In the warm, calm waters of Crystal River, Fla., there resides an aggregation of some of the most magnificent and mysterious creatures that perhaps ever survived on this planet. The manatee, as I was fortunate enough to find out first hand, are not only gentle giants, they are playful, curious and simply fascinating to watch in their natural habitat.
I was welcomed by the River Ventures crew for a very early morning swim in late June. While the season is not ideal for manatee encounters, the early morning hours always offer the best opportunities to see the manatee.
Manatees tend to stay in the shallow waters of the Crystal River more in the winter months, but because it is their natural environment, the endangered species are generally found somewhere in the river, and the capable captains will assure you have an encounter.
River Ventures provides tours and swimming encounters with the manatees in their own natural environment in the Crystal River refuge. While I’m sure all of the captains that operate the boats are knowledgeable and do their best to make sure their groups are happy, I can only speak for Captain Rick, who was my group’s manatee guide.
Captain Rick proved to be ambitious and energetic to find the manatee and make his guests have an enjoyable experience. He made sure everyone had an equal opportunity to get up close to these magnificent sea cows, and even have the opportunity to pet them.
The tours are 3 hours and are suitable for children ages 2 years and up and adults of all ages. The 3 hours provides ample opportunity to find the manatees, swim and even interact with them, but feels like such a short time.
River Ventures begins each tour with a short video telling all about the manatees and why they are endangered species needing protection. Each person is then fitted with a wetsuit and provided snorkeling gear. Can’t swim? No worries! Everyone gets a “noodle” that keeps them afloat.
Seeing these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat was truly an experience I will remember for a lifetime. If you are in Florida, finding River Ventures in Crystal River is worth the effort. We drove from Orlando at 4 a.m. to make the 6 a.m. tour and, although I’m not a morning person, I am planning to make this River Venture a regular part of any future vacation to Florida.
For only $45 per person, it is one of the more affordable adventures in Florida and safe and fun for the entire family.