Our Getaway to Swim With Manatees in Crystal River, Florida


Let me start this off by saying that my family did NOT want to see the manatees. You are going to see pictures here of us smiling and everyone looking happy, but in reality, everyone was freaking out.

I, the mother of this family, have always wanted to swim with the manatees. Actually, I want to do anything that looks fun, is a little adventurous, and maybe even scares me a tiny bit. So I came to my family with this bright idea that we were going to hop in the car, drive six hours away, stay in a cool hotel, and top it all off with a swimming adventure with sea cows.

I was pumped. I couldn’t wait to tell my family this grand idea and then start the planning. However, they were immediately like, “No thanks.” So we talked about it, compromised, and we went to swim with the manatees. Basically, if I get something in my head, it is happening.

So here is our little adventure. The details, the good, the not-so-good, and tips for you and your family!

Our Road Trip to Crystal River, Florida

First off, if you are starting a trip going south from Charleston, you have to stop at the Carolina Cider Company. It is this cute little shop that has coffee, pastries, and snacks. This is the perfect stop for your kids who told you they went to the bathroom before they left but lied. Use the tiny restroom, get some snacks and coffee, and support a cute local business.

A man posing next to a small white building with a Carolina Cider Company sign.Now, you are on your way. There is not much else going on for the rest of the trip. So for our kids, we let them download a movie but first they had to read and stare out the window like we did when we were kids. Eventually, everyone naps and we are there.

Where We Stayed

We stayed at the Crystal River Plantation, which seemed like one of the only great places to stay in. I’m going to give it to you straight here because you are reading this, taking advice, and I want to be honest with you. If you are someone who wants downtown Charleston fancy hotels and chocolates on your pillow at night, this is not the place for you. There are a ton of home rentals you can stay in that are big and a little more luxurious. I am going to add that I am not picky; I try to see the best of situations and level out the pros and cons.

I care about cleanliness, activities, and things that make my kids smile. So for me, Crystal River Plantation checked off those boxes. We were barely in our room so the room not being fancy did not make much of a difference. They have a heated pool, hot tub, golf, life-size chess and checkers, volleyball, shuffleboard, and it’s right on the water — beautiful sunsets. They also have a little tiki bar outside where you can order food while your kids play in the heated pool. This is a vacation win for me!

The hot tub and water view at Crystal River Plantation
The hot tub and water view at Crystal River Plantation

The area around Crystal River was nothing to write home about. There was not much going on, however, there were a few things I would recommend you do . . .

Swimming With Manatees

The manatees. Obviously. Turns out it was awesome. My eight-year-old had a panic attack in the water and was ready to get out after seeing one manatee. It was awesome but a little terrifying with how close they were to us — being that they are HUGE. We were basically swimming with a giant baked potato with eyes, and I was doing everything I could to think happy thoughts as it came up and made eye contact with me. They are actually super nice creatures; they never bothered us.

A family of four pose with a manatees swim tour sign.When is the best time to see the manatees? Whenever it is cold, the manatees migrate to warmer waters and they love to go to Crystal River. You can book any tour guide and they will take you to the best place to see them and help you find them.

The water where we went was not as clear as the pictures we saw of people swimming with manatees. They shut down parts of Crystal River where it is super clear from November until March to allow the manatees to rest. If I did this all over again, I would go right when everything is open and try to be in more clear of water. It wouldn’t have been as terrifying if I could see what was under the water before I went.

Manatees in murky water.Additional Activities in the Area

  • If your husband likes to golf, there is a golf course on site. He booked golf for my son and him to go.
  • While they did that, my daughter and I drove about 30 minutes and went to the Weeki Wachee State Park to see the mermaid show. My daughter was pretty amazed at the show and my Ariel-loving self was super excited to see them come out. There is some history to this show and I loved seeing it. It’s not super long, but you get your money’s worth. We also did a little boat tour and did a quick walk around. There was not a whole lot going on there so it did not take up too much time, but was a fun little adventure.
  • A mermaid under water.You can also take a drive to the Homosassa Wildlife Park. We were having dinner and asked a few locals where to go and every single one of them said we had to go to this park. You will be able to see more manatees and also get to see Lu the Hippo, who is an official Florida citizen. (Make sure you ask about that when you are there.)
  • If you are looking for a fun restaurant with music, water, epic sunset, fish feeding, playground, and great food (obviously you want all of these things), we loved Crumps’ Landing. Our kids wanted to go back for every dinner. Honestly, there weren’t a whole lot of options so finding this gem was perfect!
A restaurant next to water, with a dock and small boat.
The view of Crumps’ Landing from their dock.
  • We also went to Cattle Dog Coffee Roasters for coffee and extra large cinnamon rolls for breakfast and it was great. It is also near their little downtown area so you can take a mini walk around.
  • Also, if you are looking for adventure (and your family hasn’t seen the movie 47 Meters Down: Uncaged), you should stop at Devil’s Den either on your way to Crystal River or on your way back home. You have to make a reservation and you need to have or rent snorkeling gear to even go down to the Den, but WOW it looks magical. Google some pictures of it and it may convince you to go. Fact: They won’t let you go down just to see it and take pictures, you have to actually get your snorkeling gear and go down to swim.

Overall, our manatee trip was awesome because we took time as a family to do something new, explore things we hadn’t before, and get some quiet time together. I am honestly not sure if my kids would swim with the manatees again, however, it is something that they told their friends about and an experience we will continue to talk about.


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