An hour and 20 minutes from Tampa, Crystal River encompasses the last unspoiled and undeveloped habitat in Kings Bay, the headwaters of the river. The bay is critical for the protection of the West Indian Manatee. The springs in the bay, with their constant 72 degree Fahrenheit water, provide a warm water refuge for the manatees that gather there in the winter months.
Tomorrow and Sunday, Jan. 18-19, the 7th Annual Manatee Festival celebrates its representative docile mammal in downtown Crystal River. The event offers down-home fun with live music, a juried art show, arts and crafts booths, and food and beverage vendors.
Photographer Daniel Veintimilla and I got to visit recently, accompanied by our new puppy, Obi. The pet-friendly resort offered friendly and clean accommodations with a good restaurant on the property and fun activities. We took the swimming with the manatee tour. The Plantation Adventure Center also has a marina and dive shop on the premises, with everything needed to enjoy a day on the water, including tackle, ice, area charts and current fishing reports. Marina captains can schedule a launch from the boat ramp and trailer storage on-property, or coordinate one of the best charters in the area, supplying provisions and all necessary fishing equipment.
The Plantation on Crystal River announced this year that it is now home to the only official International Game Fish Association (IGFA) weigh station for more than 400 miles to the north or south on Florida’s West Coast. If you're an amateur, you can have back-up for those tales about the big catch. If you're a serious angler/competing pro, this service allows what you need to be considered for one of IGFA’s nearly 7,000 world records.
Non-fishing enthusiasts can take snorkeling tours and swim with the manatees. Humane and carefully managed, the tours at Plantation are fun and oh-so-rewarding, respecting the guidelines the federal government allows for "passive interaction" between manatees and people in Kings Bay and surrounding area. You can get face-to-face and gently touch and stroke manatees only if the manatee approaches you — and they do.
Plantation provides a pre-tour education video to train participants how to engage the manatees with passive interaction. Swim, snorkel and dive experience manatee tour available with a hotel package that includes accommodations and breakfast with the Florida manatee tour. More info here.
The festival takes place in downtown Crystal River 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, at the intersection of Citrus Avenue and U.S. 19, where you'll find the shops and restaurants of Heritage Village and the waterside area along King’s Bay. $4 per person, 12 and younger admitted free. Parking: Free parking at the Crystal River Mall at 1801 NW U.S. 19 (approximately one mile north of the event). Shuttle buses will offer $1 rides to the event. There is limited street and handicap parking available.
Take a boat tour while you're there. Local boat captains will offer boat tours on a first-come, first-served basis. $10 for adults, children 12 and younger ride for free. The tickets are good only on the date purchased and are sold at the boat dock area near Northwest Third Street. In addition, Three Sisters Springs: Shuttles will transport visitors to Three Sisters Springs from the bus stop on Northeast Fifth Street.
More Crystal River photos below.