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Marathon, Florida Family Adventures Include Dolphins, Cranes, and a Sea Turtle Hospital. The Keys of Marathon have a lot to offer families looking for a green-themed vacation or an escape from the occasional chaos of Key West. From dolphins and turtles to wild birds and gorgeous beaches, Marathon is a great place for families looking to get in touch with nature.

Meet Flipper’s Descendents. Visiting the Dolphin Research Center is one of the best ways to get face to face with dolphins. With a wide range of regularly schedule narrated sessions, visitors meet the different “dolphinalities” that call the Dolphin Research Center home. The sessions demonstrate the multiple aspects of dolphin life at the center, from high-flying athletics to medical behavior training and research-in-progress. The Dolphin Research Center is a not-for-profit education and research facility, home to a large family of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions. They offer a series of programs designed to bring visitors even closer to these magnificent aquatic mammals: Trainer for a Day, Researcher for a Day, Shallow Water and Deep Water Dolphin Encounter, Dolphin Dip, Hug a Sea Lion and more. Discovery: One of the Dolphin Research Center’s newest programs is the Dolphin Daycation. The Center designs a multi-day program (from 2.5 to 7 days) for visiting families or groups (minimum of 8 people) that features a variety of exciting interactive experiences with the dolphins and engaging educational activities. In addition to the variety of activities available at the Center, the Daycation package can include a field trip to snorkel at a coral reef, kayak around islands, and a visit to the nearby Turtle Hospital or Crane Point Hammock Natural History Museum and Nature Park. Participants can opt to stay at the Center’s comfortable dormitory or a local hotel or resort and will have the evenings free to explore the Keys of Marathon.  Author's note: The Dolphin Reasearch Center is a marvelous place - they have achieved an excellent balance between research and entertainment - providing visitors with lots of information about dolphins. Of particular note is the willingness of the center's trainers to explain in detail how training works, and demonstrating that none of the dolphins are ever forced to do anything they don't want to - even when it comes to medical procedures! The frequency and variety of offerings make this a must for any family visiting Marathon. (Dolphin Research Center. 58901 Overseas Highway, Marathon, FL 33050. (305) 289-1121 or
Explore the Hammock. Walking the paths at the Crane Point Nature Center is a walk through time. The many trails that crisscross the 63-acre property loop through a natural Florida Keys hardwood hammock, as bizarre as it is beautiful. The most interesting trail is the Hammock Loop which arcs through a hammock grove, and looks like a set for a prehistoric dinosaur film. Other notable sights include the Butterfly Garden, the Adderly House, which is the oldest house outside of Key West and the Point which offers a beautiful and quiet view of Florida Bay. The grounds also boast a Museum of Natural History, designed to provide visitors to Crane Point with interesting educational displays about local wildlife and marine life, as well as dioramas and exhibits showcasing cultural and historical artifacts. Bonus Points: Crane Point runs a free trolley which can take visitors on a tour of the center with a knowledgeable volunteer. Children six years of age and younger are admitted to the Center for free. Discovery:  Crane Point has operated the Marathon Wild Bird Center since 1998, helping to rescue and rehabilitate injured birds, and has released 6,000 wild birds in the past decade. Visitors to Crane Point can see the birds currently undergoing rehabilitation and learn more about the effort to protect these glorious creatures at the on-site Wild Bird Center. Author's note: Crane Point is truly a place out-of-synch with the surrounding developed area - and that's a great thing! The paths which wind through the center provide an exclusive and uniqure perspective on what the Keys were like before modernity invaded. Nature and history lovers will enjoy the combination of elements which make this a memorable experience, and the quiet escape from the bustle of Overseas Highway cannot be overrated. (Crane Point Museum & Nature Center, Mile Marker 50.5 Bayside, 5550 Overseas Highway, Marathon, FL 33050.

Turtles, oh my! The Turtle Hospital first opened in 1986 and established the following four goals: ) rehab injured sea turtles and return them to their natural habitat, 2) educate the public through outreach programs and visit local schools, 3) conduct and assist with research aiding to sea turtles (in conjunction with state universities), and 4) work toward environmental legislation making the beaches and water safe and clean for sea turtles. Visitors to the Turtle Hospital are invited to take a guided educational tour of the hospital facilities and sea turtle rehabilitation area. The tour takes approximately 90 minutes, and includes a PowerPoint presentation about the myriad variety of sea turtles and the dangers they face, as well as a behind the scenes look at the hospital and rehabilitation area – including getting up-close to actual sea turtles currently at the hospital. Discovery: The hospital has enabled live video feed of the hospital, so you can check in with the turtles before and after your visit. Author's note: The staffers at the Turtle Hospital love what they do, and it shows! The young woman who gave us our tour talked passionately about the turtles she's rescued and about the plight of sea turtles around the world. She also handled the wide age range of our group with skill, engaging the teenagers with jokes and funny turtle anecdotes. ( (Turtle Hospital, 2396 Overseas Highway, Marathon, FL 33050-2232. (305) 743-2552 or

Information researched and posted by Amanda Nelson-Duac based on site visit. Images courtesy of Amanda Nelson-Duac. Copyright updated 2015.
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