“Freeze and Float”: Swimming with Manatees in Crystal River, Florida

“Freeze and Float”: Swimming with Manatees in Crystal River, Florida

In these past couple of months, I accomplished a huge goal on my bucket list – twice!! Manatees are one of my favorite animals (besides orangutans) and ever since I moved to Florida, I have dreamed of getting in the water with them. I live really close to a bayou and every winter after school got out, my mom, brother, and I would stop and see if there were any manatees sticking their noses up out of the water. I fell in love being able to see them in such a personal setting! And better yet, I only live less than 2 hours away from the most famous place in the world to see manatees – Crystal River!

Shout out to River Ventures, who I have now gone through twice to swim with manatees! Both experiences were amazing, despite both times having unseasonably warm weather. Manatees tend to gather in the springs of King’s Bay in Crystal River during winter since it gets too cold for them to survive in the Gulf of Mexico. So, since it was warmer both times I went, there were less manatees to go around. But that didn’t keep us from getting in the water to see a few!

Before this experience, I had never been snorkeling – successfully. I tried once at Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon when they used to have a shark tank that you snorkeled across. I was pretty nervous and it didn’t help that my dad and brother had left me and my an my mom at the shore of the tank panicking! So I got in the water, freaked out, then freaked out more because I was kicking my legs and that was the one thing they said not to do, so I swam the two feet back to the starting point and exited embarrassingly past lots of young children who were braver than me. So, I was a little nervous getting into open water with a snorkel after that scarring experience.

But seriously – this experience was amazing. Manatees are huge, yet the most gentle creatures you’ll ever see and I couldn’t believe I got to dive in the water with them! What I liked about my experience with River Ventures was that it was all-inclusive for, in my opinion, a very reasonable price – you got the gear, 3 hours of time, and obviously the amazing experience of observing and interacting with wildlife up close.

Once you arrive, you receive a mini-manatee education session and almost immediately change into your wetsuit (unfortunately, it wasn’t the fashion statement I thought it would be). Then, you take a shuttle to the pier, which is only a few minutes away, before hopping on your boat and getting on the water. The only downside, which might not even be a downside, to the manatee swim is that since it is a residential area and manatees can be harder to find in warmer weather, it takes a long time to get from place to place with the boat. It goes at a very slow speed, which is obviously understandable in order to protect the manatees. It’s definitely a plus though in that it gives you time to take in the beautiful surroundings, especially around sunrise or sunset.

Me trying to make a wetsuit look cute… and failing

The rest of the trip is very subjective. For me, the first time I swam with manatees, I got in the water three times! The first manatee was sleeping in a very clear area of water, so it was incredible to observe her drifting to the top of the water for a breath and drifting back down to continue her nap! The other manatees I have swam with have been eating! They move pretty quickly when they eat and change direction often, so I struggled trying to move out of the way for them, especially when the water was unclear and you couldn’t see as well. However, the guides at River Ventures let you know in the information session before your trip how to handle being around a manatee and you normally just “freeze and float.”

That brownish blob right there? That’s a manatee! We were watching this girl here eat a whole bunch!

I was super excited to buy one of those clear pouches for your phone so that you can take it in the water! I failed to get good pictures of a manatee underwater because the water wasn’t that clear, plus they move a lot faster than you would think they would… but nonetheless I captured at least one decent one of the manatee’s shape above!


I also got to swim over the biggest spring in King’s Bay, which was super cool to see. The actual spring area is protected by buoys, but based on where I was, you could still see cracks in the bay’s floor that almost looked like canyons below you. I have only recently become outdoorsy and adventurous in that sense, so it was a cool glimpse at what nature can offer and I didn’t even have to go that far to get it.

Swimming with manatees has been one of the highlights of my life as someone who is a manatee-lover. And even if you’re not a manatee-lover, you will become one after this experience! There’s nature, adventure, wildlife, and a unique experience each time, so I surely believe I’ll be back again soon. Don’t forget to share this post, pin it on Pinterest, check out River Ventures, and come back next Friday for a new read!

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Oh and let me know… have you had a fun, personal experience with wildlife? What experience would you like to do if you had the chance? I’ll always be looking for inspiration!

— M




  1. Julieta
    April 24, 2018 / 10:23 am

    Is july a good season to find and swim with manatees? I’ll go this summer and I really want to do it

    • airplanemary
      April 24, 2018 / 12:01 pm

      I believe manatees tend to be more common during the winter season because the Gulf of Mexico gets colder and they gather around the warmer springs present around Crystal River and further inland towards Florida. But, both times I swam with manatees, the days were pretty warm and I still got to see some, so there’s always a chance of manatees being around!

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