Bucket list check | 30. Swim with Manatees

What is the best course of action for one with a four-day cold, with practically no voice and a sore throat/runny nose combo to do?

Why, plummet into seventy-two degree spring water on a very cold and windy day of course!

Although my husband keeps calling me “Tara Reid”, the experience was worth so much more and a thousand words (that I cannot voice).

I am way too excited to sit down and actually type a thousand words though but here goes nothing.

Other than Disney, beaches, and sunshine, the first thing you think of when you hear Florida is manatees! Manatees are possibly described in two ways. A) Mermaids in disguise or b) the most loving, gentle giant sea cows in all the land. One of my favorite aspects about the state we live in are the springs. Usually when the sun is shining, the water is the perfect temperature and absolutely crystal clear. This adventure landed us in Crystal Springs, FL, the home of the only legal place you can interact with the manatees in such a way. Since manatees are endangered creatures, there are guidelines you have to follow in order to participate. This is definitely a bucket list escapade and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Since these are wild creatures and Florida’s weather is extremely sporadic, you never really know what to expect. The only thing you can go by is the colder it is, the more manatees you will see. We decided to go in January for this reason and this reason only. To add to that, the earlier the better because there are fewer people interacting with them, thus the reason we had to wake up at three-thirty in the morning to make a two-hour drive for a six-fifteen appointment.

It was drizzling the way there so we already knew the weather would be less than desirable. We had less sunshine and the wind was blowing awfully. Once we arrived, we found out by the captains that the docks were underwater but we were still heading out. Our tour guide, Donovan, didn’t know if we were actually going to see manatees because of how weird the conditions were. He was very hopeful for us anyway though. He said the tides were higher than normal for January and that it was very strange. One plus was that the group on our boat had only four people, including us.

Thank God we were in wet suits because it would have been a brutal experience. The wet suits definitely ease the shock of frigid water as you plunge from the side of the boat. We threw on some snorkeling kits and off we went into the cold springs. I was starting to feel discouraged because I already felt like we wouldn’t see any, but then when they started pointing them out, I missed all of them!

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That is until we hit the jackpot and found where they were all migrating to and from near where the spring was fed. You could see manatees sleeping at the bottom of the river and it was delightful in itself. Then they started moving around twenty or so minutes later. They were gracefully floating past us within arm’s reach so we were able to rub them and give them many pets on their large, grey, muddy backs. They were so adorable, especially when they rolled over for you.

In all, there were probably about twenty manatees floating in and out. Most had baby calves tightly knit to their sides and it was the most precious sight you could see from that close.

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He snuck up on me.

At one point, one was coming up as I was floating by and came right up to my face. I was inches away from this creature and it was the most amazing experience. This actually happened twice and I almost got smooched by a sea cow.

Hubbs was swimming and a manatee was swimming up, almost raised him in the water, but he had to move quickly. He got out of its way before he ended up being rolled to the surface with it. He even heard some of the babies squeaking communicating with the mama manatees.

As we were swimming back to the boat in conclusion, a few were coming our way. In order to get my husband out of direct passage, I had to move but it’s kind of hard to do so when you’re in a “dead man’s float” position and cannot kick your feet. He pushed me out of the way and I couldn’t help but laughing. I want to make a point that laughing while snorkeling underwater is not necessarily possible and will make you laugh choke until you can’t breathe. One had to dive under further to go underneath me and it was surreal. I was nervous at first because they are just so big that close up. But just that it was there, swimming directly beneath me, just blew my mind.

It wasn’t the only thing blowing though. Manatees like to come to the surface and pop their adorable noses on the surface for air. I heard a blowing, raspberry noise in the distance and saw that there was a lone manatee blowing water and air out its nose. I found this so comical because there was no one around and there was just random bubbles being blown in a playful way.

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Hubbs’ pictures always come out better.

Also, these kind giants are vegetarians. Since the water levels were so high, people who lived out there had grounds underwater. The water level was up by a few feet and there were no differentiating features from the sea wall and the water. Because of this, there was a manatee just casually chomping on the neighbor’s grass, made possible because of the tides. It was adorable, although I didn’t spend much time watching it eat. I was too focused on petting its rough back.

We froze on the boat way back. The water was tolerable until you got out and had to deal with the wind. Upon arriving at the docks, a heated van greeted us and transported us back to the shop where they offered complimentary hot chocolate to warm us up. We got lucky because they offered us a CD pack for free, typically valued at $24.95, because of the weather.

It didn’t spoil much really and in fact, we still had a blast. I will never forget the time I came face to face with a manatee because he was seeking me out.

I guess besides getting pulled over on the way home (only a warning thank God) and finding out that I lost all the pictures I took on my waterproof camera, it was a pretty wonderful experience. When I found out that the photos I were trying to develop “didn’t come out because the camera malfunctioned”, I was pretty devastated. Precious memories that I will never even see. I’m sure some of them were great, too. After I stopped crying, I finally decided just to chalk it up to bad luck. I really need a GoPro or an action camera that is waterproof and reliable. Adding insult to injury would be the rudest woman at the photo counter at Walgreens and an even ruder customer who decided it would be nice to butt in to something none of his concern. I’ve never told anyone to mind their own business before but this guy was ridiculous; no stranger has ever made me that angry before.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words. I can always rely on you on some nice support! It was very depressing and I really wish it hadn’t happened, but what can you do right? These were merely the photos taken by our tour guide, so it was still a blessing.

      Thank you for the comment!

    1. The funny thing about this is that the captain and others on the boat started talking about bucket lists because swimming with manatees is on THE list. I got all giddy because I’m an avid “bucketlister” just like you, so you kind of have to do it. It is such a “Florida” thing to do, too. Please do then write about it. It is definitely an experience you wouldn’t want to miss. They’re such loving animals <3

    1. It really is! You definitely have to experience it when you get the chance to. From one “bucketlister” to another, I would hands down recommend. 🙂

    1. It really was an experience to be remembered. If you ever get a chance to, you should experience it for yourself! I have a new found respect and love for manatees.

  1. I went snorkeling with the manatees on a sunny day last July, and I was still shivering by the time we got back on the boat. Props to you for sticking it out through the cold weather. And thanks for the reminder about good times 🙂

    1. Did you see a lot of manatees when you went? If so, I would have waited until summer time when it isn’t SO cold. I think it is just the water temperature. We were shivering so hard when we went back, all of us, even the captain, haha! Thank you for the sweet comment. I love hearing about others’ stories when it comes to special experiences.

      1. We had a good summer day, and I think we saw three manatees. So no, there weren’t a lot hanging around in the summer–just a few residents. I can’t complain though, any manatee sighting is a good manatee sighting 🙂

        1. Oh you’re absolutely right. Any time to see a manatee is a lovely time. In the summer once we saw one and it floated right past us on canoes. It was adorable. They move too fast out there sometimes… even though they are slow, haha.

  2. Sami, I have missed you and your adventures! 🙂 I lost your site in my WordPress feed. Today as I was working on my blog and trying to figure out how to make a custom menu for the new Joy Dare series I want to start, I thought of you and your awesome site! I found you again and will follow you by email now. This opportunity for your and your hubby to swim with manatees is just amazing! I’m so happy that you were able to experience it. The pictures are awesome and really help me to envision your time. I’m so sorry that you lost the photos on your camera :-(. But be assured, I was still blown away by this post!
    I look forward to being plugged in to your site and your adventures again!!!
    Blessings to you,

    1. Wow, this was such a delightful note to receive today! I’m so glad we found each other again! Thank you for following me again and thinking of me. I’m so happy it was possible also. Thanks for the kind words at the end: that you were still blown away, because it is really hard for me to lose photos. I am a photo hoarder meaning I’m almost running out of space on my 30 GB card… haha. I’m following you again too so all is right in the world again! 🙂

  3. Awww, manatee smooches. I spent so much time looking for manatees while I was in Florida, but no luck. I’m so happy you got to do this, looks like an incredible experience. I’m also pretty shocked something like this even exists considering how endangered they are.

    1. I loved me some manatee smooches. It was the sweetest moment of the entire experience as I was not expecting it. Sometimes it is hard to spot them as they tend to gather in the cold weather, hence why they recommend going in the winter (which is so cold in the water), but they do swim around year round. Out of the times I went kayaking and paddleboarding in the clear waters of summer, I would bump into maybe one or two but not every time we got in the water. I hope you get to see them the next time you go into Florida <3 I mean, I went down to the Keys last month and I saw many posting about their travels and seeing wild iguanas and I didn’t see a single one! Wild animals are so cool. And yeah, they are very well taken care of in Crystal River thankfully. I was surprised at the rules and regulations they had when doing this, but because they are endangered they have to. You can only pet them with one hand, can’t wake them, can’t approach them, etc. They have to come to you and just so many things. They are so sweet though. They roll over like a dog would to get a belly rub, haha. Thank you for your kind comment and I subscribed to your blog so I can see more of your adventures. 🙂

    1. Thank you for finding me also! I appreciate the feedback always. Thank you for stopping by. I hope you get to experience this one day as well. It is truly a beautiful experience.

  4. This is so amazing! I was raised in Florida (in Manatee County, actually) and I will never tire of these wonderful creatures. They are the embodiment of my favorite element of Southern living: the slow, leisurely pace of life.

    So thrilled that you found my blog because I’m loving yours so far. I’m glad to find another person who appreciates crossing things off their bucket list. I hope your dedication rubs off on me 🙂

    Random question: That picture of you standing in front of what looks like a wall of flowers… where was that taken? I’m pretty sure standing in front of a wall of beautiful flowers is mandatory when refining my bucket list!

    1. This comment made my day today. Thank you for stopping by and leaving such kind words! You are so right. Manatees should be our state animal instead of panthers. They are so kind and compassionate, often like the people you’d find in Florida. I think we raise some of the kindest, down-to-earth people around. Other than crazy drivers of course.

      I definitely love your blog so I’m excited to carry on with your adventures in my back pocket, also! I have become obsessed. This weekend and next are the first in a while that I’ve taken a break and you have no idea how badly it is bumming me out. I need to experience new things and truly LIVE. I battle depression so “bucket listing” is what keeps me feeling alive! That and my lovely husband who joins me in these crazy ventures. I hope we can share stories of our bucket list experiences and contribute to each other’s lists! Are you still in Florida?

      Omg this wall of flowers I found made my day, my whole life, and literally my whole website. With flowersandwanderlust it is fitting. Flowers, obviously, my favorites! And wanderlust because it was while traveling. 🙂 I was so happy and it was probably my favorite photo taken by my husband.

      Down in Miami, by the graffiti walls of Wynwood Walls, there is a square with all the art, and inside the square is this gate covered in flowers. 🙂 Please go and take pictures!

    1. I am unbelievably excited for you! Coming down to Florida or do you live around there? Or did you find somewhere else to do it? This is the perfect time of the year to do it so I can’t wait to see your adventures. Definitely an amazing thing here.

        1. Oh let’s trade! I would love to explore Australia. That’s going to be a very exciting trip! What stops do you plan on making in Florida besides the adorable manatees?

          1. I think we’ve got 5 days in Orlando to do the theme parks and a few days in Miami just to chill out & look around 🙂 Then we drive out through Tallahassee and onto New Orleans. Any suggestions for the Florida part? 🙂

          2. You’re going to have a blast in Orlando and I’m sure you’ll find something nice in Miami. I hope you have a blast. And oh boy, do I! Well of course the swimming with manatees and close to that is a river called Weeki Wachee, where you can go see live mermaids, and kayak down one of the most beautiful and clear rivers we have. Down in Miami, make sure to stop by Wynwood Walls. There is a lot of graffiti and it looks great. If you have a chance, please go to the Keys. You will not leave the same. There’s just SO much to offer down in Key West. Trust me. Cocoa Beach is one of my favorite beaches here. Clearwater Beach is great and so is Miami Beach. The water is gorgeous. Hmmm. I have a lot of stories on places we’ve been in Florida, so give it a look-see if you’d like. 🙂

          3. Wow! You really know how to sell Florida 😉 I’m definitely going to look up those rivers and the Wynwood Walls – I love photographing graffiti, especially if it’s extra vibrant and big! If you think of anything else, please let me know! Still another 4-5 weeks before we get there 🙂

          4. I try, I try! When you focus around a bucket list blog, you kind of get to experience what you can with what you got. I can’t very well do much traveling right now although I’d love that more than anything. The Wynwood Walls are very vibrant! I will try to come up with more ideas.

  5. Love your story. Sorry your photos didn’t come out! Such a pity but lucky to have the free ones from the guide. I am sure it is an experience that will stay with you forever.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read and leave kind words. I will definitely never forget this. I’m so thankful the guide took some photos. He originally couldn’t get very many because of the weather and most came out blurry. I counted my blessings, for sure.

    1. It truly was! They are in their natural habitat too so it felt less like a tourist trap or exploitation and more like an animal encounter. Thanks for stopping by with your kind comment!

  6. Oh my I didn’t even know this was possible! It sounds like you had an amazing time, and despite the weather and tides it sounds like you hit it just at the right moment. I bet it was wonderful!

    Lauren x

    1. I didn’t know the experience would be anything like what I experienced until I was submersed in the water. It was truly wonderful. Thank you for your kind words and for taking the time to read.

    1. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I probably found it through a tag. Can you send me the link? For some reason I can’t access it and I want to re-enter the URL into my reader so I can see what you write.

  7. I would have gone with a cold as well! In fact I did in January. It was worth it though, right?! So amazing! I still haven’t posted on my experience because I can’t put it into words. Thanks for sharing yours!

    1. Oh wow, so we did it in the same month! It was totally worth the hypothermia and I didn’t even get it. 😉 I sat there for a moment because it was just SO amazing I didn’t know how to word my experience. They are amazing creatures. When you do, link it up to mine, so I can also read it. Thanks for stopping by and leaving some kind words!

    1. Thank you for reading and stopping by! I’m so glad you feel that way because that means my writing doesn’t go to waste or fall on deafen ears. That makes me so happy. It was amazing. 🙂

    1. Wow, both swimming with manta rays and dolphins sounds amazing. Definitely experiences on my list and I have to try. I love swimming with animals in their natural environment. It is just an amazing experience altogether. The manatee experience blew my mind. You won’t be disappointed. Florida is beautiful, the manatees are wonderful creatures, and it is all around an amazing experience. Thank you for reading. 🙂

    1. Thank you! You know, they are pretty frightful when you first see them. As a kid, I would be terrified. Their size can be overwhelming!

    1. Really!? Oh my goodness. You absolutely have to. Come to Florida and you’ll see them everywhere. They are slowly becoming my favorite because of how amazing they truly are!

  8. Wow This sounded so great. These are one animal I have trouble picturing. I don’t think I’d ever really known of them as a kid and now I couldn’t see a picture of one if I tried. I do like the different names you have for them though. Sea cows do paint a picture. Why exactly do you call them by that name?
    All I know is the episode of The Simpsons where Marge ran off to Florida to rescue and work with them and Alec Baldwin. 🙂

    1. It was a truly heart-warming experience. Try to picture a 1,300 pound grey creature. They are huge. They float gracefully and very slowly. They are very peaceful and timid, but completely harmless. They are endangered here with is sad. We have had a problem with boats hitting them for so long. Now we have a lot of laws. Picture a water elephant without legs. That will be the shape of the back and kind of the same texture too. They have rough backs. They have flippers instead of trunks. There are two small ones on the side for their arms and one long one in the back, like a mermaid. It can curl around like one too. Their eyes are very wide apart and they have the cutest droopy mouths, like a walrus. They have whiskers. 🙂

      They got the nickname sea cows presumably because they are purely herbivores and they spend a lot of time grazing the water slowly and eating lettuce and other sea plants. If you picture a cow in the field eating grass, picture a manatee in the water slowly eating sea grass.
      That episode came on last week as you left the comment and we got excited about it, haha

        1. It’s funny. I actually had to look at a picture to describe it. I remember in elementary school, our writing teacher told us that we need to use descriptive words when writing. She said that we have to be able to explain what something looks like to someone who won’t know what it was or couldn’t be there to see it. I like how it seemed like that.

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