Snorkeling with the Manatees in Crystal River Florida

  • Updated: December 27, 2018
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

December 27th, 2018

This was the first activity of our eight-ish day Florida News Years 2019 Dive-cation of Amazing Awesomeness. Up until this trip I only had a vague awareness of manatees but it turns out Jen has been fascinated by them since learning about them from some school assembly as a child. When we first came across the option of swimming with manatees while trying to pull off this last minute Florida trip she was ecstatic and insisted that we try and make it work.

And we did though it took a bit of work. We flew in to the Ft Lauderdale Airport since it was close to Florida Keys and it would be significantly cheaper to return our rental car to the same location we rented it from. That meant when we landed at noon we had a good 5-hour drive across the state to get to Crystal River aka home of the manatees.

Granted a 5 hour 340 mile drive isn't *that* bad by our standards and we made the side trip more worthwhile by adding some freshwater diving activities that promised to be a bit different than anything we'd done up to this point in our diving careers.

Also it meant we had the opportunity to drive across the Everglades...

...which as it turns out wasn't the most exciting thing in the world.

After a long drive through the middle of nowhere inparticular we spent the night at Cody's RV Park which was such a unique experience I'm slightly hesitant to even try and describe it. We stayed there two nights and never saw it during the day so the way it's lit up with castles, helicopters, dinosaurs, and all sorts of other random decorations really made an impression. (Also they sell firewood in big bundles and cheap but make sure you get your order in before the firewood guy starts drinking and it requires his friend to cover for him)

We booked our manatee swim through American Pro Diving Center located in Crystal River since we could do both a manatee snorkle trip and a drift dive in the Rainbow River with them on the same day. On their advice we decided to do the manatee snorkel first thing in the morning which seems to have been a smart choice. Even if you go out on the second boat the water has become significantly busier which can lower your chances for finding a manatee who wants to interact with you.

We arrived at the dive shop a bit before they opened and hung around out front before they opened the doors so we could wander through their wonderland of dive gear and manatee related merchandise some of which we may have purchased.

Our plan was to make today our trial run to decide if we wanted to rent thinner wetsuits for the rest of the trip vs using our cold water 7 mm suits which are the norm in California. After our relatively brief snorkle we both promptly froze our butts off and spent the rest of the trip toasty warm in our 7 mm suffering friendly comments from other warm water divers.

Before we could leave the shop we were given a quick orientation and then watched a thrilling informative video from the park service going over all the things not to do around the manatees. The short version is don't chase, poke, stand on, or stab them and let them decide whether to interact with you.

Now properly informed and prepared to passively observe with only the potential for consent driven belly rubs we follow the boat a short distance to Pete's Pier where we packed into a flatbottom boat and headed off.

We passed by Hunter Springs Park which according to our guide was the only publicly accessible piece of shoreline in the area. We could see a fair number of snorklers doing their thing in a marked off swimming area and I have no idea if they had manatees there or were just looking at little fish. Still it's good to know there are options it's an option if you're adverse to going out with a guide and you can provide your own pool noodle.

Speaking of pool noodles they were everywhere. They had us bring fins but then leave them on the boat as they don't want you swimming very fast anywhere in the vicinity of manatees. You basically just lay in the water with the noddle around your waist and chill.

The guide and the boat captain stopped by a marked off spring where they found some manatees resting. (You're not allowed to go into the spring itself so they always have a refuge if they want to get away from you) Despite the work crew building a dock next door starting up a chainsaw they decided this spot was worth a shot.

The guide jumped in the water and went to see if the manatee was in an interacting mood or not and was soon motioning us to come over.

We got in the water which was mostly under 10 ft deep and made our way over. Our first underwater view of a manatee was one just hanging still in the water and I was briefly worried this might be the extent of what we were going to see. And then things improved a bit...

Our new manatee buddy seemed genuinely curious and kept moving around to different people in our group and then flipping over as if to request belly rubs.

According to the guide this sort of thing happens maybe 10% of the time so we were very lucky. Per my pictures we were in the water at about 8:40 am and back on the boat around 10 am.

At which point the crew passed around hot chocolate which was awesome since we were both a bit on the cold side. Then it was a short trip back to the dive shop where we had just enough time to grab lunch before heading out for our freshwater drift dive at KP Hole!

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