Every year when the water temperature in the Gulf of Mexico drops, over 400 manatees will migrate to Crystal River where the temperature of the springs remains at a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit. This migration normally takes place over the winter months normally between November and April. During our tour, manatees can migrate into the Crystal River as early as October. All facts I learned on my fun and informative tour with Manatee Tour and Dive this weekend.
My friends were in town for the weekend for a Bachelorette shindig and what better place to celebrate than the sunny state of Florida? I have been dying to swim with manatees since moving to Florida and thought what a great group of people to convince to experience this with. I am so glad that everyone was on board and we found Groupons for $26/person [normally $55/person]. The Groupon included the manatee snorkel gear, wet suit, and boat tour. The only surprise were taxes & fees that we had to pay when we arrived for the tour, which was not included in the Groupon. It was only about $4/person totaling $30/person.
We started our adventure from Tampa driving 1.5 hours to arrive at our destination in Crystal River, FL. Our group arrived 30 minutes early and the parking lot in the front, back, and side of the building were full. There is additional street parking on N Citrus Avenue, where I was able to park with no problem. Additional parking can be found in a parking lot by the King Bays Park as well, but you’ll have to pay to park in this particular lot.
Once we checked in, the staff helped us find our respective wet suit sizes to gear up for our snorkeling tour. After everyone was suited up, we watched a 5 minute video about the laws protecting manatees and guidelines about what not to do when swimming around manatees.
After a video, we took a short walk from the Manatee Tour & Dive Building to the King Bays Park where the tour boat was located. Our tour group was comprised of 9 people, 4 of which were from our group. Our boat captain was Teddy and tour guide was Shelly. Before we set off, they let us know that it was a pretty rough day trying to find these beautiful, large “sea cows.” I was SUPER EXCITED when our tour guides spotted a manatee. I honestly thought we were not going to be able to find any.
We were given our snorkel gear and a noodle to help us float! It took me a little bit to get used to the amount of air that comes through a snorkel, so I swam around for about 15 minutes before approaching the manatee. You have to float above them remaining as still as possible as to not scare them away. I was fidgeting around too much and did not want to ruin other people’s experience. Once I got used to the air flow, Shelly helped me towards the area where the manatee was resting. I floated above the water for about 10 minutes before the manatee swam towards the surface for air.
IT WAS AMAZING!!! I cannot even describe the experience. The manatee swam right next to me. If I would have just reached out my hand, I would have been able to graze it, but you are not allowed to touch them unless they come up and touch you. It took every fiber in my being to not hug this large, gentle mammal. I was in complete awe by its sheer size. The one we saw on our tour was estimated to be around 1400 lbs. It is hard to believe that manatees can get up to 3000 lbs. I cannot even imagine how big that would be in comparison to the manatee seen on our tour. I was not able to see its face and did not want to move around to catch a glimpse of it. I am a known “water splasher.” Just being that close to the manatee was enough excitement and joy for me.
After everyone in our group was able to experience the manatee up close, we all boarded back onto the boat to navigate toward a natural spring. Natural springs can be found along the Crystal River. Our tour group led us to one of the natural springs where we all jumped off to do some swimming. We dove down into the water to take a gander at the depth of the spring and the clarity of the water. I really wish I brought my underwater camera to give a better depiction of the beauty of the spring, but guess you’ll have to experience it for yourself.
Before we headed back, our tour guides led us to a tarpon grazing area where we watched these large fish swim around. It is quite astounding that there are species of fish that can be as large as the tarpon.
It was sad to see the tour end. I had such a great experience and have added swimming with manatees during the winter months to my bucket list.