When you want to go to one of the most remote US National Parks to see Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park there are not many ways to get there. You can take a float plane, take your own boat out there (but you can’t use the dock at Dry Tortugas if you do) or take the Yankee Freedom III for about $170.00 round trip. The Yankee Freedom III is a large catamaran ferry that can hold anywhere up to about 250 people for the trip to and from Dry Tortugas National Park. In addition to the fee to take the ferry back and forth you’ll need to plan on spending between $10.00 and $15.00 to park your car for the day in Key West. There is no free parking at the boat dock for the Yankee Freedom III and it is not included in the ticket price.
When you take the Yankee Freedom III out to Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park you should plan on a pretty long day. You will check in and claim your pre-paid reservation between 7am and 7:30am, board soon thereafter and then depart Key West for Fort Jefferson at about 8:00am. On the way out to Fort Jefferson there will be an all you can eat continental breakfast available that is included in the ticket prices for the ferry. The boat ride out to Fort Jefferson will take about 2 hours and fifteen minutes. Since the Yankee Freedom III can hold up to 250 people and there will likely be no more than 150 on the boat you will have plenty of room to move around, stretch out and change seats if you like.
Once you get out and dock at Fort Jefferson there will be a 45-minute tour of Fort Jefferson available from either a National Park Ranger or one of the crew aboard the Yankee Freedom III. The tour goes through a small portion of the fort, includes lots of historical information and requires walking up to the 3rd level of the fort if you want to go along for the entire tour. You’ll learn about the officers who were stationed at the fort, the prisoners, the weapons and the living conditions for those who spent time out on the fort.
Once the tour of Fort Jefferson comes to an end it will likely be somewhere around 11am. Between 11am and 1pm, there will be a lunch buffet available on the Yankee Freedom III that is also included with your ferry ticket. It is not anything fancy but is more than sufficient to provide a good deli-style meal to give you enough energy to get through the day at Dry Tortugas National Park. If you want more food or want to pack your own lunch and opt not to eat the food aboard the Yankee Freedom II you are more than welcome to do so. The food is good so there is no need to bring your own for the day trips unless you really want to.
When you go to Dry Tortugas on the Yankee Freedom III, there is no schedule you must follow while out at Fort Jefferson. The boat arrives out at Fort Jefferson shortly after 10am and departs at about 3pm. The tour of Fort Jefferson and lunch are both optional. In addition to these you may walk around Fort Jefferson on the wall that creates a moat between the Atlantic Ocean and the fort, you can walk along or lay out on the beach and you can go snorkeling using snorkeling gear provided by the Yankee Freedom III.
The walk around the outside of Fort Jefferson will take you anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour depending on how fast you walk and how frequently you stop to take photos along the way. Snorkeling is an excellent option at Dry Tortugas. The beach is within easy walking distance of the dock where the Yankee Freedom III docks for the day. Since you generally have to make reservations to go out to Dry Tortugas on the Yankee Freedom III well in advance, the weather may not cooperate for a good day of snorkeling. If you get lucky and the weather is nice you’ll be able to see coral, fish and possibly sharks and turtles while out snorkeling.
While you are at Dry Tortugas you will also be able to see the campground out there. If you have an interest in camping on Dry Tortugas in the future you’ll be able to see the facilities and the campsites where you will camp if you decide to return at a later date to spend some nights under the starts at Dry Tortugas. At about 2:30pm the boat will start boarding and at about 3:00pm the Yankee Freedom III will depart Dry Tortugas for Key West. The boat will arrive back at Key West a little after 5:00pm and your journey to Dry Tortugas National Park will come to an end.
Overall, the boat trip on the Yankee Freedom III out to Dry Tortugas is a good time. The boat is clean and comfortable and the ride out there is smooth. The tour of Fort Jefferson is good as is the food provided for the breakfast and lunch available on the boat. At about $170.00 per person, the ride out to Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park is an expensive way to spend a day and much more expensive than the boat to and from Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior (which is $106 to $126 depending on the time of year). Since the Yankee Freedom III is the only boat able to provide commercial rides out to Dry Tortugas it is your only option unless you want to spend more money and take a float plane out there.
If you prefer to just go for a snorkeling trip you may want to consider heading to John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo for a much less expensive (but much shorter) snorkeling trip. If you want to explore an island off the coast of Florida within a US National Park, the boat ride to Boca Chita Island at Biscayne National Park in Homestead Florida is a much less expensive option (at about $40.00 per person) but nowhere near as impressive or as pristine or isolated as Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park.