Crystal River is the best place in Florida to meet the Florida manatee, a subspecies of the West Indian manatee. Even though there have been concerns from animal protection groups about the growing popularity of manatees tours, the US government allows "passive observation" in the water between manatees and people. This means that you can meet the manatees face-to-face. Before the beginning of the tour, you will be instructed about passive observation and how to behave around these large animals that are often called gentle giants.
Manatees are aquatic marine mammals also known as sea cows. There are three living species: the Amazonian manatee, the West Indian manatee, and the West African manatee. They can grow up to 4m long and can weigh almost 600kg. They are peaceful and slow plant eaters with paddle-like flippers. They feed on water plants in warm tropical seas.
Manatees used to only stay in Crystal River from November to April. Winter is still often regarded as the best time to see them. However, today you can now meet hundreds of these mammals throughout the year, even in the hottest season. This is why manatee swimming and snorkelling tours run all year round.
The good news for travelers staying in places like Orlando, Tampa or Clearwater is that it takes up to two hours to get to Crystal River, so it is a great getaway option.