There’s no doubt that beaches and amusement parks attract visitors, but there’s more to see in Florida than a famous mouse. On your next trip to the Sunshine State, think about spending some time in Crystal River. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it, all you need to know is that it’s the place to go to swim with manatees, and Plantation on Crystal River will take care of all of the details.
Located on the Gulf side of Florida, west of Orlando and north of Tampa and St. Petersburg, the town and river share the same name. When you pull into the driveway of the Plantation on Crystal River, you immediately pick up on its Southern Charm, but it’s the backyard where the property hides its biggest perks. Perched on the canals of the Crystal River, the hotel is just a short boat ride away from freshwater hot springs that serve as the winter home of hundreds of manatees.
My teenage daughter and I arrived at the hotel in the dark, after a fun, but exhausting day at Universal Studios. With 196 rooms and suites, the property was bigger than I expected, but exploring had to wait, because climbing into bed, (as quick as possible) was the priority. Our room had a water view and an old-Florida feel; along with a dark wood dresser and bedside table, white shutter style headboards topped the two double beds. The bathroom had a single vanity, and a door separated the toilet and shower, from the sink area, making it easier for a traveling mother and daughter to share the space, especially on days when the alarm goes off before the sun comes up.
Our manatee swim was set to depart at 7:15am, with the on-site Plantation Adventure Center. That’s an early wake-up call during vacation, but not having to get into the car made all the difference. We could see the Plantation Adventure Center from our room window; it doesn’t get much easier than that. And as convenient as the close proximity was before sunrise, we may have appreciated it even more coming home. After two hours of floating in approximately 70°water with playful manatees, a hot shower was at the top of the list.
Dried off and warmed up, we spent the rest of the morning on terra firma. Along with a regulation size croquet court, horseshoe pits, shuffleboard, and a sand volleyball court, there’s a large riverfront pool and hot tub. Rackets are available to take advantage of the two hard tennis courts, and golfers have access to 27 holes.
Onsite West 82° Bar & Grill serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The poolside Plantation Tiki Bar, and 19th Hole Bar & Grill serve cocktails and casual fare.
It all depends on weather, but as a general rule of thumb, the best time to swim manatees is November 15th through March 31st. Along with manatee snorkel tours, the Plantation Adventure Center runs sunset cruises, fishing trips and scalloping tours. Divers can also rent Scuba gear.
Wi-Fi is complimentary, and guests have easy access to coin-operated laundry machines.
Rates for a water view room with two double beds at Plantation on Crystal River ranges from $119 in low season, to $189 in high. You can check a booking site such as Hotelopia or Hotels.com to compare rates.
Review and photos, except where noted, by Dana Rebmann. Her stay was hosted by Plantation on Crystal River, but as always her thoughts and opinions are her own.