There is ONE place in the world that you can swim with the manatees, and you can find this spot in the beautiful waters of Crystal River located in Citrus, Florida. As I told people about my travel plans to take this once-in-a-lifetime experience, I realized that many people had this destination on their bucket list but had never made the trip. My biggest question…WHY??? Located less than two hours outside of Orlando, this convenient, hidden gem is filled with natural wonder. So if you decide to detour away from the big cities and get a taste of Old Florida, here’s how to make sure you get the most from the manatee tour with your family. But first, check out the special hug that I got on my trip with a manatee calf! You don’t see this every day!
5 Tips to Swim with the Manatees
1. Visit during manatee season (November-March). During this time, you can see hundreds of manatees within a few acres of clear, blue springs. However, don’t be too disappointed if you can’t make the season. I visited in May and was still able to have the experience without fighting a huge crowd. Also, the Three Sisters (crystal clear water where most manatees are located) was completely empty, so we enjoyed a peaceful snorkeling experience without battling tons of other tour boats. So decide what’s more important to you: a TON of manatees or a private springs snorkeling experience with a few manatees. Both are incredible.
2. Make sure your kids are comfortable in the water. One of the biggest rules while swimming with the manatees is to not splash or kick in the water, and they mean it! If a manatee approaches you, the best move is to do nothing. Your wet suit helps you float, but when I was on tour, a young boy was having a hard time relaxing in the water. The tour guide (Captain Ed was awesome) put the boy on his back to help, but if your kids are still getting used to the water, you may want to prepare them for the tour.
3. Take the early morning tour. Our tour started around 7:30 am. While that may sound way too early for your family, it will get you back in plenty of time for lunchtime and afternoon naps. The trip started out a little cooler but gets hot by late morning. It’s nice to avoid the afternoon sun and get a jump start on the day. We were one of the very first people of the morning to arrive at Three Sisters, so we got to enjoy it all to ourselves. The afternoon can get much busier!
4. Bring snacks and little to drink. Your tour will last between 3-4 hours with no “formal” bathrooms available. A nice surprise on our ride back to the marina was free cups of hot chocolate and coffee for all to enjoy. For some reason, that cup of hot chocolate tasted amazing.
5. Consider getting a manatee package for the best savings. Hotels in the area like the Plantation on Crystal River offer discounts when staying at the resort. From what I could find, the average prices on manatee tours stay around $55 per person regardless of age. I was pleasantly surprised by this great price for several hours on the water.
Hope you get to check this off your bucket list soon because it is a must-do for any age!
Travel and accommodations were graciously provided by Visit Florida and Visit Citrus.