When my mother's 70th birthday approached I thought carefully about something special to mark the occasion. She had talked about swimming with the manatees for years and since she's not getting any younger or mobile I thought what better occasion than her 70th birthday to be adventurous! I flew to Florida, picked her up and off we went to a beautiful resort in Crystal River, Florida. This area has one of the largest populations of West Indian /Florida Manatees and they are on the endangered species list. Winter is actually the best time to see them...but Mom was born in June-so we decided to take our chances even in off season.
We stayed at the Plantation Inn and Golf Resort with all it's beauty and southern style charm. They accommodated us with a handicapped accessible room on the ground floor near the lobby where mom could easily get around.
The perfect porch rockers greeted us at the entrance and...
I couldn't resist taking a picture of the double knock out roses in front of the driveway.
The resort overlooks the canals and small waterways that eventually spill out into the bay and then out to the Gulf of Mexico. These small waterways and canals are where so many manatees are injured from boat propellers. There are strictly enforced speed limits now to help minimize injuries to these slow and gentle creatures.
The grounds of the resort were beautiful, with mauve pink crepe myrtles, gazebos, moss covered trees
and tropical plants. I especially like the large elephant ears.
After an evening of relaxation at the resort , early the next morning we boarded Captain Mike's boat in search of manatees. Everyone has to wear a wet suit if they go into the water....so my 70 year old Mom put on a wet suit for the first time in her life..rather an amusing and cute sight!
We were all educated by Captain Mike and an educational video about the manatee and the habitat we were going to explore. After the rules and hefty fines for violations were discussed everyone was properly dressed and we started our adventure .
The Crystal River Wildlife Refuge is only accessible by boat....
The water was calm the day we were there making it easy to spot the telltale signs of manatees.
The captain stopped in an area he spotted the "ring" the manatees tail makes on the water when swimming and everyone went overboard for the hunt.... even my 70 year old Mom dove in.....
She looks happy, but later admitted she was a little afraid because the water was deeper than she realized...but she was a trooper and got to see her friendly manatees!
There were several very friendly manatees who came up to the boat and we all got to enjoy them for almost an hour. Such a calm and sweet animal that clearly was curious to see us too!
It was a great boat tour and we were all experts at spotting manatees by the time we got back to the dock!
Later in the day we visited the Homosassa Springs Wildlife Refuge for a up close look at manatees from the shore. What a wonderful way to see them without getting wet and the park has many other animals to enjoy as well.
They have six in captivity for research and viewing and give an educational talks while feeding them their favorite foods: romaine lettuce, sweet potatoes and carrots.
A view from the underwater observation area of manatees eating lettuce.
A beautiful fountain near the entrance
And of course no trip to Florida is complete without seeing gators!!!
Mom really liked her birthday present and she's planning to go back in the winter!
Happy 7oth Birthday Mom!