Ferries offer scenery, fun ride to Tortugas

DRY TORTUGAS, Fla.— One of the questions frequently asked by those who know nothing about Dry Tortugas National Park is: “How long does it take to drive to the park?”

But to plan a trip to the Dry Tortugas National Park driving is not an option, unless they have already invented flying cars. The only way to get there is by seaplane or ferry from Key West.

The majority of visitors decide to embark on a two-and-one-half-hour ride on a catamaran named Yankee Freedom to one of the most secluded national parks.

Visitors, who decide to take a ferry out to Dry Tortugas, may have to take a rain check on the “Duval Crawl,” the night before.

They must get up bright and early, because the ferry boards passengers at the Historic Seaport at 7:15 a.m. and promptly departs at 8 a.m.

Travelers don’t even need to worry about driving by the Dunkin’ Donuts on one of those little hidden streets off Duval Street for a quick bite.

Travelers pick up tickets and board the Yankee Freedom at the Historic Seaport in Key West (Staff photos).

Once on board they are greeted with a continental breakfast of fresh fruit, bagels, doughnuts, cereal, orange juice and coffee, no matter what company they decide to travel with.

They can enjoy their breakfast in the catamaran’s air-conditioned cabin or upper deck.

Travelers have their breakfast on board.

From where ever they decide to enjoy their breakfast, the view is striking.

It includes a look at the Marquesas Islands, Boca Grande and very often Loggerhead Turtles and dolphin.

“I decided to take the ferry ride just because I wanted to enjoy the scenery and you get to enjoy the trip more,” said Mary Dunne, a nurse from Miami. “It’s so peaceful and colorful.”

Capt. Rick Gauron points out a dolphin to a young passenger.

During the trip everyone, especially children are always welcomed to visit the captain on the bridge. The walls of Capt. Rick Gauron’s daily office are covered in drawings from young travelers.

The items thank him for fun trip. Some even wish the Yankee Freedom II a happy fourth birthday.

“I love riding on boats and the it’s cool how the captain answered all my questions,” said eight-year-old Frankie Johnson as he drew another work of art to add to the extensive collection on the walls.

Also on the way to the Dry Tortugas, members of the crew walk around the ship giving out maps that show the best places to go snorkeling.

Crew members also give their advice on which are the best places to visit.

The Yankee Freedom also lends travelers with snorkeling gear, so for those who forgot their gear they can still enjoy a swim at the park.

Yankee Freedom guests enjoy lunch adjacent to the fort on Garden Key.

Once the catamaran arrives at the park, passengers can take a 40-minute guided tour of Fort Jefferson provided by the Yankee Freedom or take a self-guided tour of the fort.

But once the tour ends, the passengers can enjoy a simple lunch provided by the Yankee Freedom.

Visitors have a total of four hours to go about the island and have enough time to swim, snorkel, birding, and explore the fort a bite further.

Ferries from Key West are docked at Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas.

“Most of the visitors we get are very serious bird watchers or are very much into snorkeling,” said Mike Todd, who gives the tours at the park, has been working for Yankee Freedom for three years.

“It all depends on the season during the summer most people come to snorkel or camping and in the winter most people come to camp or to spend New Years,” he added.

Sunset at the Historic Seaport, home of the Yankee Freedom (Photo by Yu He).

And, at 2:15 p.m., when passengers are able to board the boat, they can rinse off in the showers on the main deck, and then just relax all the way back to Key West, where they arrive at about 5:30 p.m.

Once docked, they are given a warm farewell by the captain and the crew of the Yankee Freedom and a beautiful post card of Fort Jefferson.


If You Go

Bring along these items:

  • Bathing suit
  • Camera
  • Sunscreen
  • Binoculars (for bird watching)
  • Beach towel
  • Change of clothing (for the trip back to Key West)
  • Some cash for souvenirs from the gift shop
  • Travelers can bring their own snorkeling gear (optional, ferry lends gear).

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