Swimming With Manatees In Crystal River Is “Absolutely Unreal,” Say Tourists

swimming with manatees photo

Tourists exclaim their Experience Swimming With Manatees In Crystal River

Do you like spending your holidays in nature and trying out new outdoor activities? Then swimming with manatees may just be the perfect holiday idea for you! 

Take it from Paola Mirabile, a self-proclaimed active tourist who doesn’t “like relaxing holidays.” She recently booked a manatee tour through Rockon and came for the experience all the way from Italy. 

The tour blew her away. “I have already swum with dolphins,” says Paola, “but swimming with manatees was just incredible.” 

tourist swimming with a manatee in crystal river

A photo from Paola’s trip. Thank you, Paola, for sharing it with us!

Felicia also came all the way from Virginia just to swim with manatees in Florida, and she agrees with Paola. “It was absolutely unreal,” says Felicia. “[My roommate] still tells people how wonderful it was to go.”

But what’s so special about swimming with these large-yet-gentle creatures – and what should you expect from such an extraordinary adventure? 

We talked to several other tour-goers to find out. Here’s what they had to say. 

Manatee tours are an experience you’ll never forget

Tara Peck wanted to surprise her two children with something special on their family vacation, and a manatee tour seemed like the right fit. So she booked one through Rockon. 

Later, she told us that the tour far exceeded her expectations and gave her an unforgettable experience. 

“I’ll be able to share the memories of this experience with my children for years,” says Tara, “and that is something I will never forget and neither will they.” 

But she wasn’t only amazed by the animals and the beautiful nature of the Crystal River area; Tara was equally blown away by her manatee instructors. 

“The guides were exceptional,” says Tara. “We enjoyed every second.” 

The instructors taught her children things they didn’t learn in school, like how to behave around manatees, what these gentle creatures are really like, and the differences between various types of fish in Crystal River.

And, truly, is there a better way to learn about wildlife than to experience it first-hand?

family on manatee tour boat in crystal river

A photo from Tara’s personal collection. Thank you, Tara, for allowing us to share this!

Of course, the manatee instructors aren’t just there to educate the tourers on wildlife. They also teach the dos and don’ts of swimming with manatees. 

For example, they teach tour-goers to minimize splash noises and make slow movements around manatees so as not to scare them. These guidelines help ensure that visitors behave in a manatee-friendly way and keep safe underwater.

That’s why Rockon only works with operators that have experienced on-site guides who accompany tour-goers during the entire trip.

tourist taking picture next to manatee

Rockon-promoted tours also include full gear, so you don’t have to worry about bringing your own. A wet suit, mask, and snorkel are all included in the price, and the instructors will teach you how to use them. 

After you get geared up, it’s finally time to dive in. And there’s a lot you’ll learn and experience underwater!

Firstly, you’ll learn that Crystal River lives up to its name. Its waters are truly crystal clear, so expect to get a full, HD view of all the beautiful wildlife and vegetation inhabiting them. 

And don’t worry — you’ll have more than enough time to explore the diverse underwater life. The Manatee Tours last from 3 to 6 hours, and you’re bound to see loads of interesting species in that timeframe.

Secondly, you can expect very close encounters with the manatees, at least according to several previous tourists. 

Janet is one of them, and she shared with us that “[the manatees] came right to [her] face and started chewing on [her] hair” during her swim. Can you imagine!? 

“To have such a large, gentle creature that close (…) was incredible,” Janet says.

Tara confirms this experience and mentions that one manatee “swam right underneath” her and other tourers. In fact, it got “so close [that she] got to feel [its] back against [her] wetsuit.”

But should these face-to-face encounters excite you or worry you? 

Should you be thrilled that you’ll get to see manatees so up close — or scared that they’ll get aggressive and try to take a bite out of you? Are manatees dangerous?

A good question. To answer it, we took a deeper dive (no pun intended) into what manatees are really like.

Manatees are nicknamed gentle giants for a reason

“Manatees are also known as gentle giants or sea cows, and for good reasons, too,” says Greg Edward, Rockon’s founder. 

One reason is that they’re large and slow-moving. They weigh 1000 pounds and move at 5 miles per hour on average. They simply love taking their sweet time underwater!

Another reason is that manatees are incredibly peaceful. Or, as Tjader put it, “they are the most chill animals.” 

Tjader went touring alone a few months ago, and the manatees’ chill attitude simply blew him away. “They give off a majestic tranquility vibe that is just awesome to experience,” says Tjader.

Perhaps that’s why swimming with manatees has a relaxing effect on humans. Their cool-as-cucumber attitude seems to rub off on us!

For example, Bob, who went on a tour with his daughter, describes that “the rest of the world and its problems cease[d] to exist” when he was underwater with manatees. 

photo taken in water looking up at family swimming with manatees

A photo from Felicia’s tour. Thank you, Felicia, for letting us share it!

With that in mind, you shouldn’t hesitate to take the initiative if you’re not lucky enough to get approached by a manatee like Janet and other tour-goers. It’s safe for you to approach them

Manatees are only aggressive if they feel threatened. As long as you’re gentle with them, they’ll be gentle with you. 

“[The manatees were] so docile and allowed us to get close,” says Shawn, who went touring with his wife and son. “They were just curious of us.”

And just in case you’re wondering, manatees are herbivores. They’ll take plants like water lettuce, hydrilla, and musk grass over human meat anytime! 

Other than having a strictly plant-based diet, the gentle giants are a lot like us. As aquatic mammals, they, too, breathe through lungs, are warm-blooded, and produce milk to nurse their young. 

image of manatee swimming

A baby manatee, also known as a calf.

Manatees mate during the entire year but their numbers in Crystal River are usually the highest between November and April. However, this has little to nothing to do with their mating cycles and more with water temperatures. 

See, most bodies of water get cooler during cold winter months. Makes sense, right? 

But Crystal River doesn’t get cooler, mainly because its springs produce water at a constant temperature of 72°F. That’s why warmth-loving manatees migrate from the cold gulf to Crystal River every winter in huge numbers.

So, the best time to go on a manatee tour is in January, February, and December when the chances of spotting the gentle giants are the highest.

With that said, the number of manatees in Crystal River has significantly risen in the last few years, so you’ll probably get to see them regardless of your tour date. 

Please keep in mind that the Crystal River area is the only place in North America where swimming with manatees in their natural habitat is legal

So, if you’re considering going on a manatee tour, make sure you book one in this area. Otherwise, you may unknowingly endanger manatees and other wildlife. 

Besides, Crystal River is just the perfect choice for underwater activities. Its crystal-clear waters provide excellent visibility and are home to a diverse array of marine life, including fish, dolphins, and other marine mammals. 

Thanks to this – and your instructors – you’ll become an expert on marine wildlife in no time!

Manatees congregating around the warm springs in Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.

Manatees congregating around the warm springs in Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.

7 things to know before swimming with manatees 

You’re now all caught up — well, almost. If you’re considering going on a manatee tour, here are seven more things you should keep in mind:


    • Manatees are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which makes it illegal to harass, hunt, capture, or kill these gentle creatures.

    • You shouldn’t attempt to feed manatees. Besides being illegal as well, feeding manatees may do them more harm than good. Let them take care of themselves. They’re more than capable of doing so.

    • Don’t touch or chase manatees. Remember that they’re wild animals and should be treated as such. 

    • Patience and slow movements are key. By practicing them, you’ll not only ensure that you don’t scare manatees, but you’ll also feel more comfortable underwater and preserve much-needed energy. 

    • Early morning is the best time of the day to swim with manatees. That’s when these gentle giants are the most active, and when you’ll be able to observe them in their full glory.

    • Make sure to bring a towel and dry clothes with you to your tour. Diving equipment will be provided by the staff, at least in the case of manatee tours promoted on Rockon.

    • Don’t leave trash behind. Be mindful of the wildlife and nature around you. Doing right by them is doing right by yourself.

Book your manatee tour through Rockon

Ready to have the same amazing experience as so many other tour-goers? Book your manatee tour through Rockon and we guarantee you’ll get it. 

Choose a private or public tour, select a date that suits you, and get ready to make some unforgettable memories. 

Swimming with Manatee Tours

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