My wife and I went to Florida for our Spring Break (we are both teachers), and I have always wanted to swim with the manatees, so this year we splurged and did it. Following is my review of our experience. I will first write a basic summary for those wanting a "snapshot" of what to expect, and then I will go into detail.
We booked on the "Golden Tour" for Thursday March 29th at 10:00am. We were 2 of 6 people (the perk of doing Golden is smaller group of customers). Note that by end of March the manatees are not in the Springs, which have the nice clear water you see in pics, but are in the river where it is much "murkier". We still had a great experience, a phenomenal captain/guide, and thought it was well worth the money. The 4 bubbles instead of 5 is simply due to dis-organization, which I will describe in the detailed summary. That said, we would go back in a heartbeat.
As mentioned in the snapshot, we booked a 10am excursion on a Thursday at the end of March. This is important because we found out (while on the excursion) that the beautiful waters you see in the pics only apply in Dec/Jan/Feb. Basically the manatees come into the Springs when the waters are too cold b/c the springs are always 72 degrees. As the waters warm, they start heading back out and are only found in the rivers, which are much murkier and much less visibility. So the picture perfect experience you see in pics and videos can not be had at this time.
I am conflicted as to whether I think the business should make this more common knowledge....on one hand, it would hurt business, on the other, people have the right to know not to expect what they show on their website at all times. I did know from research that Summers were bad for seeing them, but the manatee season is denoted as November to March, so I thought we were still in prime viewing times.
So please know this if you are looking to view/swim them past Mid March.
We booked the "Golden" tour, which costs $79 per person (plus tax). The standard tour is the Golden Tour which is $50 per person. I wouldn't bother with the Silver tour....when we went, there were 34 people on the Silver tour (I counted off their registrar list) and only 6 of us on the Golden. The Golden is guaranteed to be no more than 6 people. If you are going to go all that way for this, might as well spend a few more bucks and get a more private experience. (Note, the Golden must have 4 people booked, so if you are a party of 2 like we were, you can only book if there is a family of 4 already booked)
We had captain Yves for our trip. He was outstanding. Can't say enough good things about him. He was very knowledgeable, has a clearly deep love of the manatees and other wildlife, and is fun to talk to and ask questions of. He has a heavy French accent (from France, not Quebec!! as he mentioned, haha) but is easily understood, and is quite humorous. When we were just boating around at the end, I talked to him a lot and really enjoyed his conversation. Not sure if you can request a captain, and I am sure all of their captains are good, but I would request him if allowed.
The total timeline is 3 hours from start to finish. We were in the water for probably 1.75 to 2 hours. Wetsuits are provided (and required), snorkel gear is provided, and on the boat is free coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and water. You are also allowed to bring anything you want (food, drink, camera, etc) Captain Yves is very good about giving directions while in the water (example: "go to your 10-oclock, about twenty feet")
I want so badly to give 5 bubbles because I am still so excited I did this, but I have to give honest reviews. Please note this would not prevent me from going back or from recommending this company, but if they read these, and it helps prevent others from experiencing it, that would be awesome.
So my wife and I arrived at 9am (have to be there by 930 for 10am), were told to come back at 930, no problem. We walked around, read the signs, etc.
At 930, we got our wetsuits, snorkel gear, etc. By this time, the place had turned into a madhouse. Some of the 7am trips were coming back, the 10am trips all showed up (34 on Silver and 6 on Goldens so 40 people), along with people who are just renting boats, kayaks, etc.
They were very good about getting people their stuff, but then they said "anyone here for the 10am trip, go outside to the pavillion to watch a video" (everyone must watch a video on manatee safety). I asked the woman "since we are on the Golden tour, do we go somewhere else?" and she said "yes, you stay right here!". Okay.
So the place clears out mostly, and about 5 minutes later, I ask again. This time we are sent to a separate room (with gold paint coincidentally) and start watching a video. Okay. Then a family of 4 is brought in, maybe these are the people we are with, nope. They were renting a boat and had to watch a separate video.
So 10:02am rolls around and we are still sitting there, alone now, in our wetsuits....I go back into the lobby and have to wait for the madness to settle down and I finally say "I am starting to get worried, we haven't seen the other group we are supposed to be with, no one has come to get us"....turns out the captain didn't know he had 6 people (was told 4 he said) and the family of 4 was already on the boat, getting their safety schpeal and we were about 2 minutes away from them leaving without us. When we got to the boat, they were about to leave. So the captain had to re-tell us his whole schpeal.
I don't care that "we paid more" and don't expect special treatment because of it. I paid extra to guarantee a smaller customer base on the boat. But they should know how to get the two groups to where they need to go.
-- If you book this tour, please know how to swim, and your kids too. We were with a family, who were very nice, but one of their children couldn't swim very well and was freaking out, splashing, crying, which can scare the manatees. Luckily, there were enough manatees that my wife and I could be with one over here while the family was over there.
-- Pay the extra for the Golden Tour (or platinum if you wish as it is 5 hours). The Silver tour looked like they only let 4 - 6 people at a time in the water from what I saw, could be wrong, but doesn't seem worth it.
-- Go in Winter if you can, Spring was still okay, late Spring and Summer no way
-- Please do your part for the manatees. The whole river is "idle only", no wake zone, and one boat zoomed by us. This is how manatees get scars on their backs or killed.
Own or manage this property? Claim your listing for free to respond to reviews, update your profile and much more.