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Swimming with Manatees in Crystal River, Florida – Wild Junket Journey Journey Weblog

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Final Up to date on Could 9, 2023 by Nellie Huang

One of many coolest issues to do in Florida is swimming with manatees. Right here’s my information on how and the place to swim with manatees!

“There’s one proper there!” Our captain factors to a gray mass near the water floor. I drop my snorkeling masks and poke my head out of the boat’s bow. There it’s, within the clear spring waters, a delicate large munching on seagrass, gliding gently beneath our boat. My daughter stares in awe, and I can not cease smiling.

We’re cruising alongside Kings Bay in Crystal River, alongside the Gulf Coast of Central Florida. Simply 5 minutes after leaving the pier, we’ve already discovered our first manatee. Crystal River is named the “Manatee Capital of the World” for good purpose — it’s residence to the biggest inhabitants of untamed manatees in North America.

swimming with manatees - crystal river florida

My Information to Swimming with Manatees 

Contemporary off our Florida street journey, I can safely say swimming with manatees is without doubt one of the coolest wildlife experiences I’ve had in my travels. It’s unimaginable getting up shut to those light giants, who’re truly not afraid of us human beings. An expertise like this when completed proper can have a constructive affect and undoubtedly present an academic expertise for us. However it does require numerous planning and analysis; I’m right here to share my expertise and tips about swimming with manatees in Florida.

Is it Moral to Swim with Manatees?

Swimming with manatees is a fully superb expertise – and an academic one for teenagers – nevertheless it’s essential to be sure to do it in a accountable and moral manner that retains the manatees and their habitat secure.

The wildlife providers strongly advise passive statement, which implies not initiating contact with manatees and calmly observing on the floor. Manatees are protected, so it’s unlawful to harass or contact them, and manatee excursions are regulated to verify they observe strict pointers.

Manatees are additionally social creatures and so they’re truly fairly curious of human beings. They use their ‘whiskers’, generally known as vibrissae, as sensory organs — and so they can sense you from so far as 10 toes away. So if you happen to keep quiet and calm, they’ll usually come as much as sniff you out! All in all, you may swim with manatees in an moral manner if you happen to’re cautious and respectful. Simply keep in mind that the manatees are the celebs of the present and we’re simply visiting their residence.

Swimming with Manatees in Crystal River, Florida


Finest Place to Swim with Manatees in Florida

The very best place to swim with wild manatees in Florida is in Crystal River, the place probably the most manatees congregate. The manatees are drawn to the nice and cozy, spring-fed waters of Crystal River through the winter months, when the Gulf of Mexico cools down. Most Florida Springs stay a relentless 72 levels all 12 months lengthy.

The Crystal River Nationwide Wildlife Refuge was established in 1983 to guard the manatees. The US wildlife providers are always enterprise tasks to plant seagrass right here and restore the manatees’ habitat. The 80-acre (32 ha) refuge is barely accessible by boat, and consists of 20 islands and a number of other springs together with:

  • Three Sisters Springs— the final unspoiled and undeveloped spring habitat in Kings Bay.
  • King Spring— one of seven federal manatee sanctuaries arrange from November to March, offers important habitat for the over 600 manatees that migrate to Kings Bay every winter.
  • Buzzard, Parker, and Banana islands — present habitat for bald eagles, osprey, wooden storks, and plenty of different shore birds

manatees tours crystal river


How you can Get to Crystal River, Florida

Crystal River is positioned on the Gulf Coast of Florida, about 80 miles (129km) north of Tampa and 86.5 miles (139km) from Orlando. You’ll be able to simply add it to your Florida itinerary if you happen to’re already planning to go to Orlando.

By Airplane

The closest main airports to Crystal River is Tampa Worldwide Airport (TPA) and Orlando Worldwide Airport (MCO). You’ll be able to normally get cheaper flights to Orlando than Tampa. Home flights from New York value round $120 every manner; whereas flights from London to Orlando begin from $700 round-trip.

By Automotive

Renting a automobile is the best technique to get to Crystal River. There are such a lot of automobile rental companies at Orlando and Tampa Airport. Simply be sure to get a global drivers license if you happen to’re coming from exterior the US (the police stopped us however made an exception for us!)

The common worth for automobile rental in Florida ranges from US$50-80 per day. I at all times use DiscoverCars.com to for automobile leases worldwide. The search engine compares rental-prices from all the most important corporations and has persistently given me the cheaper charges and finest providers. Seek for automobile leases in Orlando!

Listed below are the driving distances:

      • From Tampa — 1h15mins
      • From Orlando — 1.5 hours
      • From Jacksonville — 2.5hours
      • From Miami — 5 hours

crystal river florida manatees


Finest Time to Swim with Manatees

Everybody says that the perfect time to swim with manatees in Florida is within the winter months, from mid-November to April. Throughout this time, the Gulf of Mexico cools down, and the manatees migrate to the hotter, spring-fed waters of Crystal River.

Nonetheless, there are resident manatees in Crystal River who keep right here all 12 months. We swam with the manatees in early Could and really noticed over 20 manatees in Kings Bay all through our 3-hour snorkeling tour. (I do know it doesn’t sound like rather a lot, however we have been swimming with one proper after one other and it was superb!)

Our information mentioned that Could/June is in actual fact the perfect time of the 12 months in her opinion as manatees are extra energetic and out grazing. You additionally get a greater expertise with out the gang. In winter, there are tons of of them in Kings Bay however they’re normally huddled collectively and the world they’re in is cordoned off by US wildlife providers to guard them.

manatees swim tours - crystal river florida


When NOT to Go Swimming with Manatees

I’d keep away from the height season, which runs from December and January, as it could get busy/crowded. Our information mentioned throughout this time, there may be a number of boats within the bay and also you’ll see a number of snorkelers hovering over one manatee. She mentioned the craziest day is on Christmas Eve.

When we visited in Could, it was at all times simply our group with the manatees (4 of us!). We did see different boats however our boat captain made positive to keep away from them and hunt down manatees on our personal. It didn’t really feel in the slightest degree crowded and the manatees have been undoubtedly not stressed by us.

Plus, the climate may be unpredictable in winter, with occasional chilly fronts, excessive winds, and tough seas. Even throughout our go to in Could, it was chilly within the morning and the water can really feel chilly (even with the wetsuit). My daughter was shaking on the boat after swimming. In case you’re touring with youngsters, take that into consideration.

explorida florida crystal river


Finest Crystal River Manatee Excursions

The guided manatee excursions sometimes take you out on pontoon boats to the areas the place the manatees congregate. You’ll be able to then swim and snorkel with the manatees of their pure habitat. It’s essential to decide on a good tour operator that follows accountable wildlife viewing practices and doesn’t disturb the manatees.

We booked our manatee tour with Explorida, voted #1 operator on Journey Advisor, and had a incredible expertise. I’d talked to some operators and all morning excursions have been truly absolutely booked that day, however Explorida opened up a brand new 7am tour for us. We ended up with simply 4 of us on the tour, like a non-public tour! [I paid for the tour — it was NOT sponsored.]

Our information Maddie was humorous, energetic and knowledgable. She noticed one manatee after one other, made positive we might all see clearly, all while answering questions on manatees and taking unimaginable underwater photographs for us. When my daughter struggled with the chilly, darkish water, she was so type and affected person together with her. I can not advocate her sufficient!

TIP: Guide an early morning tour as manatees are most energetic then and it’s much less crowded. Ensure to ebook your tour upfront as morning excursions get absolutely booked quick. It’s the identical worth to ebook on-line vs in retailer.

snorkeling with manatees - crystal river


What It’s Wish to Swim with Manatees

Bear in mind that you just gained’t essentially swim in crystal clear blue waters such as you see within the photos. A number of the springs we went, like Rainbow Springs, undoubtedly have stunning spearmint water, nevertheless it all is dependent upon the place you discover the manatees.

On our tour, we principally swam in shallow however barely murky water with numerous seagrass on the backside. It was overwhelming to get into the darkish, brackish water at first. In most elements, the water was clear sufficient to see the manatees, although visibility wasn’t nice.

The typical manatee is round 11 toes (3.5m) lengthy and weigh as much as 990 kilos (450kg), so sure it’s a large animal. Nonetheless, manatees normally transfer slowly and may sense you earlier than you even get into the water. There’s nothing to be afraid of — manatees are herbivores, they don’t chunk. There has by no means been a case of manatees attacking people right here.

NOTE: That mentioned, there are alligators within the water — however they normally keep within the extra swampy, a lot much less traveled areas.

 


What Do Manatee Excursions Embody?

No matter which manatee tour operator you ebook with, you’ll first be given a security briefing and requested to observe a video with the principles defined to you (Scroll beneath to see the principles).

You’ll then put in your wetsuit and get on a van to succeed in the pier the place the boat is ready. Wetsuits don’t solely maintain you heat within the chilly water, however additionally they assist maintain you afloat. If that’s not sufficient, the noodles will certainly be sure to’re floating on the water floor always.

Most excursions embody the next:

      • a wetsuit
      • snorkeling gear
      • float noodle
      • scorching chocolate on chilly days

manatee tour crystal river


Price of Swimming with Manatees

Becoming a member of a gaggle manatee tour prices US$65 per snorkeler (with max 12 individuals), whereas a semi-private tour can value US$99 per particular person (with max 6 individuals). We have been very fortunate to pay for a traditional tour and ended up with solely 4 of us within the tour. You may also be a part of a tour as a rider (no snorkeling) for US$50.

The photographs taken by your information through the tour can be found for buy. Explorida fees US$30 for the entire set (of 167 photographs and movies). I purchased the photographs regardless that I had my very own GoPro as their photographs have been rather a lot higher than mine.

manatee snorkel tour


Guidelines for Swimming with Manatees

There are strict guidelines within the Crystal River Nationwide Wildlife Refuge to safeguard the manatees. Whether or not you’re swimming by yourself or becoming a member of a manatee tour, it’s worthwhile to abide by these guidelines.

  • At all times float on the floor when observing a manatee
  • Don’t dive from the floor onto a resting or feeding manatee
  • Don’t chase or pursue a manatee
  • Don’t feed a manatee
  • Don’t nook or encompass a manatee
  • Don’t stand on a manatee
  • Don’t separating a mom and calf or separating a gaggle of manatees
  • Don’t actively initiating contact with manatee

swimming with manatees - crystal river florida


Is it Potential to See Manatees with out Happening a Tour?

Sure, it’s potential — however solely in case you are a neighborhood who is aware of the place to go, what to do, and how one can conduct your self correctly of their habitat. There are only a few spots in Crystal River city the place you’re legally allowed to swim in or kayak.

Becoming a member of a guided manatee tour is probably the most accountable technique to swim with manatees. The excursions observe strict pointers and so they’re designed to offer you an opportunity to watch the manatees from a respectful distance whereas minimizing any interference.

You’ll be going with a information who’s skilled to identify manatees so your possibilities of seeing manatees are excessive! Many excursions additionally embody instructional elements that will help you study extra about manatees, their habitat, and the significance of conservation efforts.

manatee tour crystal river florida


The place to See Manatees WITHOUT a Tour

As a lot of the water round Crystal River is a part of the wildlife refuge, there are only a few spots the place you may legally swim within the Crystal River. Listed below are the one official areas the place you may swim in:

  • Hunter Springs Park —  This gorgeous park (pictured) has a small seashore the place swimming is allowed (and free). We noticed manatees swimming each occasions we have been right here!
  • Kings Bay Park — Close by is one other park with a playground and kayak launch pad the place you can too swim in.
  • Three Sisters Springs — You’ll be able to technically lease a kayak or SUP from the retailers close by and paddle into these springs (at the moment closed).

hunter springs park - crystal river florida


Doing a Manatee Tour with Youngsters

A manatee swim tour could be a enjoyable and academic exercise for teenagers, nevertheless it’s essential to contemplate your little one’s consolation degree, age, and maturity. If you wish to swim with manatees however can’t depart your youngsters alone, they’ll be a part of the tour as riders (for $50) as an alternative of the complete worth.

The minimal age on most manatee excursions is 3 years outdated. Be sure that your little one is snug and assured within the water. Manatee swim excursions sometimes require you to swim or float quietly within the water to watch the manatees. In case your child splashes or kicks alot, then it’s smart to not convey them.

My daughter is 8 years outdated and he or she’s an amazing swimmer and is normally assured snorkeling (even in deep water) — however this time, she didn’t just like the darkish, brackish water and solely stayed with the manatees for round 10 minutes.

swimming with manatees - kids on manatee snorkel tour


Manatee Enjoyable Information

We discovered so many attention-grabbing details about Florida’s most beloved animal on the manatee tour. In reality, there are lots of signposts throughout Crystal River sharing nuggets of information on their beloved mascot.

  • There are three species of manatees — the West Indian manatee, the Amazonian manatee, and the African manatee. Those present in Florida are the West Indian manatee.
  • Manatees are sometimes referred to as “sea cows” as a result of they’re slow-moving herbivores that graze on seagrass and different aquatic crops.
  • Manatees can dwell as much as 60 years within the wild and may develop as much as 10 toes (3m) weigh as much as 1,300 kilos (590kg).
  • Manatees are wonderful swimmers and may maintain their breath for as much as 20 minutes, though they normally come up for air each couple of minutes.
  • Manatees are social animals and are sometimes seen in teams, generally known as “herds” or “aggregations.”
  • Regardless of their massive measurement, manatees have small brains relative to their physique measurement, weighing solely about 8 ounces.
  • Manatees don’t have any pure predators, however they’re threatened by human actions comparable to boat collisions, habitat loss, and air pollution.
  • Manatees are protected beneath the Endangered Species Act, and it’s unlawful to harass, hurt, or disturb them in any manner.

manatees fun facts - swimming with manatees


Issues to Do in Crystal River Florida

It comes as a shock to many who there are literally tons of issues to do in Crystal River, in addition to becoming a member of a manatee tour. A whole lot of pure springs and state parks dot the Citrus County space, and there’s no scarcity of outside actions on supply.

Wander the Historic Downtown

Crystal River could also be a small city however its historic downtown is  fairly cute. Stretching throughout just some blocks round Kings Bay, the downtown space has a number of historic buildings, together with a church, retailers and common retailer.

You should definitely duck into the outdated Metropolis Corridor that now homes the Coastal Heritage Museum. On show are a 1929 diorama of downtown Citrus Avenue and an unique jail cell. Admission is free. There are additionally numerous stunning mural artwork round city — my favourite is on the principle sq..

mural art crystal river fl

Chill at Hunter Springs Park

About 100 toes offshore from the gorgeous Hunter Springs, this park has a small seashore with crystal clear, shallow waters resulting in a roped-off swimming space. We noticed manatees swimming within the water each occasions we have been right here! Get right here within the morning, when the possibilities to seeing manatees are greater.

There’s additionally a kayak/canoe launch space, a playground, and a boardwalk alongside the waterway the place you may spot waterbirds. Admission is free. Carry your seashore mat, and hang around the entire day right here.

hunter springs park - crystal river manatees

Paddle into Three Sisters Springs

The Three Sisters Springs is the final unspoiled and undeveloped spring habitat in Kings Bay. Sadly we didn’t get to go to because it was closed (extra beneath). I’ve heard that in winter there may be tons of of manatees on this spring at a time. The boardwalk has viewing platforms to watch the springs and native wildlife.

You may also rent a kayak from the numerous retailers close by and paddle into the springs. (Swimming from the boardwalk is just not allowed.) The Crystal River Kayak Firm is the closest clothes shop to the spring entrance. Very quick paddle away.

three sisters springs - florida manatees tours

Three Sisters Springs Canal Stabilization Venture

The Three Sisters Springs is at the moment closed for restoration work. This undertaking will restore habitat, together with important manatee habitat, and stop erosion of sediment into the spring.

Building is claimed to be full by November 15, 2023. Swimming, paddling or land-based visits are all suspended.

Attempt Scalloping

In case you’ve by no means scalloped earlier than (however love consuming them), consider an Easter egg hunt whereas swimming above shallow saltwater grass flats. Scallops usually are not too onerous to search out on the sandy backside of Crystal River. The water is shallow sufficient that even youngsters can dive right down to the grass flats to choose up the scallops.

Scalloping season runs from the starting of July to early September yearly. You’ll be able to normally harvest scallops about 2-3 miles from shore, and may be discovered virtually wherever eelgrass is positioned. Explorida runs scallop charters and in addition scalloping-manatee combo excursions.

scalloping florida

Discover Homosassa Wildlife State Park

A 15-minute drive away is the Homosassa Springs, residence to a big wildlife park that seems like a zoo — nevertheless it’s not. The native wildlife that dwell right here every have a novel life story, and they’re all right here as a result of they’re unable to outlive within the wild on their very own.

An astounding variety of contemporary and saltwater fish congregate within the pure spring bowl — massive jacks, snapper, snook and others. We significantly just like the Underwater Observatory, with a clear-glass deck that lets you see the fish and manatees swimming about. There’s a manatee rehabilitation facility right here, with resident manatees.

The park additionally options a wide range of captive animals comparable to alligators, black bears, pink wolf, and the oldest hippopotamus in captivity. Admission is $13 for adults, $5 for teenagers 6-12.

homossassa springs - swim with manatees

homossassa wildlife park - manatees springs florida

Splash round Rainbow Springs

Only a 30-minute drive from downtown, the Rainbow Springs State Park is without doubt one of the most picturesque spots to swim within the space. We completely beloved spending the morning right here, snorkeling with freshwater fish within the crystal clear cerulean waters.

The Rainbow Springs are named for the colourful rainbow-like look of the water, which is attributable to the reflection of daylight off the riverbed. You’ll be able to lease kayaks, canoes or SUP (costs begin from US$17/hour) to discover the 6-mile-long river. Entrance is barely US$2.

swimming with manatees florida - rainbow springs

See “Mermaids” at Weeki Wachee Springs

A 1.5-hour drive south of Crystal River, Weeki Wachee is one other state park the place you may swim within the spearmint water and catch a real-life mermaid present! This simply could also be Florida’s roadside points of interest at their most interesting. 

This park is residence to the deepest freshwater cave system in the US. You’ll be able to simply spend an entire day right here, swooshing down the waterslides, occurring a river boat cruise, or kayaking the waterways. Entry is $13 for adults, $8 for teenagers 6-12.

weeki wachee


The place to Eat at Crystal River Florida

The Crab Plant — The city’s hottest seafood vendor has a easy shack that serves freshly steamed stone crabs, scallops and shrimps with side-dishes like potato salad and hush puppies.

Cajun Jimmy’s — An enormous hit with locals, this Louisiana-style joint has excellent seafood-centric dishes like gumbo, jambalaya and crawfish etouffee.

Classic on fifth — This restaurant affords a chic ambiance with a contemporary twist on traditional American delicacies. The menu options dishes made with locally-sourced components, together with contemporary seafood and meats, and an intensive wine listing.

Cracker’s Bar & Grill — This informal restaurant serves up traditional Florida fare, together with seafood, burgers, and sandwiches. The menu options each indoor and out of doors eating choices and a energetic ambiance with dwell music on weekends.

Grannie’s Restaurant — This family-owned and operated restaurant has been serving home-cooked meals for over 30 years. The menu options Southern consolation meals, together with breakfast dishes.

stone crabs - florida crystal river


The place to Keep in Crystal River Florida

Luxurious: Plantation on Crystal River

We stayed at this lakeside resort (pictured), and actually beloved the historic vibes and landscaped gardens. The resort has an superior out of doors pool, scorching tub, lake views, and spacious rooms. It additionally has an hooked up journey middle that gives manatee excursions (however at the next worth than others). Test charges right here.

Midrange: Lakefront Crystal River Residence

This waterfront 3-bedroom home affords numerous house for households, together with out of doors hammocks, campfire space, and a non-public dock. It’s enormous and accommodates as much as 10 individuals, full with a totally outfitted kitchen. Test charges right here.

Funds: The Crystal Manatee

This inexpensive resort affords clear and comfy rooms with primary facilities, together with free Wi-Fi and continental breakfast. The resort additionally affords a handy location, only a quick drive from native points of interest such because the Crystal River Nationwide Wildlife Refuge and Three Sisters Springs. Test charges right here.

plantation on crystal river - where to stay crystal river florida


Swimming with Manatees: What to Pack

At Crystal River, you’ll be spending numerous time within the water, so undoubtedly get numerous water gear. Although you’ll be supplied with wetsuits in your tour, I like to recommend bringing sun-proof rashguards (for different water actions).  KEEN footwear or regular sandals are actually helpful for water actions. 

what to wear in crystal river florida


Last Suggestions for Swimming with Manatees

  • You’ll be able to see manatees in Crystal River 12 months spherical — don’t wait to go to through the peak season; it’s can get crowded and overwhelming for the manatees. I extremely advocate visiting low season like we did (in early Could), we had the manatees to ourselves and no crowds!
  • At all times go early! As with every wildlife watching expertise, animals are most energetic within the early morning. Guide a tour for 6am or 7am — not solely will you see extra manatees, it’s considerably much less crowded.
  • Guide your manatee tour upfront as morning excursions replenish early. That is particularly essential if you happen to’re touring in a gaggle. Don’t wait until you get there, like we did!
  • Attempt to give your self extra time and don’t plan a good itinerary, in case your manatee tour must be rescheduled.
  • Carry a GoPro to take underwater photographs! You’ll need to take movies/photographs not simply on the manatee tour itself.

 

swimming with manatees - baby manatee


Get pleasure from Swimming with the Manatees!

Thanks for studying this far. If in case you have any questions on swimming with manatees or about Crystal River Florida normally, please depart them within the feedback beneath and I will probably be blissful to answer to any questions you’ve got.

Learn my articles on Florida and the remainder of the US beneath:

Disclaimer: This submit incorporates affiliate hyperlinks i.e. if you happen to ebook a keep via one in all my hyperlinks, I get a small fee at NO EXTRA COST to you. Thanks on your help!


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