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Get mellow with the manatees at Crystal River Plantation


Swimming with the manatees at Crystal River. 
COURTESY PHOTOS Swimming with the manatees at Crystal River. COURTESY PHOTOS While watching manatees hanging out at Florida Power & Light’s Manatee Lagoon in Riviera Beach one day, I thought about how cool it would be to get to know those gentle giants up close. There is a good way to do that, I found, but it involves some travel and plunging into cool water in a wet suit with snorkel gear.

You can’t swim with manatees just anywhere. But you can in Citrus County at The Plantation on Crystal River, a resort and spa 65 miles north of Tampa. The resort rests beside the Gulf of Mexico and is surrounded by the springs of King's Bay. This bay, in Crystal River, is one of the largest aquifers in the state and home to more than 500 West Indian Manatees.

Related to the elephant, with wrinkled, leathery skin, manatees are propelled by huge, powerful tails. They swim slowly, quietly lumbering along. The big sweethearts can weigh as much as 3,000 pounds. Swimming with them surrounds you with tons of tenderness, I say.

Before jumping in, guests at the Plantation watch a “manners for swimmers” video. (They learn, for example, not to swim under the sea cows, because that makes them nervous).

Underwater in a wet suit, you can approach them quietly, and they seem to appreciate that approach. Speedboats frighten them, which is understandable, since propellers and boat hulls can inflict serious or mortal wounds.

Manatee tours are offered year-round at Plantation’s Adventure Center & Dive Shop. During prime manatee viewing season, from Oct. 1 to March 31, depending on temperatures, guests can swim with manatees as they play, eat, and socialize with one another.

The resort provides snorkel equipment and some lessons for those who want to swim in the cool (72 degree) water with the manatee.

King room at Crystal River Plantation King room at Crystal River Plantation The Plantation sits on 232 acres of preserve land that is home to hundreds of birds including osprey, sandhill cranes, blue heron, red bellied warblers and grey horned owls.

Built in the early 1960s, the Plantation recently went through a multi-million-dollar renovation of guest rooms, lobby, lounge and dining room.

If swimming with manatees isn’t your thing, don’t worry. This Old Florida resort known for its Southern hospitality has much more to offer, including a full-service spa, restaurant, an 18-hole golf course, heated pool, tennis, fitness center and a dive shop and marina with pontoon, jon boat, canoe and kayak rentals.

Perhaps the Plantation’s most famous early guest was Elvis Presley, who stayed during the filming of the musical “Follow That Dream.”

Looking for more underwater entertainment? A 30-minute drive to Spring Hill will get you to Mermaidville (also known as Weeki Wachee Springs). ¦

Boat dock at the Plantation Boat dock at the Plantation

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