With water temperatures, a constant 72 degrees, winter in Crystal River 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 fresh water 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 wetsuits and snorkel gear with convenient changing rooms at the center.
We climbed into a van for a quick ride down to the boat dock and was introduced to the captain.
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 genuine excitement and are filled with enthusiasm for what they do.
The Manatees of Crystal River
Something is 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 manatees are curious creatures, they 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 of the history of Three Sisters Springs. He brought international attention to the Springs when he helped rehabilitate a manatee who had been trapped in a Miami sewer system.
After being in the freshwater of barnacles covered manatee
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 number 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. Experience swimming with manatees in a responsible manner that respects and protects their habitat.
- Book online in advance to secure your spot.
- Bring your own beach towels, as they are not provided.
- Bring sunblock.
- Do NOT eat or drink a lot before your excursion and use the facilities before changing into your wetsuit.
- Bring a high quality underwater camera.
- Purchase the digital pictures of your experience from the tour company… it is worth it!
- Pack extra water for after your tour.