By Chris Karel
Where is the best place to swim with Manatees in Florida?
Even in a state overflowing with fun things to do and breath-taking places to see, Crystal River stands out for its unique combination of natural beauty, small-town charm and plethora of outdoor activities, including swimming with manatees. Families journey here from all over the southeast to dive for scallops, hike and bike the area’s hundreds of miles of trails and enjoy the shops, art galleries and restaurants along the city’s quaint main street. It is truly a wonderland for families who love nature adventures.
However, Crystal River’s main claim to fame is the manatees who inhabit the city’s springs and waterways. While there are other places around Florida where you can see manatees, Crystal River is the only place in North America where you can swim with them. Not only is being on the water beneficial for the mind and body, but a close encounter with these huge, aquatic teddy bears nourishes the soul.
How Much Does It Cost To Swim With Manatees?
Splashing around with the manatees isn’t cheap, however, with tours starting at $275 for a family of four. And while Crystal River has many great things in abundance, hotel rooms are not one of them. All but one of the city’s handful of hotels are basic 2.5-star establishments, and the influx of visitors during the winter months — when the population of manatees in the area swells — can push room rates over $175 a night.
All of this makes the Swim with the Manatees package offered by Crystal River’s lone luxury resort, Plantation on Crystal River, that much more enticing. For $549, four guests get overnight accommodations in a garden-view room, a manatee snorkeling tour with all equipment provided, breakfast at the resort’s West 82° Bar & Grill, and a welcome bag with a plush manatee toy, fun facts and manatee interaction guidelines. Another advantage of the Plantation on Crystal River’s package is that the manatee tour is provided by the resort’s own adventure center and dive shop. When you’re ready to depart on your tour, you just stroll down to the on-site facility — no need to drive anywhere.
How long does a Manatee Tour Last?
The manatee tour lasts around 3 hours, leaving you plenty of time to explore the other sites and activities the area has to offer. If your manatee tour leaves you hungry for more time on the water, Plantation on Crystal River’s adventure center also offers sightseeing cruises, guided scalloping and fishing charters and even boat rentals.
Further afield, the resort is just a 2-minute drive from Three Sisters Springs and Hunter Springs Park, and just 5 minutes from Citrus Avenue and its art galleries, restaurants and shops. Or travel 12 minutes in the other direction to Fort Island Beach on the Gulf of Mexico. Last but not least, Crystal River Archaeological State Park is a can’t-miss attraction. The U.S. National Historic Landmark is one of the longest continually occupied sites in Florida, a ceremonial complex that was a gathering place for Native Americans for over 1,600 years.
Whether you opt to get wet or stay dry, to immerse yourself in the here and now or take a trip back in time, Crystal River has something for every member of the family. If you’re planning a visit to see and interact with the area’s star attraction, though, there’s no better way to do it than with the Plantation on Crystal River’s Swim with the Manatees package. After a weekend of family-friendly outdoor fun, your body, mind, soul — and hopefully even the kids — will thank you.