The What: Snorkeling with Manatees
The Where: Crystal River, Florida
The When: Daily Tours Available
Casual Runners know that while running is a part of our lives, it is not our entire lives. Better yet, as Casual Running allows us to be healthier and live more active lifestyles, it allows us to experience new and wonderful adventures. In this special series, we will look at fun Casual Adventures that our Team takes on when we are away from our training, even if its only for a day or two! And remember, adventure is out there!
Manatees have been my favorite animal for as long as I can remember. When I was little I loved the book ‘Sam the Sea Cow’ to the point that when I grew up I wanted to be a marine biologist. The problem with this plan was when I learned that I would have to care for other marine animals besides manatees, such as sharks! (Ya, I know I conquered my fears and swam with them. That doesn’t mean I want to take care of them though.)
So, I moved on from wanting to be a marine biologist, but manatees have always been near and dear to my heart. I love them so much I even drug Mike to the Columbus Zoo in the winter to see the twin baby manatees, Millennium and Falcon. Anyways… it has always been on my bucket list to swim with manatees and our prolonged trip to Florida in January for the 2017 Cigna runDisney Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend served as the perfect time to do just that!
The Scene of the Adventure
Now what tour company were we going to choose for our swim with the manatees? We decided to go to with American Pro Diving Center in Crystal River, Florida. We compared all the prices of the shops in the area and checked Groupon and Living Social. I ended up finding a Groupon for two people at American Pro Diving Center for the price of one, plus I had 10% off on Groupon thus making it a spectacular deal.
A few weeks prior to our departure I called American Pro Diving Center to set up the date we wanted to swim with the manatees and the only time they had available on the day we wanted to go was 8:30AM, which was good with us because we wanted to go in the morning. They asked us to arrive about 15 minutes prior to the snorkel to get fitted for our wetsuits. They also informed us we had to pay tax on the Groupon when we arrived for our snorkel.
Adventuring the Adventure
We arrived for our adventure at 8:15AM as requested to sign our waivers and get our gear fitted. We had to wait on the entire tour group to arrive to do this as well before they would play the video on the rules of snorkeling with manatees. Not everyone was on time and it was after 9AM before we headed to the river to begin our adventure. This was one of my biggest complaints of the adventure – I hate when people are late thus making others late.
We had to drive ourselves over to the docks to get on the pontoon boat to go out for our adventure. Mike’s parents were kind enough to drive us over to the dock, so we didn’t have to pay the $5 parking fee. They headed out to explore what all Crystal River had to offer. We did learn that paying for parking was a little confusing, even with our guide’s instructions. I am not going to try to explain it, just make sure to ask your guide if you have any questions.
We boarded the pontoon boat and headed out on our Adventure. Our dive master had been out the day before and felt he had the perfect place to take us, which was about a 20-30 minute boat ride. We saw a few manatees swimming in the river on the way and I was getting very anxious to get in! We finally arrived and there were two boats there already in the water, but luckily they were getting out of the water and the area was going to be ours.
It was time to get in! Our dive master informed us that we would be swimming in a very shallow area and he did not want us to wear our flippers because too much movement and noise in the water would scare away the manatees. For an optimal experience, all adventurers should be as relaxed as possible in the waters so that your new manatee friends will be relaxed as well, thus making them more likely to want to spend time with you.
We also were given a pool noodle to help us stay afloat in the water, which I greatly appreciated! Even though your wetsuit does provide some buoyancy, the noodles help you to enjoy a nice, relaxing float in the water so you can watch the manatees. They are also far easier to use than those ubiquitous awkward yellow snorkelling vests we’ve all seen on vacation.
‘We had been warned that if we get scared when we’re in the water to just hold still with our arms and legs out so we wouldn’t frighten the manatees. Well, I’m glad I listened to this advice because as soon as I put my face in the water and started floating, a manatee swam right underneath me and startled me. I was not prepared for this right off the bat and it made me a little timid for the beginning of the snorkel where I kept ahold of Mike.
We followed the group over to a roped off cove and we were in manatee central at this point. At first I did not realize how many manatees were in the water around us because the water was not as clear as I had hoped it would be. Crystal River is a spring fed river (which keeps the water temp at a nice 72 degrees) and rumor had it that one of the springs had collapsed, thus causing the water to be cloudier than normal during our adventure. I would have preferred to go somewhere that we could have seen a little better, but then I may not have had the awesome experience that we had!
Shortly after entering this cove a male, baby manatee curled up with our dive master and became the star of the adventure! At first an adolescent male was trying to hang on to this little manatee and I think the baby manatee was trying to get us to save him from the older manatee. I was still timid at this time but tried to snap some pictures without getting too close.
I enjoyed floating around for a bit while I looked at the manatees and grew a little braver. I decided to take a short intermission over on the steps of a dock and then it was like I was a manatee magnet from that point on! While sitting on the dock I had several different manatees come up to me to see what I was up to and I decided to head back in the water to see what kind of fun they were up to. I was having a great time swimming around with the manatees when our dive master called out to inform us that we needed to start making our way back to the boat.
Well, wouldn’t you know, as soon as the dive master made this announcement the baby manatee from before found me and grabbed on to my leg! It was the sweetest encounter ever and I did not want to leave. I do not think this little guy wanted me to leave either because he followed me all the way to the boat! I was having such an amazing time and did not want to leave, but all adventures must come to an end.
Some things you may want to know in case this Casual Adventure is now on your radar.
The tours are suitable for adventurers of all ages and ability levels, provided you are comfortable in the water and can follow the directions of your captain/dive guide. The waters of Crystal River are calm, allowing you to float easily. Your wetsuit and swim noodle really do keep you buoyant, so you do not need to be an expert swimmer or in peak physical condition. Check with your tour provider on ages for your kids, but this really is an adventure for the whole family.
You will see the most manatees in the winter months when they are seeking a warm water refuge. Tours typically take place in the morning. Since Crystal River is a bit of a drive from both Orlando and Tampa, you may want to consider driving in the night before and getting a hotel room so you do not have to get up too early to drive to your adventure. Fortunately, we even have a hotel recommendation for you Casual Adventurers!
We learned that, when shopping around for one of these adventures, not all pricing is created equal. Make sure you are doing a true “apples to apples” comparison. Some shops will advertise lower prices that do not include gear (you will need a mask, snorkel, swim fins, and a wetsuit) and there can be additional add-ons such as local park and vehicle parking fees. Thus, seemingly cheaper prices may actually cost you more in the end. You will need to wear a wetsuit for this adventure, but you can always choose to use your own gear. If you do and are going with a shop that includes gear in its pricing, check to see if they give you a discount if you do not use their gear.
You must abide by all rules, warnings, and regulations. This adventure is all about preservation and education. You are entering the manatees’ world – in one of the few places where you are permitted to do so. Listen to and follow all instructions to ensure that you and the manatees will have a safe and enjoyable interaction.
Wrapping it Up
We all headed back onto the pontoon boat and made our way back to the docks. Everyone relived their tales on the boat and could not wait for their chance to swim with the manatees again. Mike’s parents were at the docks waiting to pick us up to take us back to the dive shop to return our gear.
Of course stopping at the dive shop meant souvenirs, because who doesn’t need manatee earrings?!?! We also were able to view the video that the dive master shot while we were out on the water. Originally I had planned on buying the video, but was disappointed that the video was very short. Luckily, Mike shot some awesome videos on the GoPro and I can relive my Casual Adventures with the manatees every day!
Enjoy the freedom of going wherever your feet, imagination, & determination take you!
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Enjoy the freedom of going wherever your feet, imagination, & determination take you!