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‘Swim with the Manatees’ at Plantation on Crystal River

by Susan and Simon Veness

“Swim with the Manatees” returns to Plantation on Crystal River as the cold weather sets in and the “sea cows” return to the riverfront resort’s temperate waters.

Swim with the Manatees
Photos by Plantation at Crystal River

Winter in Florida means a migration of West Indian Manatees from the Gulf of Mexico into the balmier rivers and waterways of Florida’s second largest spring system, where the natural springs of King’s Bay are the Sunshine State’s prime viewing location.

Hundreds of manatees graze on eelgrass growing in the bay’s pristine water during Florida’s coldest months, offering the ideal opportunity to get an up-close view of the gentle giants during a guided snorkeling tour.

Plantation at Crystal River in Citrus County is the only place in North America where visitors can legally swim and interact with manatees — though touching or harassing them is illegal everywhere. Tours depart from the resort and head out to shallow waters, where temperatures typically hold at approximately 72 degrees Fahrenheit (23 degrees Celsius).

Participants arrive at Plantation resort’s Adventure Center & Dive Shop, get fitted for the proper equipment and heat-retaining, buoyant wetsuits, then enjoy a boat ride to the grazing location, complete with hot chocolate, coffee, warming coats, and towels.

Dive Center boat and underwater view

During swim time, participants can view the manatees from underwater while heeding the required restriction of “passive observation” (meaning, manatees may engage in contact with guests, but guests are not allowed to actively touch them in return).

Showers and changing facilities are available upon returning from the tour, or for those staying offsite.

“Swim with the Manatee” tours are offered year-round, but the best time for viewing is from Nov. 15 – March 31, depending on how cool (or otherwise) the temperatures are each season. The chillier the temperature, the more manatees guests are likely to encounter.

One-night “Swim with the Manatees” packages include:

  • Overnight accommodations in a garden view room
  • A snorkeling tour for two
  • Semi-dry mask, snorkel, and wetsuit
  • Breakfast for two at Plantation’s West 82˚ Bar & Grill
  • Welcome bag with cuddly manatee toy, fun facts, and manatee interaction guidelines.

Packages start at $299 for two guests, and underwater photos and video are available for purchase after the tour. The special rate is for single night stays from Sunday-Thursday, subject to availability. Taxes and resort amenity fee not included. Water view, patio room, Junior suites, and golf villas are also available for an additional charge.

All boat captains are licensed, insured, and United States Coast Guard certified, and boats are equipped with power poles to limit impact on the environment.

For more information, visit PlantationonCrystalRiver.com or call 800-632-6262.

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