East Berlin, Pennsylvania
February 26, 2007
Homosassa Springs is located near Florida's western coast almost due west of Orlando. This is a rural area of Florida - but a quickly growing one. While manatees winter in other areas of Florida as well, only this part of the state allows humans to have interaction with them. Folks can choose between Crystal River and Homosassa Springs. We were told the concentration of manatees is better in the springs. We sure weren't disappointed. You must come in winter though - manatees head to open waters in spring.
Many companies offer these swims. We chose Air Tank Divers because they take out small groups from 2 - 6 people (www.manateetours.net - $25/person). Being a family of 5, that suits us just fine - and we indeed had the boat to ourselves. As an additional plus, we also got more time in the water (3 hours). The larger boats came and left in that time.
So, you're at the shop (no frills here, but who needs those?). First you watch a video about manatees and what's allowed (and what isn't). Bring wetsuits - the river is 72 degrees... rentals are available. Then it's into a van to the boat.
A short cruise upriver brings you to these magnificent creatures. Hop in, swim a few strokes from the boat, and wait a minute or two. Generally the manatees come to you. You float, they come, and you scratch/rub while marveling at the scene in front you. The feel is leathery - not at all slimy - and the manatees love it. Many will turn over wanting you to scratch their bellies! Eventually one will leave, but then another comes. Smaller manatees are 5 - 6 feet long. Some reach lengths of 10 - 12'. All are gentle - and none get fed by humans (they eat grasses).
With Air Tank Divers, we picked where we swam. We tried the deeper areas of the river, met manatees there, then decided to check the shallow headwaters. However, here we felt overrun by crowds from the larger boats and didn't quite have the same "personal" visit with the manatees, so opted to return to deeper water. In hindsight, we'd have stayed deeper, but it was good to experience both areas to know what they were like. Deeper was definitely better if water depth doesn't scare you.
Shallow or deep, this swim is easily suitable for all ages and skill levels of swimming - and the sight you see is "one-of-a-kind." Bring your underwater camera! There's also an underwater video available for $30.
From journal Inexpensive Florida - Discover the State Parks