But, I needed a manatee-snorkeling friend. Thinking back to our previous adventures swimming with dolphins (in pre-blog days), snorkeling with sea turtles and swimming with sea lions (not to mention scuba-diving), I decided my sister was the perfect candidate. I sent her the link and she was in! Hooray!
The week before we left on our trip, Heather had a day off and we declared it to be Manatee Swim Day. Heather spent the night at my dad's house the night before, because we had to be up in Crystal River (about an hour and a half north of us) by 8:15 in the morning. So, Heather and I got up at the crack of dawn (even before Ellie was up!) and made the journey to the manatees.
Sunrise as we crossed the bridge into Tampa
When we arrived they got us situated with wet suits and other appropriate gear then had us watch a short film about proper manatee-swimming procedure. Then we drove over to the docks to get in the boat and go find us some manatees.
We're looking pretty official!
We didn't have to get far into the river before we spotted a whole bunch. Our guide anchored the boat and we all braced ourselves and hopped in the water. It was a chilly morning and the water wasn't exactly a hot tub, so it took your breath away when you first got in. But the excitement of manatees soon took over and we were swimming all over the place.
The always-stunning self-taken snorkel picture
It was SO COOL. Manatees are very friendly creatures, but don't like a lot of noise and ruckus, so if you stay quiet and calm they'll come right up to you. The water was pretty murky, but all of a sudden BAM, there's a manatee face in your face. I tried to grab as many pictures as I could with our (terrible quality) disposable underwater camera, but I was always just so startled to be face-to-face with those adorable squishy noses that I almost forgot to take their picture!
Oh, hello there!
Our guide recording our manatee encounter
Our new manatee friends!
We were able to touch them, and if you rub their backs they will sometimes roll over so you can scratch their bellies.
Heather rubbing a manatee belly, per the manatee's request
Me touching a manatee!
The coolest encounter for me was when a manatee swam directly under me, so close that his back rubbled along my belly. I just spread my arms, floated at the surface and watched as he brushed along me. Very, very cool.
I mean, they're just so cute.
Our guide offered to take us to another good manatee-viewing spot after we finished where we were, but we were all pretty chilly by that point so we called it a day. Yay for manatee snorkeling!
We did it! More swimming with sea life under our belts!
When we got back to the dive shop we changed clothes, watched the guide's video and I picked up a little souvenir for Ellie. We stopped at my mom's house for lunch, and then Heather dropped me off at home. This day was the longest amount of time on record that I was away from Ellie (about 10 hours, I think), so I was happy to be reunited with her and she loved the little stuffed manatee I brought her.
Ellie and Mama, together again!
Big thanks to Heather for sharing this experience with me, and to Eric for taking over at home so I could have this fun day out with my sister (and the manatees)! It was a fabulous experience!