It’s hard to believe after visiting 100-something countries and all 50 states, it took until my 30s to check off a bucket list item like swimming with manatees in the Florida springs. And once I did it, I was ready to shout from the rooftops how awesome this little corridor of Central Florida is.

Paddleboard with Manatees in Florida

But while visiting Orlando, we were traveling by car and I decided, there’s never going to be a better time than now to see those OG mermaids. So we planned a quick little 24 hours on Crystal River en route back home. And it was worth the 11 hours we had to spend in the car to make it back because it was, quite simply, magical.

When to see manatees in the Florida Springs
Manatee season is November through mid-March when the manatees retreat from the cold sea to the warmer waters of the spring heads. The bonus is that, if you’re coming to Orlando to do the theme parks, you can do a double-header: hit up Universal during the shoulder- or off-season during the week, then head over to Crystal River for the weekend afterward.

Swim with Manatees in Florida

Where to stay on Crystal River
We booked at the Plantation on Crystal River upon a friend’s recommendation. It felt very Old Florida, not many bells and whistles in the room, but it was perfect for what we needed: a clean, convenient hotel that gave us easy access to the springs. Plus, it was pet-friendly, and we had Ella with us, which significantly limits our options by way of lodging. It also features a 27-hole championship golf course and several on-site restaurants.