon to your big-screen TV. It's on the water, baby, and it's brilliant!

Memo to hubby: My birthday is coming up and I've decided that the crystal-clear clarity of watching Finding Nemo on a 42-inch plasma screen TV can't compete with a seaplane ride from Key West to the Dry Tortugas National Park. Doesn't even come close.

Plane Views

We're flying just 500 or so feet above the shimmering blue-green waters due west of Key West heading to the park (accessible only by boat or plane and home to historic Fort Jefferson) and I think I actually swoon as pilot Evan Phillips banks the plane to the left, offering a stunning view of marine life.

Sunlight paints traveling watercolors on an amazing palette of soft blues and seafoam greens during our 40-minute journey to a snorkeler's paradise boasting colorful fish and sparkling, sublime water.

But it's the seaplane scenario over the mesmerizing Gulf of Mexico that elevates this into an over-the-top adventure. Way cool.

Memo to self: I'm actually getting paid to do this? Must send editor fruit basket to make sure these fabulous gigs continue.

Helpful Hints

A five-member Hampshire (Massachusetts) College contingent who traded parkas for bathing suits, a 30-ish camera-toting couple from Tennessee and myself board a DeHavilland Otter 10-seater from Key West Seaplane Adventures at the airport and buckle up as college gal Stephane expresses some concern over the trip. Best pal Grace, a seaplane veteran, is appointed flight attendant. Grace pleasantly discovers she has no duties. Just enjoy the sights. And there are plenty.

Right after take-off, make sure to scan the "flats," a body of shallow, knee- to chest-deep water that extends about 20 miles due west. "Look for movement on the bottom to guide your eye," Evan offers helpfully, and you'll spot sharks, stingrays and maybe even a dolphin.

Mangrove islands dot the mariner's milieu along with patches of cappuccino and cognac-colored sea grass that seem to turn the bluish-green waters into rivers and lakes.

A few miles later we're dazzled by the Marquesas Islands (a coral atoll) and then the "Quicksands" where treasure hunter Mel Fisher found the gold and silver treasure troves from the Spanish Galleons "Atocha" and "Margarita."

You'll spot huge sea turtles here and several shipwrecks, such as the still visible mast of one of Fisher's workboats, marking the treasure site's northern edge.

Water Landing

Stephane didn't utter a peep when the plane touched down ever so gently on the water a few hundred yards from land, but good friend Hannah issued a travel advisory before our return.

Wading out in ankle-deep water to the plane's pontoon, Hannah explains with slightly raised-eyebrows: "I should have a huge bruise on my arm where she grabbed me." Stephane sheepishly offers "sorry" as she adjusts her sarong and Jackie O-style sunglasses.

The flawless water landing was smoother than some flights where runways rule, and take-off (I snagged the co-pilot seat) was equally as smooth after we taxied out on the water "runway." Evan chucked a suit-and-tie corporate tax accountant career years ago and took up flying. Now it's a T-shirt and cargo shorts. Sweet.

Key West Seaplane Adventures provide snorkeling gear, a cooler filled with sodas and waters and I highly recommend a disposable waterproof camera. Key West Seaplane Adventures does not provide food, so it recommends bringing something to eat. The company will supply extra coolers and ice if needed.

Sponsored listings by VISIT FLORIDA Partners

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