Sunday, March 27, 2011

"Old Florida" Roadtrip :Crystal River

Are you ready for a road trip? Well buckle up! We're going on a roadtrip of the Florida gulf coast, what I like to call the "Old Florida" roadtrip. I want to rediscover those old tourist dives that were once the hotspots back in the 40's- 60's. These were THE places to vacation before "the mouse" moved into Florida. Today these hotspots are charming little seaside villages, small on crowds but big on fun and adventure. So come along with me and my family as we explore Old Florida (and vow NOT to eat at a single chain restaurant along the way....its all local!)

Today's Stop.....the Crystal River!

On Friday we stopped first at Weeki Wachee. Just about 20 miles north is Crystal River destination the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is comprised of several islands, totaling Approximately 46 acres and surrounded by the crystal clear, spring-fed waters of Kings Bay. The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is oriented toward preservation and protection of the West Indian Manatee and its habitat. During the winter when manatees concentrate at certain areas in Kings Bay and are designated, Manatee Sanctuary areas. These sanctuaries provide places for manatees to rest and feed undisturbed in the warmth of the springs.
(this pic from website)
The refuge also aids in preserving Florida's most significant naturally occurring warm water haven for the manatee and provides critical habitat for approximately twenty percent of flow daily from more than thirty natural springs. The temperature of the water flowing from the springs remains a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Manatees are like people and susceptible to cold and hypothermia and cannot survive from extended periods when water temperatures fall below 68 degrees Fahrenheit. These warm water springs are essential for manatee survival. This gentle giant is endangered largely because of alteration and destruction of coastal habitats by man. Refuge islands and surrounding waters provide excellent habitat for a large number and variety of wildlife species

To Do:Well, swim with Manatee's of course! Established in 1992, Florida Manatee Tours & Crystal River Watersports family owned business is located at the Days Inn Resort in Crystal River, Florida is one of the oldest and most trusted Manatee Tour operators in Citrus County.
(this pic from website)
This Crystal River manatee tour is approximately 3.5 hours long.  For $35.00 per person, the tour includes manatee tour, wetsuit and snorkeling gear-and a free gift for kids.

If you do not want to get in the water, you can stay on the boat and sight see. They have nice warm boats with hot chocolate and coffee onboard, if you are chilled by the year round 72 degree water temperature.

Florida Manatee Tours guarantees that you will see manatees in Crystal River. That being said, they cannot force the manatee to swim with you. They will bring you to  the manatees and if the manatee chose to interact they will come to you, as they are very curious creatures (much like cats).  The manatees we encountered were very sedentary. Our guide believes it is because it was the end of the "season" for migrating manatee.
We did see and swim with several, but the ones we swan with much preferred to eat and swim, rather than play, as they do in the fall when they arrive. There are about 40 resident manatees in Crystal River all summer and in the winter about 300 manatees or more.
(this pic from website)
Our experienced captain, Shay, was very knowledgeable in all things in the water. Shay was raised in the Florida Keys before moving to nearby Ozello, making it his home. Shay is both a charter fishing captain, as well as a manatee tour guide.  he truly is a man with salt water in his blood. And I like it! He charmed not only myself, but my husband and children as well, with his knowledge of the sea, his fishing and manatee stories and history of charming Crystal River and surround areas. Shay was quick to point out other creatures great and small that lived among the estuaries and river surround.

Good Eats
Our guide, Shay suggested that we try out Peck's Old Port Cove in Ozello for supper. "This place is a local favorite. It's a long drive...nine miles from Hwy 19 (ab 20 minutes from Crystal River) but worth it. The drive is the most beautiful in the state of Florida, I think, and the view of the sunset from there......a must! I highly recommend." 

And Shay was right.  The drive was beautiful, as he promised. Most of it though estuaries and backwater, it was swampy and full of wildlife, which made it interesting for everyone on the way. The nine miles went by like seconds. In no time we were at the unassuming block house that was quick becoming crowed with the locals. A good sign, indeed.  Peck's is famous for it's soft shell crab raised in house. But with any dish at Peck's you really cannot go wrong. Big Daddy opted for their Fried Seafood Platter.

I enjoyed their tossed dinner salad, with a side order of hushpuppies. The hushpuppies, perfectly crisp on the outside, light and fluffy inside. And ask Sister Sledge what she loved about Peck's and she will tell you that she loved their sweet tea, served like we do in the south....from a mason jar! In central Florida, many don't know how to make sweet tea, but Peck's is educated in that as well. Good call, Shay! Thank you for the recommendation!

Peck's Old Port Cove
(352) 795-2806
Crystal River
139 N Ozello Trl
Crystal River, FL 34429

Where to Stay
Located on the water, just behind the Days Inn Resort (see below) in Crystal River, Florida, there are no fees to pay for safe secure parking, you board your boat just outside your room at our marina for your Crystal River Manatee Tours, River Cruises, Scuba Tours, or Fishing Charters offered year round.

Now, for a limited time, book through Florida Manatee Tours and they can reserve you a discount room at the Days Inn (right across the parking lot) for $58.50 per night (plus 9% tax). We got this deal for two nights and were very pleased with Days Inn...and for that price, who wouldn't be? There is a 24 hour Denny's on location, perfect for a late night bite. If you are a hotel guest, you can get 20% off of your Denny's tab. The Days Inn features a wonderful pool located in their courtyard, as well as a wooden sundeck and great playground for children. There is also a large grassy area to enjoy a game of football or Frisbee (if you packed them!).

Florida Manatee Tours


Mari said...

What a fun place to visit! And you sure can't beat that hotel price.

Becky said...

My family and I swam with the manatees several years ago. It was cold, but great fun! We loved it! I loved reading your post about your trip! You also have a GREAT choice in music! :)

Swampgirl said...

Back in my younger days I was a scuba diver. On the way back from Key West we stopped to scuba with the manatees at Crystal River. We were not allowed to touch them but, I held out my hand and one swam but and rubbed his belly on my hand! What magic!

the cape on the corner said...

i have loved manatees FORever! a few years ago, we swam with some-it must have been off season b/c the water was not clear, and it was not warm! but we had a fantastic time, and my boyfriend was able to hug a baby one. i was so intent on getting pictures, that i unfortunately forgot about interaction! ugh! looks like you guys had a blast!

Sandy said...

I told my sister we are going to have to take this same route some day soon. I'm enjoying your trip.