Florida: swimming with manatees and a drift scuba dive

We recently visited Orlando, Florida for a trip to Disney with our friends and their kids. In my books, no trip is complete without a bit of adventure. I was hoping to do some scuba diving, but the coast in this area didn’t have the best diving – instead we found something better! My mom told me that she had heard that you could snorkel with manatees in Florida, so that search was on.

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I went with American Pro Dive Centre in Crystal River, Florida because is appeared to have smaller group sizes. We started off with a morning snorkel with the manatees, followed by a drift dive in Crystal River.

The small town of Crystal River experiences a huge influx of manatees every November through February, which also brings lots of tourists hoping to swim with the manatees. Up to 1000 manatees come each winter in King’s Bay/Homosassa Spring to seek the warmer water of the natural springs.

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This is also the only area in the US to legally swim with wild manatees. They have set up nature refuges for the manatees to have safe spaces in the wild.

We practiced passive observation on our tour (and all good tours should) where you swim nearby but allow the manatees to come to you. These gentle and curious creatures will often approach calm people in the water.

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In early November, we were a bit early for manatee season. We were still lucky enough to see several large manatees sleeping and swimming, plus two moms and babies grazing on grass in the water. Apparently the babies stay with their moms for up to five years!

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After our snorkel with the manatees, we headed to Crystal River for a drift dive. This river is fed by natural springs that bubble up through the bottom of the river – really a site to see! The water is clear and fast moving, giving us an exciting experience.

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This was a relatively shallow dive, but certain areas of the river dropped to reveal small caverns with fresh water springs rushing out of them. These springs often push fossils up through the bottom of the river. It was fun searching for fossils while small fish swam around our hands checking us out.

This was a great day trip and I would highly recommend the experience.

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Tips:

  • The manatees are most active in the morning. The earlier you’re willing to go the better! Some tours start at 6:30-7am.
  • This was about 1.5 hours from Orlando, but an easy drive in a rental car.
  • The water is between 70-74F (21-23C), which gets cold after a while in the water. Bring lots of spare towels and rent a wet suit!
  • During high season, the weekends can become busy! Try for a weekday if you want a more personal experience.

24 thoughts on “Florida: swimming with manatees and a drift scuba dive

    1. That’s so cool! Ours for a little sleepy, so we saw lots nappy. Right near the end of the tour though the two moms and babies swam by to eat and they let us hang out and watch them for a long time. Once of the babies was pretty curious about us, but food won out in the end. 🙂

      1. Hahaha! That’s awesome to get to calves. I remember being on a dive in the inter coastal around Siesta Key once, and visibility was bad. Out of nowhere, something BIG bumped into my legs. Freaked me the freak out for a sec until I realized it was a manatee. It was just saying hello. 😃

    2. I have as well. It was SO great! I had a calf that kept messing with me, she kept nudging me under my arm. I was almost afraid to move 😉 I think the caverns were amazing. I can’t decide if I liked the drift dive or the caverns better, The manatee action was just a bonus!

  1. Looks like you had a amazing time under water. This is the best experience and we need to do that. Your pictures are amazing. Thanks for sharing your experience

  2. What a cool tour. I live in Florida, must check this out. The girls will love to go and see some manatees in person. We’ve done Disney often enough to try something new.

  3. Wow, this is so neat. My husband grew up in a Florida and had a canal behind his house. He loved the manatees as a child. This would be really special for our family.

  4. Wow, this is an amazing experience. I would love to do this as I love anything underwater, am sure spending time down there with the manatees must be a wow experience. I can see my girls would love this experience too. thx!

  5. Wow, that’s amazing! I saw manatees swimming off the southern coast of Florida but the water was too murky to actually see what they did under the water. Cool experience!

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