What to Expect on a Crystal River Manatee Tour

The warm spring-fed waters of the Crystal River are one of the best places in Florida to see manatees all year round. This is also the only area in the world that is licensed for interactive tours with manatees, which are an endangered species. Swimming with manatees is an exhilarating experience as you interact with these docile giants in their own natural habitat.


Manatees are similar to seals with a huge gray body and thick skin. They can reach up to 13 feet in length and weigh over 3,000 pounds yet they are totally non-aggressive. They spend their time moving slowly up and down the Crystal River grazing on seagrass. They need warm water to survive and consequently the winter months are the best time to see them in large numbers in the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. They congregate in the 72°F spring waters, particularly on cold nights. The best time to swim with them is on the early morning tour before the river becomes busy with boat traffic and other tours.

On arrival at Crystal River Ventures, check in at the tour center and enjoy a complimentary drink as you watch an informative video about how to snorkel and interact with manatees. There are certain rules regarding swimming with manatees which generally require you to treat these wild animals with respect. Expect your tour to last for around three hours.

You’ll be fitted for a wetsuit and given a snorkel, fins and mask so you need to arrive 10-15 minutes ahead of your tour departure time. Once everyone is ready, board the pontoon boat and you’re off! There are plenty of seats for everyone for the ride out to meet the manatees.


The guide gives plenty of information about manatees and what to expect on your trip. You can feel the excitement in the air as everyone keeps an eye open for groups of grey manatees in the water. First signs are usually when they surface and put their whiskery nose above water to breathe. Fortunately the spring waters are so clear you can spot them from quite a distance away against the white limestone riverbed.

Once the boatmaster has chosen a spot he cuts the engine and drifts into the area near the manatees. Snorkelers quietly enter into the water accompanied by the guide who will ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for both swimmers and manatees. Once you are floating in the water, the manatees will slowly approach as they are naturally curious, playful and friendly. It is an amazing experience as they drift closer to check you out. If you’re lucky you’ll see Moms with their calves and you’ll be able to give them a stroke.

Time seems to go by so fast as you snorkel and interact with the manatees. Of course there are plenty of other fish in the river to spot and identify too. You can get in and out of the water as often as you like during this magical trip. There is a private curtained area to change onboard after the final swim or you can use the changing rooms back at the tour center.

On the return journey the boat is full of happy chatter as everyone recalls their favorite moments of this thrilling wildlife experience.

This fun day trip is an excerpt from my book/ebook http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1507818319/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=211189&creative=373489&creativeASIN=1507818319&link_code=as3&tag=gillianbirchc-20&linkId=3PDP2QVJMTDFN2PH which is packed with info, directions and tips to enhance your stay in Clearwater and St Pete Beach.

About gillianbirch

Greetings from your international roving reporter! Based in beautiful Cornwall UK, I am a freelance travel writer and published author of several travel books. As the wife of a Master Mariner, I have travelled extensively and lived in exotic locations all over the world including the Far East, Europe, Australia and the Republic of Panama. I would describe myself as having “endless itchy feet and an insatiable wanderlust”, as I continue to explore Europe, Florida and further afield, writing about my experiences with humour and attention to detail. BTW, I have a Diploma from the British College of Journalism and am a member of the International Travel Writers’ Alliance and the Gulf Coast Writers’ Association.
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