on April 30, 2012
Orlando and the surrounding area is known very well for it's theme parks and roller coaster and ride experiences. What I think it is less well known for by tourists is the fact that the natural environment around Orlando is really very amazing! What's more you can appreciate this amazing environment for far less money than a day in one of the theme parks (although I really do like the theme parks). When I was looking for something to do in the area around Orlando I came upon lots of websites talking about the Crystal River and it's amazing populations of West Indian Manatees. I know I keep saying amazing a lot, but to be honest with you this is pretty amazing. West Indian Manatees are catagorized as an endangered species, so the chance to swim with them would by anyone standards pretty special. The reason for this catagorization is purely because of humans and the fact that they are encroaching on the habitats that are so important to the manatees. Currently it is believed that there are only around 3000 West Indian Manatees in around Florida's Gulf and Atlantic coasts and the chances of the population surviving the next 100 years is looking pretty unlikely. So if like me, you are interested in learning more about these wonderful creatures, the tours offered by Captain Mike are the perfect opportunity. Not only do you learn a whole load of information about the West Indian Manatee but you actually get to come face to face with these funny looking, yet graceful giants.We booked our tour online prior to visiting but Captain Mike's, however they do run tour everday of the year, so I'm pretty sure that if you are in the area you can just show up and join a tour. There are 3 different options you can choose from, which are different prices. The first, option A, is a swim and snorkel with manatees on a covered boat, the second option, B, includes a tour of the Crystal River adn the third option is for a semi-private tour. So if you're feeling flush you can hire out a boat and have it all for you and your families own enjoyment. We just did the basic tour, which only cost us $40 each. We chose to hire wetsuits because it was early on in the year and quite chilly in the water, but if you went int he summer you wouldn't need to. The best time to do your tour is early in the morning, because when it warms up the manatees tend to hide in cooler parts of the rivers.Our experience began at the tour base, with some introductory information about manatees and some safety information for both us and the manatees. Then we suited up and all jumped onto the boat and headed out onto the Crystal River. The manatees don't stay in the same place, so the tiem it takes the boat captain varies. We were very lucky, and found them within about 15 minutes and so before long we were in the water. Like it's name suggests the Crystal River is very clear, so we were soon meeting the locals face to face. It was a truly awesome experience and I thought the way that the tour was run was very professional and had the welfare of the animals firmly placed first. We weren't allowed to crowd the manatees, but each person had a chance to get close to these beautiful animals.Before long we were all back aboard the boat and raving about our great time. When we returned to the base, we got changed and then were invited to watch the video that they had made of our experience, which we could purchase if we wanted to. We did, and it was quite expensive, but I wanted something to remember my trip. I think if you can get your family out to Crystal River you really should take them to experience what could be the last few West Indian Manatees. Captain mike's is a brilliant company to do this with, they are professional, their safety record is excellent and they really do provide a great amount of information and education on this endangered species. On top of all of that the staff were really great, easy to understand and there to help everyone. I can't recommend it enough!
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