Swimming with the Manatees

For my birthday this past April, September and I took a trip 2 hours north of St. Petersburg to a little paradise called Crystal River. We swam with manatees, kayaked the freshwater springs and had a great time exploring the heart of Florida’s Nature Coast. We loved it so much, in fact, that went back for round 2 in November! I had planned an overnight adventure at our favorite motel, reserved our early-morning manatee tour with our favorite captain, Captain Rhonda, and packed the essentials for a perfect trip. We hit the road early so we could kayak all afternoon before checking into our hotel but 30 minutes into our trip….

A popped hood is never a good sign...

A popped hood is never a good sign…

… warning lights illuminated the dashboard like it was Christmas. We pulled off the highway to an auto repair shop and had the car inspected. The news was not good and we ended up having to drive back home to have our mechanic make some repairs. By early evening, the car was “fixed” and we headed north, once again, for our adventure!

We missed kayaking but we made it to our hotel in time for sunset and had a great Thai dinner.

Overlooking the marina from our hotel balcony

Overlooking the marina from our hotel balcony

The next morning we were ready to go, in our wetsuits, by 6:15.

Under the red light of the dive shop at the wee hours of the morning.

Under the red light of the dive shop at the wee hours of the morning.

When we swim with the manatees we always go with the company, Bird’s Underwater. Captain Rhonda is the best. She knows all about the King’s Bay area and Crystal River and knows the best spots for manatee sightings.

Snorkeling gear!

Snorkeling gear!

Bird’s Underwater provides all of the snorkeling equipment (wet suit, fins, mask and snorkel) as well as hot chocolate, coffee and doughnuts for each morning tour!

Fins

Fins

Our first stop was a sanctuary in the middle of King’s Bay. We anchored and scouted for manatees for about a half hour but they all must have been sleeping – we didn’t see any. Next, Captain Rhonda took us to our favorite spot in Crystal River – Three Sisters Springs.

The canals/waterways off of King's Bay are all idle speed, to protect the manatees that live there.

The canals/waterways off of King’s Bay are all idle speed, to protect the manatees that live there.

On our way to the spring, we passed a handful of manatees relaxing in the water. Some came right up to our boat and let us pet them!

Manatee swimming right next to our boat!

Manatee swimming right next to our boat!

The water is a constant 72 degrees but the air was only in the 50’s – so it felt freezing! But Captain Rhonda was prepared and stocked the boat with plenty of hot water for drinks.

Hot cocoa - yum!

Hot cocoa – yum!

September enjoyed a hot chocolate and I had my morning coffee. Thanks, Captain Rhonda!

Cold but excited

Cold but excited

We had a fun tour and as we were leaving the boat, Captain Rhonda asked us if we wanted to come back the next day for another tour! So awesome! We couldn’t believe it. We just love snorkeling and learning about the manatees.

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By putting our digital camera in 2 plastic Ziplock bags, we were able to “waterproof” it for pictures underwater. Unfortunately, the plastic gets rustled around and doesn’t stay clear for long. Many of our pictures came out blurry.

Makeshift underwater camera - not bad!

Makeshift underwater camera – not bad!

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Some of the more social manatees like to be scratched/pet behind their fins. If they’re really happy, they’ll roll onto their backs so you can pet their stomachs!

Some manatees really enjoy human interaction and will swim right up to the boat to be scratched!

Some manatees really enjoy human interaction and will swim right up to the boat to be scratched/pet!

Every few minutes, the manatees have to come to the surface for air… and it makes for fun pictures.

Breathing

Breathing

Bird’s Underwater is THE BEST tour company – we wouldn’t go with anyone else. Captain Rhonda makes our manatee encounters awesome every time! (We hope to go up this spring and get SCUBA certified with her!)

We wouldn't go with any other tour company - only Bird's Underwater. They are awesome. And Captain Rhonda is the best!

We wouldn’t go with any other tour company – only Bird’s Underwater. They are awesome. And Captain Rhonda is the best!

I love snorkeling. I wish I never had to get out of the water!

I love snorkeling!

I love snorkeling!

Two thumbs up!

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So long manatees – we’ll see you again soon!

manatees

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