The third time was the charm when we went snorkeling with the manatees at Crystal River, Florida. We’d been there a couple of times in years past, and had limited success interacting with the “sea cows” that seek refuge in the warm waters of Crystal River every winter and spring. But this time all the stars lined up, and it was the most incredible manatee encounter we’ve ever had.

As before, we rented a kayak to get to the manatee sanctuary at Three Sisters Spring. We’d deliberated about taking a guided tour by pontoon, but it would have cost about twice as much, and we wouldn’t have had control over our schedule. We believe it was the right choice, at least for us. (The one plus about a tour is that you don’t have to paddle.)

It was a warm day, and the water was shallow and Crystal River-clear. And the manatees were out in legions, boldly coming right up to the human spectator area. They literally brushed against us a few times. Some of the other snorkelers were even petting them, which is strictly against the rules. (You’re supposed to learn that by watching a video before you get into the water.) Fortunately, the manatees are  very forgiving critters, and weren’t spooked away.

We had such a blast that we decided to return and do it again the next day. Unfortunately, the night brought just about the fiercest rainstorm we’ve ever been through. So the next day, the water was two feet deeper and rather murkier, and the manatees weren’t nearly as thick. But we still managed to get pretty close to a few of them. But probably nothing will ever match the first day’s manatee-ness. It was the kind of day that someone had in mind way back when they dreamed up the idea of snorkeling with manatees in the first place.