Florida Guide > Other Florida
Swim with the manatees
For a change from the park attractions, why not try something different. An experience not to be missed is a visit to the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, Kings Bay. This has the largest collection of manatees in the world. The Wildlife Refuge is not far from the Orlando area as it is located in Citrus County, approximately 75 miles north of St. Petersburg. The town of Crystal River is only accessible by boat which in its self is a fun way to travel. Twenty islands make up the refuge which is surrounded by sparkling clear springs from Kings Bay. These natural springs keep the water temperature constantly warm which is essential for the well being of manatees.
To make the most of this visit, a truly unique experience to view and swim with the manatees is Bird’s Underwater Manatee Tours. These tours are seasonal and usually operate from mid November to end of March and last for around 3 hours. For a relaxing and magical experience glide slowly around the islands of the refuge and if you have any questions, the boats Captain is extremely knowledgeable and will readily answer questions.
The build up to the boat tour starts with a video and information on how to behave if you do decide to go in the water and swim with the manatees. Wet suits and snorkels are available for hire but if you have your own you can use those. The boats set off at set times and once on board it is best to secure a good vantage point to view these beautiful animals.
If you are intending to swim, the Captain will find a suitable place so that those on board can either swim or watch others take to the water and gently swim around the manatees. Touching these fascinating animals is forbidden and swimmers are requested to remain at a certain distance so as not to disturb them. The boat’s captain is able to take digital videos which are available to purchase. These make great mementoes to take away and show friends and family when you return home.
Although Crystal River is just two hours from Orlando, staying at a hotel or renting one of the waterfront vacation homes is a great way to add to the experience and extend the visit. Also on these boat tours, manatees are not the only creatures you are likely to see, often there are dolphins and the odd whale.
If you are staying in the Orlando area and don’t wish to travel as far as Chrystal River, then visit Sea World. This park is an authorised manatee conservation centre and is a great place to learn how ill and injured manatees are rehabilitated.
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Page added on: 25 April 2009
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