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I Can’t Swim. So I Signed up for Every Water-Based Activity in Florida

Sure, I can't swim but that didn't stop me from making the most of my vacation at Florida's Palm Beaches.

I am an adult who never learned to swim. I’ve traveled the world, occasionally venturing into bodies of water while strapped in a lifejacket or sitting confined to safe areas where toddlers swim in diapers. Sure, there’ve been dips on daring (I tried scuba once—never again!), but to me, an all-water vacation is as appealing as TikToking my grandmother while cartwheeling in a wetsuit. I know what you’re thinking: you’re a travel writer! Get outta your comfort zone! Girl, you got this! Like anybody partial to a Jonathan Van Ness meme. I hear you, I see you.

That’s why, armed with a bag of swim trunks, I went to The Palm Beaches (a.k.a Florida’s oceanside playground for the in-the-know, and America’s first resort destination). Here, the beaches are the most alluring statewide (translation: cleaner), less crowded (so I needn’t embarrass myself), and waters warmer (phew). I did something I’d never normally do: I booked an entire weekend of water-based activities, and if you’re reading this, that means I didn’t drown.

Manatees, Kayaks, and Dolphin Diets

I began nice and dry with a visit to Manatee Lagoon, a free educational attraction dedicated to the gentle giants. In colder months, manatees flock to its warm-water outflows to seek refuge from the chill, and humans in turn flock to see them. Now, this ain’t a strip naked, jump in, and cuddle a manatee situation, so before anyone screams “Free My Willy” there’s some serious stuff y’all need to know. Manatees are dying at a record pace and last year alone, over 1,000 died out of a population of around 7,000.

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That’s HUGE (and scary). So for now let’s stand at the observation deck, focus on conservation, and when they’re as plentiful as pugs, we’ll get all the cuddles we want. Deal? With that, I followed my manatee instinct for warmer waters and floated over to Hilton West Palm Beach’s fun time pool, a.k.a. pool-hop stop number one. I dipped my toes in as Mr. DJ serenaded us with BTS, then dried off in a comfy cabana to watch YouTube clips of baby manatees—education an excuse for not submerging in water.

Sunset called for an unavoidable splash: kayaking. Kayaking involves a ton of paddling, even in tandem, but the perks can be well worth the muscle. Visit Palm Beach tours guided us along the WPB city skyline, a bunch of zillionaire celebrity homes and mangroves abundant with bird and sea life.

We paddled between West Palm Beach and Palm Beach Island at sunset, and now I have arms every “Dancing with the Stars” contestant dreams of.Courtesy of Chase Dorsett

“I think I’m going to fall in,” I squealed each time a wave rocked forward. “You need to calm down,” breathed hubby behind me. Besides getting a little wet and my broiler chicken arms going numb, I hopped off successfully unscathed. The evening’s catch of the day (I decided to play dolphin all weekend and go pescatarian) was a whole branzino, with the face and everything, from trendy Elisabetta’s close by. I’d earned it.

Snorkeling, Rescue Turtles, and Yachting

I didn’t sleep all night. The Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island was perfectly fine. There were no noisy neighbors and I had plenty of pillows. What kept me awake was anxiety. Every snorkeling experience I’d ever had was excruciating. I always got salty water up my nose and fins did nothing to stop gravity’s force no matter how little I ate. I tossed and turned replaying old dives. It was like the time I couldn’t get It’s a Small World (After All) out of my head, but worse. Groggy-eyed, we made our way to Phil Foster Park at sunrise for what was expected to be some of the country’s best snorkeling with Live Free Diving, but instead, arrived to raging winds. A storm was brewing. I secretly hoped for it to be canceled, and sure enough, the instructors informed us that conditions were too rough and we were off the hook.

I did my best to look disappointed, but that didn’t last long when I realized that was a sign from the universe to swap snorkeling with spa (oh Miss Universe sure is a gracious witch). Off to SiSpa we went to “kill time” in alternative water (whirlpools and steam rooms, not cheating at all) before my dolphin diet continued at Farmer’s Table. It thundered outside while we devoured deliciously grilled salmon, and when it calmed down, we taxied to the Loggerhead Marinelife Center to learn about sea turtles rescue.

Winds that shook up palm trees were the universe telling me to switch snorkeling with the spa (obviously).Courtesy of Chase Dorsett

Though I’m not one for retaining much information (I’m a Libra), my key takeout was that plastic’s an evil sea turtle murderer. By coincidence, I was wearing (super cute) Le Club swims made from recycled plastic water bottles, and so I gleed at the small part I’d already played in saving turtles; obviously my main reason for purchase, not the fact they made my legs look scrumptious. The storm returned so we sat waiting for it to pass in order to board the Gucci, a boutique boat from trusted woman-owned small business Nantucket Mermaids Yacht Charters. Sailing around Peanut Island, I concluded that lying down with rosé, bow side, brought instant happiness that no rain could dampen. But wet and tired, we forfeited an evening at the renowned waterfront restaurant 1000 NORTH in favor of our hotel’s 3800 Ocean uber-fresh grouper and much-needed sleep.

Pool Picnic

In celebration of the sun’s return the following morning, I perched myself at The Colony’s poolside (another pool—note the commitment) for a picnic and swimming, and no boat, lifejacket, or fins this time. With all my might, I attempted a paddle from deep to shallow end. Two meters in, I huffed as my breath wained and legs kicked in panic. I was determined not to let all these fab Sports Illustrated sun-seekers watch me struggle, and so turned and reached for the ledge as exhaustion hit a breaking point.

“Flipping your fins you don’t get too far” – Ariel, 1989 Courtesy of Chase Dorsett

After a grand total of five meters…I gave up. Resting my head back, I told myself not to fight it. Palm Beach doesn’t discriminate against non-swimmers. We can totally stand at the 4-feet marker, cruise the Atlantic, and schedule snorkeling (but swap it for spas), and still have an awesome time. I departed via Palm Beach International full of unsinkable memories, a belly full of omega-3s, and a newfound pride in doing water activities that require minimal effort.

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