Top Florida Snorkeling and Scuba Diving Trips for Kids

Get close to sea turtles  and other marine life when snorkeling in Florida.
Get close to sea turtles and other marine life when snorkeling in Florida.
5/25/24 - By Yuliya Geikhman

Scuba diving or snorkeling in Florida is one of the best things to do during a family vacation to the Sunshine State. There is so much to explore under Florida's warm, clear waters, including spectacular coral reefs, shipwrecks, and underwater museums and memorials.

Here's everything you need to know about scuba diving and snorkeling in Florida with kids, from age requirements to the best places to dive and snorkel in and around the Florida Keys, Miami, and Destin. Our Florida Family Travel Guide will tell you even more great places to visit and fun things to do with kids in the Sunshine State.


Pura Vida Divers
Get certified by an official diving organization to dive in open water. Photo by Andrea Whitaker/courtesy of Pura Vida Divers

Getting Started with Snorkeling and Scuba Diving with Kids

When Kids Can Start Snorkeling

The minimum age for snorkeling varies by location and company. Usually, kids are required to be 5 or older to go snorkeling in Florida, but some places allow younger kids.

Regardless of age, the real requirement for snorkeling is that kids can swim comfortably on their own. While snorkelers wear a safety vest and usually have a line to hold on to, waters can get choppy, so kids should be confident swimmers.

Pro tip: Start by practicing snorkeling in shallow water. Bring a mask and snorkel to your next beach day to give the little ones a chance to hone their skills in a safe space where they can touch the ground.

When Kids Can Start Scuba Diving

Anyone can snorkel, but learning to scuba dive is a more involved process. In order to be allowed to scuba dive in open waters, you need to be certified by an official diving organization.

The biggest organization—widely accepted pretty much everywhere, and especially in Florida—is PADI (the Professional Association of Diving Instructors). Getting certified with PADI involves an online course, an in-person (in-water) course, and an open-water test.

PADI requires kids to be 8 or older to participate in any of its programs. At that age, you can start to ease them into using scuba gear in a pool through the PADI Bubblemaker program, or get them excited through the Seal Team, which introduces more advanced techniques through.

At age 10, kids can take their skills to open water with the Junior Open Water Diver certification. At 12, they can upgrade to its more advanced version. And at 15, kids can officially obtain the adult certification for Open Water and Advanced Open Water Diver.

Pro Tip: Many places also offer the Discover Scuba course, which is a low-stress introduction to scuba diving that's perfect for kids and teens who are interested but a little intimidated. Alternatively, you can opt for SNUBA (Surface Nexus Underwater Breathing Apparatus), which doesn't require any certification or experience.

Why You Should Go Scuba Diving and Snorkeling in Florida

When my husband was learning to scuba dive, he went to Florida—and he's been coming back ever since. Florida is really the ideal place to scuba and snorkel.

Florida has so many gorgeous spots to discover, whether you're diving down deep or staying near the surface. It's known for having a wide range of underwater ecosystems, including coral reefs (both natural and artificial), shipwrecks, and even underwater museums and memorials.

Florida's reefs and other marine environments have a wide variety of stunning fish like parrotfish, angelfish, massive groupers, clownfish and blue tangs (yes, your kids will be excited to see Nemo and Dory), and many more. If you're lucky, you might even spot dolphins, rays, sea turtles, and even manatees!

Visibility in Florida waters is often excellent, so you'll actually be able to see all of these beautiful sites and creatures. The state is also ideally situated, with waters often starting warm enough to swim year-round.

This all means that you'll be able to see something new every time you visit, making every experience with diving and snorkeling in Florida a memorable one.

Pro tip: To protect the delicate ecosystems while diving and snorkeling in Florida, always be sure that the sunscreen you're using is reef-safe. These sunscreens will be clearly labeled. You can usually buy reef-safe sunscreen from the dive shops often associated with the companies in this list.

Best Scuba Diving and Snorkeling in Florida: Florida Keys

The Florida Keys are a popular destination for divers and snorkelers because they're the only place to visit a real living coral barrier reef in the continental US.

Most of the water surrounding the Keys is protected as part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. This underwater sanctuary features a coral reef, seagrass fields, shipwrecks, and a submerged Christ of the Abyss statue that's been thoroughly integrated into the ecosystem by marine life. Be sure to practice extra care not to disturb anything while exploring this spectacular location.

1. Amoray Dive Resort

This family-friendly resort is affiliated with PADI, which means you can take your certification courses here. Besides having beautiful rooms and a stunning pool, the Amoray also has free kayak rentals, a dive shop in the lobby, and its own dive boat that does daily dive trips. Kids can take the Bubblemaker and Discover Scuba right in the resort's pool, or head out onto the water for a snorkeling expedition if they're at least 5.

2. Saltwater Seafari

Based in Big Pine Tree, Saltwater Seafari offers snorkeling boat trips to many popular destinations. Among these are Marathon, home to vibrant reefs and the massive Thunderbolt 1942 aircraft carrier wreck, and Looe Key Reef, one of the most popular diving and snorkeling destinations in the US. Saltwater Seafari also offers sandbar and island excursions, where smaller kids can practice their snorkeling skills in shallow, wading waters.

3. Pennekamp Park Tours

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park was founded in 1963 as the US's first underwater park. Take one of its boat tours to snorkel or scuba dive among the coral reef, or try one of the park's other water activities like canoeing, kayaking, or fishing. The aquarium in the visitors' center offers a sneak peek of what you'll see in the wild. Children of any age are welcome on the boats as long as they can swim.

4. Danger Charters

Despite the name, this tour is a calmer introduction to snorkeling for kids because it visits a more sheltered part of Key West Backwater. You can book a full day or a half day and enjoy kayaking while you're there, too. Visitors of all ages are welcome. Danger Charters also partners with the nonprofit Reef Relief every summer to offer Coral Camp, which teaches kids ages 6-12 about marine life and ecology, coral reefs, and sustainability.

RELATED: 10 Best Florida Beach Vacations for Families

Ace Diving: snorkeling
Ace Diving has programs for all ages and levels. Photos courtesy of Ace Diving

Best Scuba Diving and Snorkeling in Florida: Miami

Miami is a great place for families to get their first taste of snorkeling. A favorite among snorkelers is Emerald Reef, three shallow patches that rarely go over 20 feet in depth, making it super easy to see both the fish and corals on the ocean floor.

5. Ace Diving

Ace Diving offers something for every level of diver, such as PADI certification courses (including the pool-held children's Bubblemakers program), snorkeling, and even a "bubble watchers" ticket for those who want to be on the water, but not in it. The boat makes trips to both man-made and natural reefs, including the incredible Neptune Memorial Park, which is both an underwater cremation memorial and the largest man-made coral reef.

Pro tip: No bananas are allowed on the boat! Find out about this silly superstition here.

6. Biscayne Bay National Park

Biscayne Bay National Park hosts its own snorkel and dive tours, officially partnered with the National Park Service, where you can discover the diverse and wonderful underwater world protected by the park. Snorkeling trips hosted here require children to be 8 or older, though you can book a private trip with a younger child. Biscayne Bay National Park also has paddle boat excursions for kids ages 6 and up.

7. Miami Tours and Water Adventures

Virginia Key is located just minutes from downtown Miami and is largely known for being the home of the Miami Seaquarium. It's also the site of an artificial reef that's just six feet deep—perfect for beginner snorkelers to test the waters. Miami Tours and Water Adventures takes guests out to the reef for a two-hour adventure. The best part? Kids 12 and under can come for free (but will need to bring their own gear).

RELATED: Destin with Kids: 30 Awesome Things To Do in Destin, Florida

In Destin you can see a variety of fish, rays, invertebrates, and other forms of marine life.

Best Scuba Diving and Snorkeling in Florida: Destin

Destin may be less well-known than Miami and the Keys, but it offers a brilliant new world to explore in the Gulf of Mexico. Destin is located on the Emerald Coast in northwestern Florida, where you'll find natural and artificial reefs and wrecks. If you're really lucky, you might even have a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with a whale shark.

Highlights for aquatic adventures include the limestone ledges at White Hill Reef and Amberjack Rocks, and the extremely family-friendly Destin Jetty, a man-made strip of partially submerged rock that serves as home to a large number of fish, rays, invertebrates, and other forms of marine life.

8. Pelican Adventures

Pelican Adventures lets snorkelers get especially close to the fish at Destin Jetty by providing them with fish food. Jade from Pelican Adventures told us that "often, the fish will eat right out of your hands." Kids snorkeling must be 3 years and 30 or more pounds. While life jackets (and other equipment) are included, you're encouraged to bring your own if you have extra-little ones.

9. Emerald Coast Scuba

Experience a museum like you've never seen before at the Underwater Museum of Art, entirely submerged under the emerald, clear waters near Destin. These trips are only available for certified divers over 12, but Emerald Coast Scuba also offers all-ages snorkeling trips to Destin Jetty in the spring and summer and SNUBA diving for kids 8 and up. Certification courses, a dive shop, and swim lessons in the facility's 14-foot-deep heated pool are also available.

10. Scuba Tech

Hop aboard Sea Cobra, Scuba Tech's award-winning vessel, and embark on a snorkeling adventure off the coast of Destin. Snorkeling tours are offered May through August to the Destin-Fort Walton Beach snorkeling reefs (the minimum age for kids is 5 years). Guests will get a glimpse of shipwrecks as well. Scuba Tech also offers children's PADI certification lessons, including in-pool options.

RELATED: Best Family Resorts in Florida

Pura Vida Divers
Pura Vida Divers provides kids with the skills they need to scuba and snorkel safely. Photo courtesy of Pura Vida Divers

More Ways to Go Scuba Diving and Snorkeling in Florida

Want even more options? Here are some additional ideas for scuba diving and snorkeling in Florida:

  • Programs like the Family Scuba Diving program and the Kids Eco Snorkel camp from Pura Vida Divers provide kids with the support they need to learn to snorkel and scuba safely.
  • Marine parks like Discovery Cove in Orlando, Theater of the Sea in Key Largo, and Gulfarium in Destin have opportunities to snorkel (and sometimes scuba or SNUBA) in contained environments.
  • Florida springs are freshwater options that offer snorkelers a glance at completely different underwater worlds. Many awesome springs allow snorkeling and diving, but some highlights include Devil's Den, a cenote-like prehistoric spring with a cave entrance and an on-site campground, and the remarkably clear waters of Ginnie Springs.

Where to Go Snorkeling in Florida with Manatees

Manatees are frequent visitors in the Florida waters, and it's possible to encounter one at many of the most popular snorkeling spots if you time your visit right. For the best chance to spot manatees across Florida's saltwater locations, plan your trip for April through October.

In the cooler months, manatees move to warmer freshwater locations, like the Florida springs. Many of these, like Blue Spring State Park, offer snorkeling packages so you can frolic in the water with the gentle beasts.

But one of the best places to swim with manatees in Florida is Crystal River. Book the experience with one of the many snorkeling programs, whether it's with River Ventures or the aptly named Snorkel with Manatees.

Pro tip: Manatees are curious, peaceful creatures and they might even approach you. Just remember that they are a protected species, which means that they can touch you, but you're not allowed to touch them!

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