“ Sightseeing Type: Tours / Address: 502 NW 6th St / Crystal River / Florida 34428 / USA „
My boyfriend and I recently spent a week on holiday in Florida, and one of the top things my friends back home had recommended doing was to spend a day swimming with dolphins. However, we decided that we wanted to try something a bit different and swim with manatees instead!
Manatees, also known as 'sea cows', are an extremely endangered and very unusual looking species. They live mainly in warm shallow waters, and we were told by a tourist guide that Crystal River in north-west Florida would be the best place to see them near to our location. So off we headed driving up the western side of Florida, which was very pleasant and an enjoyable experience in itself.
There are several manatee tour companies offering boat tours around the Crystal River area. My boyfriend and I were only up there for one day and so e-mailed a few companies from our previous hotel to enquire about vacancies on the next day's tours. Captain Mike from Crystal River Manatee Tours replied almost instantly, and therefore we decided to book through his company.
We found Crystal River Manatee Tours online at: http://www.crystalrivertours.com/ and it cost us $50 each for a full morning's tour in a small group, including wetsuit and snorkel rental. This seemed like a fair rate, especially compared to how expensive it is to go swimming with dolphins instead.
One thing you should be aware of before deciding to go on a manatee tour is that they leave very early in the morning because this is when the manatees are most active and playful. Our tour departed at 7am, and we were asked to be there half an hour early for wetsuit fitting. Because of the very early start, we decided to book a room at a local hotel and then only have a short drive in the morning to the little dock - please see my review on the Days Inn at Crystal River.
We arrived at the specified location behind Crackers Restaurant bright and early, to be greeted by our captain for the day. We were then fitted for wetsuits and made our way onto the boat for a health and safety talk and a short introductory video about the manatees and why they are endangered. Our captain steered the little boat slowly out into the bay, and we were all instructed to keep a lookout for a manatee nose or the signature 'swirl' pattern their tails make in the water.
We sailed around for about an hour looking for some manatees, and I was beginning to worry that we wouldn't see any. Our captain said they were unusually quiet that morning. Eventually, we managed to find two swimming around and playing together. As soon as we all got in the water however, they swam off. As you're not supposed to chase them, we weren't allowed to swim after them in case it made them feel scared. You have to find some manatees that want to play with you.
So back on the boat we went, and sailed off searching for some other manatees that were feeling a bit friendlier. We did find a couple who wanted to play with us, and everyone on the boat managed to see and touch a manatee by the end of the day. I even saw a mother and baby, which was really cute. However, because there were so few manatees to be seen that day, two other boats came over to 'borrow' our manatee and play in the water with him too after a while - which I personally think made it too crowded.
It was a really fun experience, although it really depends on whether you can find a manatee or not! I was losing hope but as we eventually did find one, I really enjoyed the experience. It's something a bit different to tell your friends when you get back home!
Enjoy the swim & snorkel tour from the water of the boat.