HOLY (SEA) COW! A visit to Crystal Springs and Homosassa, Florida, is not complete without a wild manatee encounter. And we had a few of them — some planned, some unplanned! Behold one of the world’s gentlest giants … ain’t he the CUTEST?
Manatees come to this area for the same reason you go to a luxury spa … warm water, and quality food! Between November and March, when the waters of the Gulf are cold, they become snowbirds (snowmammals?) who migrate to the luxuriating 72-degree waters.
These guys are huge — the size of a large Coke machine. Thus, they eat a lot — a third of their body weight every day! They happily munch seagrass on bottom of the river floor from November to March during the time they are here.
Yes they are big, but no they are not dangerous. They are happy to float along with you, and these tiny hairs all over their bodies alert them to your presence at all time.
Why the tiny hairs? Because their eyesight is for crap, and having no neck, they can’t swivel their heads to check around them. Kinda like Guido, the bodyguard, in every Mafia movie you’ve ever watched.
There are many companies that will take you out in the water to swim with manatees. We chose River Ventures, but the painting in their dressing room was deceptive, because while you may be inches from manatee, you are not to pet, poke, stroke, touch, or do the tango with any manatee you encounter — you ARE guests in their home after all, but more importantly, they are federally protected.
Manatees might be here for the warm waters, but it sure didn’t feel warm to us humans, even in March, even in wetsuits.
The earlier in winter, the better to find multiple manatee, before they migrate back to the Gulf. We nearly froze to death but it was worth it for an up-close-and personal with these guys!
The following day, we had additional (unplanned) up-close-and-personals, just off starboard (or was that port? I can never remember), as we were kayaking the Chassahowitzka River! Nearby kayakers silently gathered around and we gazed in awe at multiple manatee, just livin’ life.
But if you still haven’t decided if you agree that they are cute … wait for it … wait for it … how about Mama and her not-so-tiny, 60-pound, newborn Baby, hitchin’ a ride! Cue the “awwww’s”!!!!
Here you can see them underwater, where the baby is nursing from a flap on mommy’s underside. It’s an on-the-move snack, right off the side of our kayak.
Manatees come up for air with their big snorty nostrils about once every 5-6 minutes. Seems like they want a kiss!
A friend told me that her mom was getting out of a kayak (at age 88, mind you) and had to sort of roll herself onto the dock before standing up. So she came up with this clever poem:
“There’s nothing so hard on the vanity — As ascending a dock like a manatee“
Isn’t that great? Anyway, the Chassahowitzka (Seminole Indian for “hanging pumpkin place”) River begins right at our campground, with crystal clear water rising from underground springs. How’s that for clarity?
In certain locations, it’s like you are gazing down into the glowing center of the earth.
The “Chazz” (as the cool kids call it) is a great spot for wildlife watching, though some of it less desirable than others, especially to an Arizona gal. Coyote and cactus dangers, yes. Alligators and water snakes? Heck no. Thankfully, we didn’t see either of these.
But with more than 250 bird species, 50 reptiles and amphibians, and 25 mammals theoretically in residence here, this is an awesome place to get back to nature and enjoy a floating picnic.
It’s the kind of river that is so fun to visit, that you just might want to stash your vessel in a “kayak kondo” locker so you can return again and again!
About 15 miles from Homosassa is the equally strangely-named town of Weeki Watchi. We immediately shifted gears from manatee-hunting to mermaid-hunting, at Weeki Watchi Springs State Park.
That’s right, I said mermaids. Because this place has been presenting live, underwater mermaid shows since 1946! Archival footage of older shows played while we waited for the show to start. Back then, the shows seemed to be more elaborate, have more mermaids, and inexplicably highlight more peel-and-eat-a-fresh-banana underwater action, than the one we saw in 2023.
But it was still a great time, in a so-corny-don’t-even-try-to-pretend-you’re-not-enjoying-it way!
In a historic nod, the show was sure to recreate the pose on the statue that has been in front of the park for decades.
It’s a family-friendly destination, with cool wildlife encounters, including of the mermaid variety.
You might even get a personal encounter with the handsome King Neptune!
Or, cool off at the park’s water playground … but leave your mermaid attire at home, please.
Also at Weeki Watchi was a rare Mold-A-Matic machine. It seems ridiculous now, but back in the day, this state-of-the-art technology was the early forerunner to 3D printers.
It’s kinda hilarious that we are now on the cusp of 3D printing replacement human organs, but back in the day it was a pretty big deal to get a custom souvenir, touted as “magic” even, still warm from the device.
Yes, mermaid culture runs deep in these parts …. but this wasn’t the only surprising car decoration we saw. Like, who would even think those thoughts, much less go to the trouble to imprint them on a decal and attach them to their vehicle …?
Bubbles the Manatee wished us Happy St. Pat’s and happy travels as we left this area. Philip liked posing with this guy because it made him look small.
We’re continuing south to the Sarasota area, where we are excited for a semi-private tour of the winter mansion home of Mable and John Ringling, AKA the “circus king,” and the spectacular home art museum where they displayed their valuable treasures. Bye bye, mermaids and manatees … we’ll never forget you!