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Cancún Underwater Museum To Entice Divers

Today, I write  about the wonderful Blue Star Museums Initiative - a partnership between Blue Star Families, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and hundreds of museums throughout America. Through this initiative, active-duty U.S. military personnel and up to five immediate family members can enjoy free admission at any participating museum from today (Memorial Day) through September 6 (Labor Day). As NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman said, "America's museums are proud to join the rest of the country in thanking our military personnel and their families for their service and sacrifice. I cannot imagine a better way to do that than welcoming them in to explore and enjoy the extraordinary cultural heritage our museums present."

Among the more than 700 marvelous museums that have agreed to participate, several are featured in my upcoming Moon Florida Keys  travel guide. In the Miami area, for instance, you'll find three excellent art museums: the Miami Art Museum (MAM) (101 W. Flagler St., Miami, 305/375-3000, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun., $8 adults, $4 seniors, students and children under 12 free), The Wolfsonian-FIU (1001 Washington Ave., Miami Beach, 305/531-1001, noon-6 p.m. Thurs. and Sat.-Sun., noon-9 p.m. Fri., $7 adults, $5 seniors, students, and children 6-12), and the Bass Museum of Art (2121 Park Ave., Miami Beach, 305/673-7530, noon-5 p.m. Wed.-Sun., $8 adults, $6 seniors and students). Military families can also learn about the Seminole Indians at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum (34725 W. Boundary Rd., Clewiston, 863/902-1113, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, $9 adults, $6 seniors 55 and over and students 5-18), situated on the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation north of I-75 and featuring a living village, a boardwalk within a 60-acre cypress dome, and a variety of engaging exhibits and artifacts.

Even in the Florida Keys, you'll encounter a few participating museums, including three attractions operated by the Key West Art and Historical Society: the Key West Museum of Art and History at the Custom House (281 Front St., 305/295-6616, 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily, $10 adults, $9 seniors, $5 children), the Key West Lighthouse and Keeper's Quarters Museum (938 Whitehead St., 305/294-0012, 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily, $10 adults, $9 seniors, $5 children), and the Fort East Martello Museum and Gardens(3501 S. Roosevelt Blvd., 305/296-3913, 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily, $6 adults, $5 seniors, $3 children). Of course, one of my favorite museums in southern Florida is the History of Diving Museum (82990 Overseas Hwy., Islamorada, 305/664-9737, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, $12 adults, $6 children 5-12) in the Upper Florida Keys, and luckily, it's also part of the Blue Star Museums Initiative.

Situated on the gulf side of U.S. 1 on Upper Matecumbe Key, this 3,000-square-foot interactive museum will entice sea lovers and non-divers alike. My husband and I certainly enjoyed our last visit there; both of us were impressed by how many artifacts and informative displays were packed into the deceivingly small space. At the time, we were the only patrons present, which gave us the freedom to enjoy the enticing exhibits at our own pace. After viewing an orientation video about the museum's mission and history, we took our time strolling amid the curious collection of diving paraphernalia, which included improbable diving machines, rare diving helmets, armored diving suits, vintage U.S. Navy diving gear, old-fashioned scuba tanks, underwater cameras, recovered coins, and other treasures relating to sea exploration. While visiting, you'll even be able to test your breath-holding abilities, sit inside Halley's enormous diving bell, crank several hand-operated air pumps, view a reef aquarium from inside a diving helmet, and check out Captain Nemo's underwater equipment from the Disney film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea(1954).

Founded by Dr. Joseph A. Bauer, Jr., and his wife, Dr. Sally E. Bauer, whose extensive personal collection formed the basis of these engrossing exhibits, the History of Diving Museum demonstrates humanity's international quest to explore, understand, and venture beneath the sea over the course of 4,000 years. Dedicated to collecting, preserving, and interpreting artifacts, antiques, books, documents, photographs, and oral accounts about the history of diving, from the ancient times of Gilgamesh to the modern days of recreational diving, this surprising little museum also celebrates the unique role that southern Florida and the Florida Keys have played in this incredible story. Although it's not the same as visiting in person, you can get a preview of your museum experience by checking out this online virtual tour. Once you do have a chance to stop by, ask the museum staff about free monthly programs, which can range in topics from the 1733 Spanish galleon treasure fleet to life as a female Navy diver.