Swim With Manatees At Crystal River: A Unique Florida Wildlife Adventure
We have a solid appreciation for staying in a nice hotel in the middle of a long camping trip. On our recent Florida Gulf Coast road trip we enjoyed an awesome experience trekking up and down the coast in an Escape Campervan, but halfway through we were treated to a break at the Plantation on Crystal River. After a few days of sand and swamps it was nice to have a shower and air conditioning at our disposal.
The Plantation on Crystal River seems a bit out of character compared to the rest of this particular road trip, but it really brought our whole itinerary together. From comfortable accommodations to being centrally located, it was a fantastic Florida retreat. Visiting Crystal River and swimming with manatees is a great day trip from Orlando with the family.
What you'll find...
Locale of the Plantation on Crystal River
Unless you’re specifically planning on visiting Crystal River and the surrounding area, happening through the town isn’t too likely. But if you’re on a mission to experience the West Indian Manatee in its gorgeous habitat, then no doubt you’ll be in Crystal River! The mid-western part of Florida has many freshwater springs that feed some of the most beautiful rivers, and these springs attract the manatees, beckoning them upstream to warmer waters in the winter, and conversely cooler waters in the summer.
The Plantation on Crystal River is located directly on Crystal River and its canals. A sprawling property, half of the rooms look out to the water and the other half look to the towering southern oaks dripping with Spanish moss. Really, the atmosphere is dreamy. The kids loved it!
Tip: staying at the Plantation on Crystal River is a great weekend getaway if you’re in the Tampa Bay or St Petersberg areas. It’s a little more than an hour and a half drive, so makes for an easy escape.
Other attractions near the Plantation are the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, Fort Island Gulf Beach, Homosassa Springs State Park and Rainbow Springs State Park. The Crystal River area really is an untapped gem with most of the people we met being local to Citrus County. (Watch for a post of how to enjoy the whole area soon!)
Accommodations at the Plantation
Like any nice hotel, the Plantation on Crystal River offers a variety of rooms suited to different types of travelers. For us, the Queen/Queen room fit two dads and two kids perfectly. There was enough space that the kids could unwind and we could also have dinner in the room. The additional desk space was nice for taking a break and catching up on work amidst our busy travel schedule.
Other nice touches we really appreciated at the Plantation were free (reliable) wifi, free parking, and a door leading to our own riverfront patio. Like I said, this was the perfect break to recharge us in the middle of an epic road trip with two little kids.
Note: only about a quarter of the rooms have patio access, and then others have a balcony, and others no outdoor space. Make your specific room requests at the time of your reservation, knowing that different accommodations may warrant different prices.
Activities at the Plantation on Crystal River
Depending on your purpose for visiting the Plantation on Crystal River, you may already have a plan, but if not, here are the many ways you can have fun and relax in this beautiful place.
On-property fun and amenities
So, our kids are suckers for lawn games and the Plantation on Crystal River has made sure to indulge that. Corn hole is always the favorite, but with a croquet lawn, sanded beach volleyball court, giant chess and more, there are loads of ways to occupy a hot Florida afternoon. And golf! We don’t golf but the course looked beautiful.
Note: after visiting the King and Prince Resort in St Simons Island, Georgia and now the Plantation at Crystal River, it feels like the universe is telling us to take up golf. The South is a golfer’s paradise apparently.
The swimming pool at the Plantation is also awesome. Located at the joint of the Crystal River and one of the canals, the setting is beautiful and the breeze is perfect. There is also a really nice hot tub available if you feel like you’ve allowed yourself to cool off too much. Grabbing a drink from the Tiki Bar and lounging between the two: that’s just delightful.
Guests at the Plantation don’t have tons of options for dining on property, but the dining room, West 82 Bar and Grill, opens plenty early for breakfast (6am) and remains open until late. There is a limited menu for in room dining, with the guest doing the pickup from the restaurant, but it is available if you don’t want to head into town.
Swimming with the Manatees
Manatees were the reason we came to Crystal River, Florida and that seemed to be the theme with many other guests too. Directly affiliated with the Plantation at Crystal River is the Plantation Dive Shop. We went out with them early in the morning to get to swim with the manatees. They outfitted us in 5mm wetsuits to be able to float and stay warm, took us to the actual Crystal Springs, which are the source of the river, and led us through a cautious, respectful experience swimming in the Crystal River with the manatees. It was really amazing and besides the once in a lifetime experience of swimming with manatees, snorkeling over the underwater spring was also really beautiful.
Tip: do your swim with the manatees as early in the morning as you can. As the day heats up, the manatees disperse and you’ll have fewer chances of observing and interacting with them.
Other fascinating attractions near the Plantation
We mentioned how the Plantation on Crystal River is close to all kinds of things. In addition to the amazing manatees, Citrus County is home to Rainbow Springs State Park and Homosassa Springs State Park, both which have the most unreal rivers flowing from them. The water is so perfect and crystal clear, you won’t believe it. Rainbow springs is great for swimming and kayaking. Homosassa is home to a collection of native Florida wildlife as well as the springs it’s named for, and the largest recurring congregation of manatees in Florida. Really cool.
And because one of the amazing things about Florida is having a beach nearby at all times, the Plantation on Crystal River is just down the road from Fort Island Gulf Beach and the Crystal Springs Wildlife Refuge. You can enjoy the lush nature of the springs in the morning and stroll through the Refuge or have a beach day in the afternoon. It’s perfect.
Can you see why a getaway to the Plantation at Crystal River was so great for us? Very nice accommodations, perfect location and incredible experiences all made for much needed recharge in our go-go-go Florida road trip schedule. If you’re looking for a great hotel option that also puts you in the heart of the manatee action and Florida fun, the Plantation at Crystal River is exactly what you need.