Our plan was to head up the east coast of Florida, from Cape Canaveral towards to the border with Georgia, but changed them after visiting Manatee Park near Tampa. From Cape Canaveral we detoured back towards the west coast and Crystal Rivers.
Crystal Rivers is the main spot for swimming with manatees, but I’d read positive comments about a place further south called Homosassa. The waters might not be so clear and blue, but the group sizes were much smaller giving more time with the manatees.
I’m sure Crystal Rivers is great, but I can’t imagine anything being much better than the next few hours at Homosassa.
The first step was getting kitted out with snorkelling gear. Unlike most other countries, a US diving shop stocked plenty of 3XL wetsuits. This was a huge improvement over normally having to squeeze myself into an XL, like my first time diving in Colombia. During the scuba session off Cartagena I could barely breath on land, let alone under 30m of water.
Combined with a snorkel and mask, plus flippers for those coordinated enough to use them we were ready to set off. This meant parading out to the car park in diving gear and getting a few honks off passing motorists.
A short drive later we were at the Homosassa Riverside Resort, where we met Captain Gene and his vessel. Sitting quietly during the boat ride it slowly dawned quite how cold the air was, and the chills worked their way into the wetsuit
Captain Gene spotted a group of manatees lolling about in the shallows so I inelegantly made my way into the water.
The water was considerably colder than the air.
We were given a small flotation device so we didn’t disturb the river bed too much, which kept the water clear. It was also a lot less effort hanging in the water.
After a moment of us splashing about the manatees swam over and the coldness of the water was forgotten.
The manatees had no fear, nuzzling us, rolling into us, and feeding off the plants growing out the side of the boat. Despite moving effortlessly through the water the manatees don’t really bother swimming round stationary objects, so frequently barged into snorkelers, knocking us over then presenting their bellies for a tickle. They love being rubbed between the flippers as they can’t reach that spot themselves.
After what felt like 30 minutes of pure enjoyment I looked at my watch and realised we’d been playing in the water for over 3 hours!
Climbing out into the cold air is another shock, but Captain Gene was on hand with hot chocolate and towels.
BeckyJacks Food Shack in Weeki Wachee
I’m not going to write about it as I was too busy eating to take any photos, but this family run place was easily the most enjoyable and laid back meal we ate in our entire three-month trip to the Americas. Great value too – try the fish cake starter! Look for it on Urbanspoon to find the address.