With water temperatures a constant 72 degrees, winter is the best time of year to swim with Manatees.
While planning our Christmas Season in Orlando, Kari researched day trips from Orlando which were not amusement parks. A forty-five minute drive from Orlando is a little town called Crystal River; the winter home to hundreds of Manatees. Crystal River has over seventy springs feeding 600 million gallons of freshwater daily and is only six miles from the Gulf of Mexico. The gulf is too cold in the winter, so the manatees seek out the warmer 72 degree fresh-water springs.
River Ventures Tour
There are a variety of options for swimming with Manatees. We chose River Ventures because they had great reviews on Trip Advisor, were reasonably priced, and offered manatee education.
At their facility, we watched a short video and briefing on Manatee conservation and appropriate interactions with them. River Ventures provided full 5mm wet suits and snorkel gear with convenient changing rooms at the center. Make sure to bring your own towels and sunblock.
The staff was accommodating and helpful, giving advice on where to pick up beach towels when we forgot ours, and making sure that our experience went smoothly.
We climbed into a van for a quick ride down to the boat. Captain Wade was knowledgeable, friendly, and made our trip personable. Jessie, our in-water guide and photographer, kept good care of us and made sure we had the best possible interactions. They have been doing this for years and still have a genuine excitement, filled with enthusiasm, which allowed us to have a great time.
The Manatees of Crystal River
There is something shocking about how big Manatees are when you see them in person. It sounds obvious, but when you are that close to them in the wild, it still is a surprise.
You quickly realize how gentle these giants truly are. I can’t remember a time being at ease with my kids this close to wild animals. While they are curious creatures, manatees startle easily, so you have to move slowly if you want them to come near you.
Three Sisters Springs
Unlike other springs in Florida, Three Sisters Springs is the only place in the United States open to the public while wintering manatees are present. Jacques Cousteau is an important part in history of Three Sisters Springs. He helped rehabilitate a manatee who had been trapped in a Miami sewer system at the springs.
Protecting the Manatees
I feel blessed we had the opportunity to experience these amazing mammals in their natural environment. There are efforts to prevent people from entering the water at Three Sisters Springs when manatees are present. While I respect their intentions, I am in favor of supervised experiences by licensed tour companies and with oversight by park rangers. This incentivizes the businesses to follow National Park guidelines, regulates the amount of people that can be in the water with the manatees, and educates the public on proper behavior while in the water. This is one of the many reasons why I recommend River Ventures if you want to experience swimming with manatees in a responsible manner that respects and protects their habitat.