There’s nothing like being able to cross something amazing off your bucket list!
My family and I have wanted to go “swimming with the manatees” for years, and this past holiday season, we had a unforgettable experience doing just that.
There’s only one place in North America where you can legally swim with manatees, and that’s in the Crystal River area, about a 4-hour drive from Ocean’s Reach.
The headwaters of Crystal River can be found at Kings Bay and its surrounding springs, where the water temperature is a consistent 72 degrees year-round. During the winter months, more than 400 West Indian manatees migrate here to escape the colder waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
While there are several outfitters located in Crystal River from which to choose for this type of adventure, it was very important to us that we found one that emphasized respect for these gentle giants, prioritizing the importance of their protection and safety.
After much research, we found that company in Crystal River Watersports, where Captain Robert and Guide Dakota treated us to an unforgettable day on the water getting “up close and personal” with these amazing 1,000-pound creatures.
We opted for a private swim with the manatees, so we had the boat to ourselves, perfect for learning all of the “do’s and don’ts” of interacting with the mammals, and having the opportunity to ask as many questions as we wanted. (Captain Robert actually worked for Tarpon Bay Explorers on Sanibel Island years ago, so we got into a great discussion about environmental practices that are impacting manatees around the state.)
The swim itself was awesome. The water was crystal clear, allowing amazing close-up views of these collosal gentle giants. We were told that if we stayed very still, the curious-by-nature manatees would occassionally initiate interaction with humans, and one came up so close to me that I swear I was ready for a kiss!
If you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience where you can discover an incredibly unique ecosphere, swimming with manatees should be added to your bucket list, too. All ages are welcome, and it’s a perfect activity to enjoy with kids and teens. Our outfitter provided all of our in-water gear (wetsuits, masks, snorkels and snorkeling vests) and our guide was even ready with some hot cocoa when we got back on the boat! (Note that the water was indeed on the “chilly” side, but the wetsuits made it more than manageable.)
For more information on “Swimming With Manatees,” call Crystal River Watersports at 352-795-7033 or visit their website at crystalriverwatersports.com.
P.S. We had so much fun on our manatee adventure that I’m going to dedicate this week’s blogs to what we learned about our new “seacow” friends … Stay tuned!