After our surprisingly odd yet good visit to Silver Springs, we headed further west in Florida to Crystal River for a very special weekend. My best friend (and travel agent extraordinaire, Brittany) planned a girls weekend. This girls trip had been in the works for almost a year, and the plan for girls weekend came before RV life even entered the picture, so we ended up structuring our RV route around this trip. We didn’t want to get too far West then have to backtrack by October (this trip was at the end of October) so we took our time in Florida to line up the timing with the Crystal River trip.
Here are the highlights of Crystal River:
- The wildlife (manatees, ample kayaking opportunities, natural springs, Homosassa Springs State Park)
- The airbnb my friends and I stayed in
- Gaining new experiences with some people I love
Not-so-highlights of Crystal River:
- Lack of things to do besides manatee-related stuff
- Boring towns nearby (Dunnellon, Lecanto, Hernando)
- The private RV park we stayed at (Rock Crusher Canyon RV Resort)
Rock Crusher Canyon RV Resort
Allow me to do some explaining. Rock Crusher Canyon RV Resort wasn’t bad. It also wasn’t great. It was very “meh”. We aren’t huge fans of private RV parks. We had just come from a beautiful state park, Silver Springs, and were a bit spoiled by our site there (huge, private). At Rock Crusher, we were very close to our neighbors. There were a lot of campers there that are left there year round, which doesn’t help the aesthetics of the place. The pool was warm and nice, there was a playground, it was large enough to take some nice walks – it wasn’t bad. I think that private RV parks just aren’t our cup of tea and that’s the main reason it was just OK. We are happier in a more natural setting, where we can walk to stuff and not have to drive to get to everything.We never did figure out why it was called Rock Crusher Canyon. We noticed the school nearby was called Rock Crusher Elementary, so there must be more to it – but hey, it’s a pretty cool sounding name for a boring place.
Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Tim, Calla, and I got to Crystal River a week before girl’s weekend started. So we tried to find stuff to do in the area (there wasn’t much) and found Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Wow – it was actually really cool! And an awesome way to spend a half day. We read a little bit about it online before we went, but the park was a lot more impressive than we had anticipated. It was fairly large, and when you get there, you park at an unassuming looking building. “Is this really all there is?”, you think. You soon realize that the building is only a launch point for their ferry (boat) which operates every 30 minutes. The boat ride is included with park admission, and is 30 minutes in length. It’s very informative, and fully narrated by a park volunteer. We learned a lot about the different bird species (and saw some neat-looking wood ducks) and we also learned about the park itself. All of the animals (with the exception of Lu the hippo) are native to Florida and are only at the park because they cannot be released into the wild for whatever reason. Let’s just say that 30 minutes on a boat with an 18 month old was pushing our luck!
We loved seeing the manatees (some are residents and some were from a zoo, staying while their exhibit was being worked on) and the hippo was really neat, too. There is a fishbowl where you can go stand underwater in a glass room and look at all the fish. In general I was really impressed with the number of animals they have there. If you had older kids you could easily spend a whole day there. I realize that most of my pictures are of the manatees there – but trust me, the manatees are only about 5% of what there is to see there.
Kayaking from our Rental House
Spending time with my girlfriends was definitely the highlight of our time in Crystal River. Tim actually lucked out, too – my friend Brittany’s husband flew down from Pittsburgh and stayed with Tim and Calla in Trudy while I was at the airbnb for girl’s weekend. I know he appreciated the good company, even if there wasn’t much to do in Crystal River (especially with a toddler – sorry, Calla, but you severely limit our ability to kayak!). So I had 3 wonderful days of fun with friends. We stayed in an awesome airbnb called “The Otter House”. It was perfect for our group of 7 and even had a boathouse, kayaks, and bikes. From the boat house, we launched our kayaks, and saw our first manateees of the trip! You could kayak down the canal at the back of the house and out into the bay. One of the manatees flipped over onto his back and was showing off for us! This was my favorite experience of the whole trip. Out of nowhere, we started seeing manatees. It wasn’t a tour, it wasn’t crowded, it wasn’t anything we paid for – it was a genuine nature encounter! That’s as good as it gets.
Swimming with the Manatees
On Sunday morning, we woke up around 6am and put on our swimsuits – it was time to swim with the manatees! Brittany booked us a tour through River Ventures. You go to their dive shop, they show you a video with some basic manatee etiquette, they suit you up with wetsuits, put you on a boat, then you go out in search of manatees to swim with. Unfortunately for us, it was very cold that morning – I believe the temps were in the 40’s. The water in Crystal River is a constant 72 degrees F (spring temperatures are consistent) so the water was warm…ish…but the air temperature was really cold, especially when moving on a boat. It was windy too! Brrr. The wetsuits definitely helped but in my opinion did not keep you warm by any stretch of the imagination!
Apparently it was a bit of a struggle to find manatees, because as soon as our boat driver found some, many other tour companies were also bringing their patrons to the same spot. We did get some awesome opportunities to swim with about 5 different manatees, including a mom and baby. They are such gentle giants, and they come into the spring for the winter due to the warm water temperatures. As soon as the water in the gulf warms back up in the spring, the manatees leave again. Manatee season officially starts on Nov 15 and we were there at the end of October, so the manatees were only just starting to come in. In the winter months, there are a lot more of them.
I will note that I did feel slightly uncomfortable with the number of people crowding around the manatees. The tour operators tried to keep people a fair distance away, but some people did not know how to swim well and were really splashing around and making a racket in the water – we were warned not to do this. So I do have some slight reservations about recommending an encounter like this, only because as much as I enjoyed it, I doubted that the manatees were. They are wild animals. It doesn’t feel fair to encroach on them in large numbers as part of a tour. I think this is why the kayaking felt better to me. I’ve since seen people “scratching” wild manatees with their kayak paddles at a different spring in a different part of Florida (UGH) so yes, people can be disrespectful of wild animals, tour group or not.
Three Sisters Springs
One of the days, some of us decided to rent kayaks up near Three Sisters Springs. This is the famous spring in Crystal River – the one you see pictures of, with hundreds of manatees congregating there in the winter. The water is beautiful – crystal clear – and the spring itself is completely closed off to anything but kayakers and swimmers. As soon as manatee season starts (Nov 15) they put up barriers so even kayaks can’t get into the spring. I was really happy that we kayaked into the spring because it is an experience that you MUST do if you go to Crystal River. Do NOT miss Three Sisters! We saw many manatees here but did not get in the water and swim with them, although we saw many people doing so.
Girl’s weekend was an absolute blast. Nothing better than spending quality time with people you love and experiencing new things together. Thanks again to Brittany for planning it all, it would have never happened without her. She did a great post about the trip on her blog if you’re interested in reading more.