By Kara Franker
What if I told you of a way to completely forget the crowds and the hassle of the airport, ditch the traffic and the honking horns, and just float away to a secluded island getaway with that special someone?
Your romantic island escape via Key West seaplane awaits you!
You’ve never really experienced the Florida Keys until you’ve seen them from a Cessna 206. Its an exhilarating experience, completely different from trekking along U.S. 1 in bumper-to-bumper traffic. My husband and I recently went for a ride and it was in a word, breathtaking.
“Many people feel forever connected with the Keys after experiencing it from the air. Its so surreal ” said Julie Ann Floyd, a seaplane pilot who, along with her business partner Nikali Pontecorvo, are Key West locals with nearly 30 years of combined flying experience.
I asked Julie what it’s like to be a seaplane pilot. “Freedom, " she said. "Its life’s most amazing blessing for me. It’s a daily escape from all on the ground below – so peaceful and quiet – no traffic, no noise, no crowds. Just the water, wind, and the seaplane.”
Cruising along at about 500 feet above the water gives you a unique vantage point from which to view sealife in the crystal blue waters below: dolphin, tarpon, rays, hammerheads, and maybe even a manatee, if you’re lucky. From my perch in the co-pilot’s chair, Nikali pointed out a giant sea turtle below.
Nikali and Julie make excellent tour guides on the sea plane tour, pointing out islands like Woman Key and Man Key in the Mule island chain. They know the waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary better than anyone I’ve ever met.
“The sanctuary has the world’s third-largest barrier reef, ” said Nikali. An accountant in his former life, he’s been flying in the Keys since 1991 and noted that the reef is one of the best places to dive in the U.S.
There are at least nine shipwrecks scattered along the barrier reef, each including its own tantalizing tale. Nikali pointed out the Adelaide Baker, located four miles south-southeast of Duck Key, sitting in only 20 feet of water. Originally from Bangor, Maine, she was on her way to Savannah Ga. with a load of timber when she wrecked in the shallow waters of the reef. Locals in the area assisted the captain and the crew to safety, and there was no loss of life.
Julie described the beauty of the islands from the sky as something forever changing and forever beautiful. “Every single day I soak it in, " she said. "My eyes drink in a new color a new pattern in the water, a new shape in the clouds, or a pod of dolphin playing in a way I have never seen before. I have seen pink skies, purple waters, silvery tarpon and green mangroves.”
The pilots pick up adventurous travelers from all over the mainland and they will custom design an island-hopping escape for you. “I love to share the Keys with people so they develop the same connection with the islands that I have – and they come back to visit again and again, ” said Julie.
Here are some seaplane operators in the Florida Keys:
Island-hopping Plane Tours Recommendations
- Take a jaunt to the exclusive Little Palm Island Resort & Spa, a private island vacation destination famous for hosting movie stars and A-Listers, located about 30 miles north of Key West.
- Enjoy live music and a delicious slice of key lime pie at the laid-back Lorelei Cabana Bar and Restaurant in Islamorada.
- Check out the beautiful white sand beaches at Bahia Honda State Park on Big Pine Key.
- Go to dinner at the luxurious Louie’s Backyard restaurant in Key West, where they have sweeping ocean views from the deck.
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