Winter Vacation Trips: Swim with the Manatees

By Sheryl Kayne

Winter Vacation Trips: Swim with the ManateesI’ve found that winter separates the cold-blooded from the warm-blooded.  I vote for Florida, California, or Maui – they’re all preferable to snow!

Thinking warm thoughts, it’s so great to take a weekend trip over the holidays, and not just to visit family. Florida has it all: Orlando’s Disney World, the board walk on Miami‘s South Beach, and you can even swim with manatees in Florida!

I had always wanted to swim with the manatees and finally planned it into a winter’s break. Manatees squeak and squeal when frightened, playing, or communicating. If you’re lucky, a cow or calf will swim right up to you to rub noses or roll over for a tummy rub. It’s an exhilarating experience to learn about the manatees in a short educational program, don a wetsuit, and motor out to Homossassa or Crystal River with Cap’n Mike’s swim with the manatees seasonal tours from November to March.

Enjoy the beautiful grounds and monkey park along the Homosassa River at the Homosassa Riverside Resort, but most importantly, there’s easy access to roll out of bed and onto Cap’n Mike’s 6:00 a.m. boat tour to see the sun rise over the water and the manatees feeding. If you’re not into swimming or prefer an alternative way to view manatees without disrupting their natural behavior, sign up for a kayaking with the manatees tour through the Save the Manatee Club.

After your swim, you’ll want to stop for great coffee, pecan sticky buns and breakfast burritos at Koffee Kafe and More. Build up an appetite for Florida hard shell blue crabs for dinner at the Riverside Crab House by spending the afternoon enjoying the setting and history of the area at Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park, a low-key nature park, with wheel chair and walker accessible trails. There are beautiful flamingos, herons, wood ducks, egrets and manatees. The next day drive one hour for a totally different kind of experience.

Tarpon Springs is the sponge capital of the world, a place where Greek immigrants came to harvest natural sponges from the sea. Visit the original sponge docks, and enjoy the Greek history and ethnic cuisine. Founded by a sponge diving family, Mama’s Greek Cuisine is still the local favorite. Stay overnight at the Spring Bayou Inn, a turn-of-the-century gem with original woodwork and antiques.

Sheryl Kayne is the author of IMMERSION TRAVEL USA: THE BEST & MOST MEANINGFUL VOLUNTEERING, LIVING & LEARNING EXCURSIONS and VOLUNTEER VACATIONS ACROSS AMERICA . Share with Sheryl the interesting places you find to visit in your neighborhood in the comments box below. Check out her website and books for volunteer and immersion travel vacations.

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