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Crystal River – Visit the Manatees
Looking for something a little different, we decided to take a drive up to Crystal River to see the manatees.
The drive took around 1 hour 40 minutes from the Davenport area and once we reached Crystal River we headed for the Chamber of Commerce office on the main road through Crystal River town.
Inside the Chamber of Commerce there were lots of leaflets providing details of different ways to see the manatees (plus lots of other things to do). You could take a boat trip and either just watch them from a boat or actually get in and swim with the manatees.
We decided to take a boat ride from Kings Bay at Crystal River. The pick up point for this was just outside a restaurant called Crackers, which is next door to the Best Western. The leaflet said there were 4 tours a day but we thought we had missed one by half an hour, with an hour and a half to the next one. Nevertheless, we walked down the dock to speak with the captain of a boat parked up alongside the dock.
When enquiring what time the next boat trip was, he asked me what time it was now. I said that it was 1. 05pm and he said that the next boat trip was at 1. 05! Great, we said. I pointed out that there were just the two of us, and he said that was fine with him. So, we had the whole boat to ourselves – result!
We clambered on board and as we drove out into the bay, the captain pointed out the local wildlife. We saw black vultures, pelicans and even spotted a couple of ospreys.
The captain explained that the manatees like to hang around Kings Bay because there are lots of warm springs there. There’s not much food for them, but they swim out to the Gulf and back for this, so no problem.
We drove around the edge of the bay and saw lots of beautiful homes – what a dream location that must be to have a house. As we puttered past a small bridge that crossed over a channel off the bay, the captain told us that this was a perfect place to spot the manatees as there is a warm spring just under the bridge. He said he’d tell us how to drive around to that spot when we left the boat.
He took us near to an area by the central island in the bay, which was marked out by small buoys. This is a place where only the manatees can go, so they can be undisturbed by boats or swimmers. We could still see them from a distance though, which is great.
Every now and then, the manatees come to the surface for air and you get to see their cute little faces and can see the rest of their bodies below the surface. They are absolutely huge but look so graceful swimming around, occasionally rolling over on their backs for a while before swimming off. The captain said that some can grow up to 3000 lbs in weight!
We spent about an hour puttering around the bay, looking at the birds and spotting manatees – it really was great value for money at $25 per person. We passed some boats that were taking people to actually swim with the manatees. Maybe another day, it was a little chilly on the day we went!
When we parked back up at the dock, the captain told us how to reach the small bridge by road, so we set off in this direction. As we passed over the road, we saw the signs for the Manatee nature reserve so decided to carry on to visit this. When we got there, we found a great little museum that told you everything you needed to know about the manatees and you could also buy T-shirts and other souvenirs, with the profits going to help support the conservation of the area and the wildlife.
Just through the nature reserve, at the back of the shop, is an area where you can sit and watch the nature around you. There are tables for you to use if you bring a picnic. We walked out onto the dock landing area and could see some manatees just about 50 yards away.
Suddenly, we looked up and saw an Osprey with a large fish in its claws, circling and looking for somewhere to land and eat its prey. We were absolutely fascinated when it landed less than ten feet away from us, perched on a pole. We were able to get some fabulous pictures and felt really privileged to see such a magnificent bird so close up.
We then drove back across the small bridge, parked nearby and walked to stand in the middle of it. Looking down, there was a small herd of manatees, gracefully swimming backwards and forwards, some with their calves in tow. Beautiful, absolutely beautiful.
We looked out across the Bay and appreciated what a diverse place Florida is. Where else can you get the thrill of the theme parks and the peace and tranquillity of this natural wonder all within such easy reach of each other.
We will definitely visit again, and perhaps next time will take the chance to swim with them. If you have the time, I would thoroughly recommend this, it’s a day we’ll remember for a long time.
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