Glass bottom boat tour reveals reef beauty
HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Biscayne National Park is like no other. While one might expect a park with beautiful land, like other National Parks, instead visitors are treated to the breathtaking scenery of Biscayne Bay, and the overwhelming masses of mangrove that surrounds it.
With Biscayne National Park being 95 percent underwater, it is no surprise that one of the most popular attractions for visitors is the glass bottom boat ride. Led by a crew of three, including an experience park ranger, captain, and crewman, the boat cruises beautiful Biscayne Bay along the longest undisturbed mangrove shoreline on the East Coast.
|Visitors enjoy the glass bottom boat ride (Staff photo).|
The boat rides lasts approximately three hours—that is if you don’t get distracted by the dolphins that frequent the bay—and it includes a full informational tour guide led by a licensed park ranger.
“The glass bottom boat ride is one of the most popular attractions here, because it gets you into the park, and it doesn’t require skills like other activities such as diving and snorkeling would.” said Maria Beotegui, a park ranger based at the Convoy Point Visitor Center.
“The tour really lets you experience the nice spots in the bay and the rangers give you a lot of historical information,” said Edward Bodish, glass bottom boat crewman. “Of course you can read about this stuff, but it is not as fun, here you get to see it up close.”
The glass bottom tour sails around the impressive Biscayne Park and above the 28 miles of coral reef, making it the third-largest reef barrier in the world. The reef is also one of the most accessible to visitors, which is why more than 400,000 people visit each year. It is home to hundreds of animals, whether they are spotted underwater, on land, or up in the sky.
Stingrays, sea turtles, dolphins, manatees and tropical fish, are just some of the marine animals that can be witnessed from the glass bottom boat. While cruising the bay, the glass bottom boat makes three different stops so visitors can admire and learn about the reef.
|The crew readies the glass bottom boat for a cruise from the Convoy Point marina (Photo by Vanessa Krause).|
A good percentage of the park’s visitors, are international or out-of-state tourists. Tom Warner, a father from Boston, enjoyed the three-hour tour with his whole family, in hopes of spotting large sea mammals.
“We took this tour because we wanted to take a boat trip while down here. We really wanted to see manatees, unfortunately we didn’t see any. But I’d still recommend this trip to everyone else.”
“A lot of visitors come here because they want to see the postcard images they have seen of the coral reef; when they don’t, they are disappointed, “said Beotegui. “I try to give an interpretive tour, give the facts and entertain people, so they still enjoy it.”
Along with the beautiful scenery that draws visitors to this tour—is the astounding coral reef that crosses Biscayne Bay. It is home to not only marine life, but it has become the final resting place for more than 43 ships. These shipwrecks are open for the public to explore— they have been carefully studied and present no danger to those who wish to get up close.
“I enjoy the water, it’s really a beautiful place, you won’t find this anywhere else,” said Jim Nichols, a Miamian who was one of the many visitors that have enjoyed the tour.
Glass bottom tours are not offered during bad weather conditions, especially if it’s windy. However, Biscayne National Park has created an alternative tour in case of bad weather. The tour goes to Boca Chita Key and it includes a one-hour walk around the island, led by a park ranger.
The scenic key of Boca Chita has a lighthouse that adorns the island and visitors can dock their boats in the harbor, set up a picnic in the picnic facilities area, and enjoy the beautiful scenery. The key also has bathroom facilities and camping overnight for those who wish to enjoy the park at night.
Glass bottom tours are offered daily, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The fee is $24.45 plus tax for adults, $16.45 for children under 12 years, and $19.45 for seniors. Reservations are not required, but strongly recommended.
|The islands and coral reef— east of Elliott Key— of Biscayne National Park, are areas visited by the glass bottom boat (Map courtesy of the National Park Service).|