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I'm hoping someone or many might be able to help me with setting up a trip down your way to swim with manatees. I have a 7 year old boy who is chomping at the bit to get in the water with me when I dive (how lucky am I??). In perperation for this we have been working on snorkeling. He has snorkeled in Turks and has been practicing a lot in the pool this year. I am thinking of enrolling him in a Kids Sea camp this summer, but before investing that kind of money I wanted to get him another in water experience. So I think that swimming with Manatees would be a nice thing for the both of us. I have seen adds for a couple of companies in Florida. I am hoping that you all might be able to tell me the best time of year/ place/ company/ deal for this encounter.
Try around the winter time - the gulf waters are cooler and more manatees come into the sanctuaries on Crystal River and Homasassa (sp?) as the springs are warmer at 72F. There are 4-5 different operations that run out of Crystal River, American Pro, Birds, one out the Great Western and another 1 or 2 i dont recall names/locations of. A trip out including an hour or so snorkelling and some cocoa on the way in costs in the region of $30pp, if you want a dive in the King Springs cavern, that would run you around $45 + rentals etc off their boats and includes some snorkelling time. Each person will offer their own preference on which operator to go with. There are a group of us off SB that are thinking of going on saturday 12/11 - dont know exact numbers yet, but there will most likely be about 20 or so divers/snorkelers. If you decide to dive elsewhere as well during your trip just ask away and even some locals like myself might be free to show you around
Ditto what simbrooks says. December is probably the best time. I highly recomend Manateetours.com Scott knows the area better than most, he grew up on Crystal River and can find manatees when no one else can. (OK, I gotta brag him up, he's my cousin)
But seriously, he does a great job and your son will love it.
If it worked, I loaded a picture taken of my daughter in Three Sisters Springs of Cystal River.
You could also try diving with NetDoc around the springs. He'll play rodeo clown with the manatee's for you and have the bruises to show for it later on!
Seriously though, hit the Crystal River area in the Winter and you can practically can't swing a cat around without hitting a manatee. If you don't do the tours, there are boats available to rent to. I rented this big john boat from the Crystal Lodge Dive Center (http://www.manatee-central.com/) and drove around to the springs dove a few hours and drove back at our leisure to the tune of a whopping $24.
Seriously though, hit the Crystal River area in the Winter and you can practically can't swing a cat around without hitting a manatee.
Have you tried swinging a cat around underwater?? I cant imagine it being a very pretty site, nor you having much skin left as it dug its claws in!
Rent your own jon boat or go on one of the tours. They seem to start the tours around 6.30-7AM, so be ready to get up early I dont think you can rent the jon boats til after 8AM or so, but i could be wrong. Its a great snorkeling experience, the cavern is nice to dive, just be careful!
I like the idea of renting a boat. My son would love that. Would it be a better idea to go on a tour for our first trip, or is it really that easy to find manatees, anchor and swim with them?
Thanks for your help. He is going to freak out when he hears about this trip!
The boat rental place is just across a little patch of water from the main sanctuary area. You can tell where to go as the other tour boats will be clustered with people jumping in and chasing the manatees as if they were hunting The boat operators give you a map of the Kings Bay area to find where you are. There are other mini-springs to snorkel in, but might not be as great for manatee spotting there, cant say as i havent done it, but the charter boats all go to the main sanctuary area around Kings cavern.
Yeah, you can't miss the big springs there, a LARGE brown state park sign designating the area as a park. And not only are there the tour boats there, but a water roach coach also comes out and sells hamburgers, hotdogs, sodas, water, chipz, etc... its quite the intersting place.