You can enjoy a manatee swim near Orlando. Well, actually, where the Manatees swim, and where you are sure to see lots of them, is in Crystal River, Florida.
I vividly remember the first time I saw a Manatee swim in the wild in Florida. I was walking over an inland waterway near the coast. Meandering over the bridge, I stopped to look up and down the waterway, and then down into the water. There they were, a cow and calf, gently undulating near the surface in the water just below me. Outstanding.
It never crossed my mind that you could actually get in the water and snorkel with the Manatees. You can have a Manatee swim near Orlando… at Crystal River Florida. It will take you from 1 1/2 to 2 hours from downtown Orlando, depending on which route you select.
Manatee Swim near Orlando
All of the photos on this page were taken during our outing to Crystal River Florida to see and swim with the Manatees.
Why are Manatees at Crystal River?
You can see manatees around all of Florida’s coastal waters. Sometimes.
At Crystal River, there are hundreds of them. If you want to see and swim with the manatees for sure, then Crystal River is the place to go.
According to Captain Charlie on the boat we toured on, the fresh water springs flowing out of the Crystal River are, typically, warmer than the gulf waters. In the winter, when the gulf waters cool to the point where the manatees are uncomfortable, they migrate to warmer waters.
Since manatees are creatures of habit and ingrained memory, they return to the same warm-water springs every year. And Crystal River has an abundance of then coming and going all the time.
Since the Crystal River is a gorgeous, shallow, crystal clear body of water, you can seem manatees from on top, and in the water. Lots of them.
A pristine manatee experience?
The ads and websites of the tour operators that offer manatee swims always show a quiet, serene, isolated river location. The implication is that it will be you and the manatees, up close and personal.
Well, it’s not like that at all. The reality is that there could be dozens of boats (many of them large, pontoon style), tens of kayaks, canoes, wake boards, and many, many, people in the water and boarding and disembarking all during your visit. Your tour captain will likely advise you to stay out of the middle of the very narrow river, reducing the potential for being run over by a boat.
On top of that, some of the banks of the river are private property, with some very large homes, backyards and jetties abutting the not so pristine manatee experience.
We were taken aback by the numbers of people. Now you know what to experience, and you won’t be. 🙂
Would we go back?
You bet. Even with the hordes of people, it is a wondrous and humbling experience to be up close to these gentle, large creatures. And you will be. The manatees are everywhere.
The licensed tour operators teach, and then, try to enforce the rules… no bothering a manatee on the bottom, when they swim close don’t move, if they come to you, you can slowly and gently touch them, no chasing, do not walk on the river bottom to help prevent stirring up the sediment – a negative result for both the manatees and the rest of the visitors. (Please note: the “gently touching” permission was delivered by an “official” on the site. If this has changed of late, follow the current regulations.)
Unfortunately, since visitors can rent kayaks and canoes, some of these folks are ill-informed, and ride their watercraft roughshod over the boundaries marking the no-go areas, the places where the manatees can be safe from even the well-intentioned visitor, never mind the self-centered idiots that just don’t care.
Snorkels and wet suits
If you are like us, and not interested in getting into chilly water with the manatees, or are not comfortable with using the usually-included wet suits and snorkels as shown below, some of the operators let you go on the tour and stay on board to see the manatees from on top of the water.
Those that opt for the higher-priced get-in-the-water experience, will most likely be issued a snorkel and wetsuit such as those in the photo above. It was reassuring to see that each was fully sanitized at the end of the swim, in preparation for the next guest!
Hot chocolate anyone?
I cannot speak for all tour operators. Ours was thoughtful enough to provide complimentary hot chocolate to any of their passengers that wished it. After exiting the cool water, some of our snorkelers were chilled, and the hot chocolate was much welcomed by many.
Here are a few of the operators of manatee tours at Crystal River Florida.