Florida Unique Experience: Swimming with Manatee

Once in a lifetime activity on the West Coast of Florida: when, where, what to expect from Florida unique experience, and more. Kids welcome!

From more than two weeks road trip all around the state, swimming with manatees was one of the most memorable days, a true Florida unique experience, despite visiting off-season! (second week of April).

Below you can find locations where to swim, paddle, and watch manatees from the boardwalks:

Locations to swim with manatees legally
Locations to swim with manatees legally

What is a Manatee? What does it feel like swimming with manatees?

Imagine a submarine slowly passing by underneath you while you are floating in the water. And you’re feeling 100% safe. That’s the experience of swimming with a manatee :).

The West Indian manatee or “sea cow” is an aquatic mammal about 8.9–11.5 ft long and weighs 440–1,320 lb. “Gentle Giant” or “Shy Giant” is how the manatee is characterized best. Although manatees moved from “endangered” to “threatened”, they still need our care.

In the picture below: the baby manatee has scars from watercraft on his back:

25% of manatee mortality results from collisions with watercraft.
Female manatees have one teat located at the base of each flipper. photo credit:

Manatee in the wild vs aquarium

On our trip to Florida, we were lucky to see a manatee living in the wild and in captivity. The difference in coloring was so impressive we couldn’t believe it at first!

In the picture below: a “clean”, sky-blue colored manatee in the aquarium:

Manatee, "the gentle giant". No filter
Manatees at SeaWorld, Florida

The same species, but living in the wild: swamp-colored and algae-covered:

Manatee in natural habitat.
Manatee in natural habitat. Image by PublicDomainImages

Being a slow-moving animal, and spending a lot of time in the sunlight, a manatee’s back is a perfect place for… growing algae. It might not seem neat but it saves the skin from harmful sun rays.

Florida Unique Experience: When and how to swim with a manatee

We came to Crystal Springs, Florida in April, knowing we are late: the season for watching manatee is over. But the tour guide promised we could watch a few and… luckily we did!

Below is an example of what you might experience in the season:

Florida unique experience: hundreds of manatees. photo credit 
US Fish & Wildlife Service
Florida unique experience: hundreds of manatees. photo credit
US Fish & Wildlife Service

Florida Unique Experience. Where to swim with manatees legally

In the US you can legally swim with manatees in their habitat only in Citrus County, Florida. The most popular location is Crystal Springs and Homosassa next after it.

Best time to swim with a manatee

Although the manatee season is between November – April, the months December to February = the biggest concentration of animals at Crystal Springs. The mid-week tours usually have fewer visitors and morning time more active animals.

How to swim snorkel with manatees

Once the tour guide (we booked this) spots the animals, he stops the boat, you put on snorkeling gear (usually provided) and float near the animal. Touching manatee is prohibited, as well as chasing and feeding. In the picture below manatee comes up for air near the snorkeler:

Snorkeling with manatee, Florida
Snorkeling with manatee, Florida. photo credit Image by PublicDomainImages

Is it worth to take kids on a tour

Water at Florida springs stays at 72 F (22.2 C) year-round, no matter how hot is the temperature outside. Kids might not be excited about it :). Snorkeling gear gives you an opportunity to spend a long time underwater, but if your child prefers swim goggles (our kid did), it still works.

Last thing – the water at the springs might be cold, but it’s never rough, which is good for swimming with little ones.

Florida Unique Experience. What to do if I don’t like being in cold water?

If you aren’t excited about being in cold water, you might choose kayaking or paddleboarding, but it may be difficult to see the animals, partly because the water is murky.

Being in the water with manatees is the most rewarding experience. I hate being cold but I would choose snorkeling again: the emotions of being nose-to-nose with “Gentle giant” are incredible.

The last option to watch the manatee in Florida is observation platforms and boardwalks. They are located at Three Sisters Springs (Crystal River) and the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park:

One more place I came across where you can observe manatees from amazing boardwalks is in Blue Springs State Park near Orlando.

Florida Unique Experience. Safety

Manatees pose no danger to people: they are not known to harm or attack humans. But they are protected by federal law as threatened animals.

Swimming with a manatee: prices and hours

The swimming with manatee tour is around 2-3 hours long and costs around $65 per person. Snorkeling gear/wetsuits/vests are usually provided.

Where did we stay while watching manatees

While we were staying in a hotel, during a manatee tour we came across more interesting places like “waterfront castle” and waterfront condos right on Crystal River (a couple of pictures in the next post about manatees).

P.S. The movies and book about Florida for kids and families

Dolphin Tale” is a heartwarming and inspiring movie about friendship and rescuing a dolphin; based on a true story. Don’t be surprised if your kids will ask to be homeschooled and live on a boat in Florida! 😀

Dolphin Tale poster. photo credit: wikipedia
Dolphin Tale poster. photo credit: wikipedia

Kate DiCamillo is an awards-winning children’s writer who grew up in Florida. Her book “Because of Winn-Dixie“ (and the movie as well) is a great introduction to Florida through the eyes of 10 y/o, her challenges, and her joys.

"The book is (I hope)a hymn of praise to dogs, friendship, and the South" - Kate DiCamillo
“The book is (I hope) a hymn of praise to dogs, friendship, and the South” – Kate DiCamillo

Manatees were our first wildlife interaction in Florida, but not last. Next come alligators, birds, and many other cute creatures, on the same West Coast of Florida:

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary: Florida’s Wildlife Destination

Sanibel Island: Romantic, Family-friendly Gem in the Gulf of Mexico

Thanks for reading, friends!

By Mrs. Grazy Goat

I am Ira, the author behind Grazy Goat. My husband and I run this blog and share our experiences about thrilling places and cultures. Our son Artem recently joined us and helps with editing.

We are very happy to have YOU here 😻

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