Tips for Snorkeling with Manatees in Crystal River, Florida

January 10, 2022


Every winter in Crystal River, Florida, you can check a fun adventure off your bucket list. Manatees migrate to this beautiful area in the winter to escape the cold ocean waters.

Crystal River has many interesting tours to choose from including kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and snorkeling with manatees.

This small town is near the coast of Florida only about an hour and a half west of Walt Disney World. It makes the perfect weekend getaway or day trip from Orlando.

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Where to Stay in Crystal River

We spent the night at Plantation on Crystal River. This 50-year-old hotel is not an actual plantation. It’s an eco-friendly resort that is designed with comfort, convenience, and Florida charm in mind.
Plantation on Crystal River Resort Hotel swim with manatees

Disclaimer: I was offered a media discount on my hotel stay and manatee tour. All opinions are my own.

This hotel was affordable and offered a ton of great amenities, such as a spa, golfing, and this amazing heated pool to name a few.

Heated swimming pool at Plantation on Crystal River Florida

Which Tour to Take

Our snorkeling tour was through the Plantation Adventure Center which is right next to the hotel. I loved being able to just get up and walk to our tour, especially since it was early in the morning.

There are usually multiple tour times throughout the day, but the earlier you go the more active the manatees will be. We chose the 7 am tour and it was great!

The Plantation Adventure Center offers several other activities such as fishing, boating, and scalloping, but of course, we were mainly there for the manatees.

Crystal River Florida swim with manatees snorkeling tour

The tour company provided all the gear we needed for the tour: wetsuits, masks, snorkels, towels, and even coffee and hot chocolate.

The boat captain and guide, Mark and Jake, were super friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful. I had personally never snorkeled before, so it took me some time to adjust. They were very patient and helped me relax until I felt comfortable enough to swim around on my own.

Taking Underwater Photos

The tour guides also took photos and videos while we were in the water. We decided to purchase the flash drive with those photos after the tour.
Crystal River Florida swim with manatees snorkeling tour

Photo of me with a manatee, taken by our tour guide, Jake.

As you can see in the above photo, I used my own GoPro Hero 8 to take photos and videos. If you have a GoPro or underwater camera, I highly recommend bringing it along.

Don’t forget to bring a wrist strap or camera grip/mount of some kind. I completely forgot mine, and I was just trusting in my ability to hold onto my camera. If you drop it, you might not find it again.

Crystal River Florida swim with manatees snorkeling tour

Photo by Jake from Plantation Adventure Center Tours

About Swimming with the Manatees

Manatees are very gentle and playful creatures. I think they are adorable, especially the babies! Don’t worry, they only eat plants.

Crystal River Florida swim with manatees snorkeling tour

Baby manatee

Many people say that these tours shouldn’t exist since they think they disturb the manatees in their natural environment, but that’s simply not true.

The tour company is very adamant that guests do not touch or approach the manatees. They show an informational video before the tour to show you how to behave around them. Plus, our captain explained that the tourism brought by the manatee tours helps fund their efforts to protect the animals and even plant more food for them.

Crystal River Florida swim with manatees snorkeling tour

Occasionally the manatees are willing to play or approach you. If they are coming close enough for you to touch, they are fine with you petting them gently. One even kissed my sister’s face and another started rubbing against me.

It’s really amazing to see the wild manatees so close up. This tour is totally worth the cost, which isn’t expensive at all if you book a group tour instead of a private one.

I haven’t done any of the scenic cruises or kayaking tours, but I’d imagine that being underwater with the manatees while snorkeling or scuba diving is so much more exciting.

Other Things to See

You may have noticed from the photos that the waters of the bays are a gorgeous turquoise color.

Crystal River Florida Kings Bay Turquoise Water

Don’t expect it to always look like this…when we first arrived the water had significantly lower visibility. But about halfway through our 2-hour-tour, the water cleared up so we could see the bottom of the bay. I loved the golden morning light coming through the surface of the water.

There were also a few other animals, mainly fish. I was surprised at the deepness of the water in some areas of the bay. The wetsuits and optional pool noodles help you stay afloat if you aren’t a good swimmer.

Crystal River Florida swim with manatees snorkeling tour lots of fish

Also, don’t worry, there aren’t any alligators in the bay! Just fish and friendly manatees.

Where to Eat

Crystal River is not a large town. There are a few chain restaurants, such as the Chili’s we tried. The Plantation on Crystal River also had a place to eat called the West 82º Bar & Grill, but we didn’t get to eat there.

On our way out of town, we stopped at Coney Island Drive Inn. This all-American restaurant has “world-famous” foot-long hot dogs and plenty of other great items to try.

Coney Island Drive Inn Crystal River Florida

You can see the delicious food we ordered below. From top to bottom we got a Norm’s Bigg Dog (chili dog with slaw and onion rings), a coney sauce and onion hot dog, cheese fries, poutine (one of my favorite Canadian foods, fries with gravy and cheese), and then another Norm’s.

Coney Island Drive Inn Crystal River poutine, cheese fries, chili dog, foot long hot dogs

This place was super tasty and affordable. I’d definitely visit again.

If you’re looking for a bucket list experience that is fun and exciting but not dangerous, a manatee tour is a perfect activity for you. And if you’re not too fond of swimming, a kayak tour or boat cruise is also a great way to see these adorable animals and their beautiful surroundings.

Have you ever been snorkeling with manatees? Tell me about your experience in the comments!


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Have you ever wanted to try snorkeling with manatees? This is a bucket list experience that you can find in the beautiful clear blue waters of Crystal River, Florida. Swim with manatees in the calm bay waters and see these gentle animals up close. Here are some tips for your trip to Crystal River, including where to stay, where to eat, and where you can find tours including kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, snorkeling, and scuba diving with manatees.

  1. Eve Mitchell says:

    I loved the photos that you shared of the manatees! I’m thinking about going snorkeling this summer on vacation. I’d love to see some of the wildlife while I’m out.

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