On our most recent trip to Florida we swam with manatees... and it was amazing.
Now, I have done this once before, but I saw like two, maybe three...
B on the other hand had not done this before, and I honestly wasn't sure how he'd like it. He's not the "swim in open water where there may be large animals" kind. Especially in a state that is known for gators. I mean I get it, but without really planning it too carefully with him, I booked it! (And he loved it!!)
One of the things I wanted to avoid was a touristy excursion where there was no respect for the animals, so I'm very happy to say that our captain and guide was wonderful with this. He was pretty clear that we were visiting their home, and all interactions were up to the manatee. He was also great about educating us on all the animals we came across, and he and his partner even greeted us with a "manatee mocha" after coming out of the water (into the FREEZING air!).
Thinking about taking a dip with these gentle giants?
Here are my 3 tips:
1. Go Early:
We woke up at 5, hit the road, and arrived around 6:45am. (for a 7am depart) Now before you roll your eyes.... the first reason I say this is because you will have a gorgeous sunrise to watch from the boat as you make your way out. And secondly, there will (probably) be less people! We were literally with 2 other people on the boat. And that was a total win to me!
2. Embrace the cold:
When I first realized that the day I had booked this experience was going to be the COLDEST of our whole trip, I was pretty bummed. I mean 38 degrees is pretty ridiculous if you are from Florida, and going in the water was not what I wanted to do when I woke up that morning (hint: I wanted to hide under a heated blanket). BUT as far as increasing your chances of seeing more manatees, the coldest day of the year is your best bet. And it's totally worth it.
3. Have respect:
While we were out near the springs, I did notice another group approach the manatees. DO NOT DO THIS. Our captain was super cool with us touching them, BUT only if they approached us. He suggested that we just swim (with out kicking too much) and observe. So, B and I kept our distance, but that didn't mean we didn't get up close and personal.
The manatees were very friendly and curious, and quite a few would swim right up to us... like REALLY close. At first I would try to back up, but our guide told me to just stay calm and still and let them do their thing. It was almost like the people who approached them got less interaction, because the manatees were likely to swim away. Actually several of the manatees that came right up to me (like to my face! or directly under me!) were ones that were trying to steer clear of grabby visitors. So, just keep chill and they will come. Besides, there's nothing like the organic approach of a large wild animal that's just as curious about you as you are of them.