You do not have to dive, or don a mask, snorkel and fins, to visit a coral reef. In Key Largo, Florida, visitors can hop on a glass-bottomed boat and be experiencing the underwater beauty of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in no time.
Coral reefs are sometimes called the ocean's "tropical rainforest"---and with good reason. The diversity of plants and animals is truly amazing.
The coral reef at John Pennekamp begins about three miles off Key Largo's mangrove- and grass-flats coastline. It hosts about 600 species of fish, including angelfish, parrotfish, butterfly fish, groupers, wrasses, and tangs. Then there are turtles, barracuda, lobsters, crabs, shrimps, nurse sharks and sponges. This multitude of marine life lives among brain coral, star coral, and soft corals such as sea fingers, sea whips and sea fans and plumes.
Since John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is located underwater and is considered one of the premier dive destinations in the world, many local vendors offer a variety of boats and other vehicles and equipment for visiting the park. Glass-bottom boat trips are available on a traditional motorized yacht and on a high-speed catamaran. The in-park concessionaire offers limited wheelchair accessibility on its flagship Spirit of Pennekamp.
Discount coupons for the glass-bottomed boats often are available locally and on the vendors' websites. The first tour of the day is recommended for those who would like to avoid any crowds. The glass-bottomed boats have indoor (air-conditioned) and outdoor seating. Some boats have snack bars.
Upon return from the fantastic "front-row seat" on the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, check out The African Queen, the movie boat made famous in the 1948 film "Key Largo," starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. The African Queen is on free public display behind the glass-bottomed boat, Key Largo Princess. In addition to her film "role," from 1912 to 1968, The African Queen carried cargo and passengers between Uganda and the Belgian Congo, via Lake Albert.