The frost is on the pumpkin.
Well, maybe not frost. It is Florida, after all. Nevertheless, the weather is a little cooler, which means it’s the season for what is one of the most unique adventures on the planet — snorkeling with manatees.
Crystal River is the only location in North America where you can legally swim and interact in the wild with the endangered West Indian Manatee. These mammals migrate to the spring-fed river in the winter to feed because of its constant 72-degree temperature.
This is not an amusement park attraction featuring trained animals swimming in a pool. These are real live, wild manatees, and they are enormous, up to 13 feet long and 3,500 pounds.*
What makes this adventure incredibly cool is that for some reason manatees like people. Shaped like giant blimps, they are gentle, curious, and exceptionally cute.
I have had manatees chew on my wetsuit and poke their muzzles towards me. One even rolled on its back and grabbed my hand with its flippers in a clear attempt to snag a tummy-rub. I’ve been out with Cap’n Mike’s Sunshine River Tours three times so far, and it’s an experience that never gets old.
Yes, you have to try it.
Insider’s tip: Consider spending the night before your trip in the area. The manatees are most active in the morning, so many of the tours begin at the crack of dawn.
* I have gotten slightly different numbers from every source I’ve checked about the manatees’ maximum weight and length, but suffice to say they are huge creatures by any measure.