The first two times I completed Red Cross lifeguard training we had to watch these old training films that were filmed in the crystal clear water of Cypress Gardens, Florida. I have been fascinated with the springs of Florida ever since.
I took my kids to Ponce De Leon Spring one Spring Break. It’s not in the same class as the large springs, but was an excellent diversion. The drive from the pan handle to the nice springs on the gulf coast was always a little too far.
So this year, Mrs. Jon Bruce Entertainment and I put together a quick jaunt to Weeki Wachee. We struck gold. We stayed at the Lucky Duck Lodge right smack dab on the Weeki Wachee spring. They have their own kayak fleet. It was “iguanas falling out of trees” cold the first couple of days so we checked out places were manatees congregate to stay warm. Three Sisters Springs on the Crystal River. Homosassa Springs, and Weeki Wachee State Park.
Weeki Wachee State Park has been home since 1947 to the famous mermaid show. I don’t have any fascination about mermaids. I have always believed that moistened bints lobbing scimitars was not a good system of governance. I do have a deep, aforementioned, fascination with people who get paid to go swimming in crystal clear Florida spring water. They weren’t mermaiding because it was too cold, the day we visited. There were several manatees keeping warm by the spring though. There were a pair of mermaids taking photos with the guests and since there were approximately 11 people in the whole park, we got to talk to them for a couple of minutes. They are awesome. Hopefully, they have a rich history and alumni association. The two we got speak with were charming and formidable swimmers.
The next two days I got a permit and floated by kayak from the Weeki Wachee State Park to the lodge and then down to Rogers Park Boat Ramp and back up stream. I am glad that I worked it that way. The air temperature was high 30’s. The water from the spring comes out around 70 degrees. The spring behind the lodge looked faster and more exciting that it was actually. I was worried about dumping and then being cold and wet.
In reality, I was able to attain upstream with no difficulty. The water was really warm and flowed smoothly. The sun was nice. Mrs. Jon Bruce Entertainment and I even took a canoe out and paddled up a mile or two with just one of us paddling from the stern (humble brag).
We had seen manatees from shore the previous day, but the first time a manatee swam under the keel of my kayak was a moment I will never forget. Manatees just want to eat and stay warm and do manatee things. Nevertheless, I had several times were a manatee seemed to be messing with me.
Almost immediately after launching, I saw a manatee near the boat ramp. I wanted to get another look, so I paddled upstream past it, a good distance. I floated back down, scanning frantically for the 1000 pound sea cow. At the last moment, it came gliding by, effortlessly, from behind me. This trick was accomplished in crystal clear water that is five or six feet deep at most. Manatees are magic!
Manatees are wild animals. They are endangered. You aren’t supposed to touch them or feed them or annoy them or run them over with speed boats. I had surmised that pretending my kayak was a log and floating by would be within the rules. It worked great.
I am not a big fan of video, but I rigged my GoPro to a selfie stick. If you start the camera upside down, it records in the same orientation. So I ended up getting a couple of cool videos of these floating passes on manatees.
The pretending to be a log thing worked great. Several times a manatee would surface close by to take a breathe and get right back to doing nothing. Almost got hit with a manatee booger once. Their breath is gross. Enjoy the manatee from a distance. You have been warned.
A couple of notes about planning your own trip to see mermaids.
Check out Florida State Parks for information on Weeki Wachee State Park on the Mermaid Shows. The mermaids don’t swim when it is really cold. https://www.floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/weeki-wachee-springs-state-park/mermaid-shows
A couple of notes about planning your own trip to see manatees.
There are several places and ways to see manatees. I don’t know them all. Here is what I did see and know. Manatees congregate in the warm spring water during the coldest part of Florida winter. There are springs for viewing manatees at Three Sisters Spring on the Crystal River, Homosassa Springs, Weeki Wachee Springs, among others.
We also visited Tampa’s Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach Manatee Viewing area. Manatees congregate there in the warm waters created by the power station. There were a ton of manatees.
We were visiting during COVID, so we avoided getting on crowded buses, which can save you additional walking. We parked in a strip mall and walked into Three Sisters. Apollo Beach Manatee Viewing has a great group of volunteers, great parking, and a nice facility. It’s a good place to start.
Around the same time I was in the area I heard a trip report from another kayaker who visited Crystal River. They saw manatees, alligators and MONKEYS. I now have a new bucket list item. Let me be clear. Being around wild monkeys or tame monkeys is a horrible and dangerous idea. HORRIBLE AND DANGEROUS. They are not a native species to Florida. They are dangerous. Do not make eye contact with primates. Do not approach them. Do not strand them on island and hope everything will be okay.
I can’t wait to go and see them.
Weeki Wachee State Park is a great resource. I am glad Florida State Parks stepped in to manage it. We are at an age where we have elevens of dollars to throw around for a couple of admissions. The boat cruise, the animal show and the gift shop were all worth the price of admission. The main thing we got to see was the manatees up by the spring and a visit with the mermaids. I would definitely go back for the mermaid show.
The kayak rental place at the state park is your best bet for the upper spring, unless you are staying at the Lucky Duck lodge and can arrange a shuttle. “Reservations are required for all boats launching (private boats included) “. You have to pay, even if you aren’t renting their boat. It’s totally worth it. They also have the most restrictive rules about food and drink I have ever encounter so do your research. Always leave no trace.
The second day I launch, one of the staff checked my bag. I usually buy an Aquafina bottle when I travel and use it for the duration of my trip. I own a Nalgene, but I rarely have room to pack it when I am flying. Instead, I recycle an Aquafina bottle for a week. The staffer at the kayak place confiscated my “disposable” water bottle and a small bag of trail mix. I totally get that my Tilley Hat, Columbia Shirt, Water Shoes make it look like I am about to destroy a case of natty light and hump a manatee, but seriously, folks. I managed to pack in and pack out the same stuff the day previous with no issues. (shhh.. don’t tell). The upper part of the spring/river is really nice. There wasn’t hardly any Aquafina bottles or trail mix bags any where.
I did see a group young rowdy people on a sand bar messing about. I was floating by when a manatee brushed up against one of the sandbar swimmers. The blood curdling scream from the unexpected contact was a delight to me, the rest of the party and probably the manatee.
Manatees just want to eat and stay warm and do manatee things. Sometimes they want to mess with people just for fun. Manatees are wild animals. They are endangered. You aren’t supposed to touch them or feed them or annoy them or run them over with speed boats. Pretend to be a log floating along and watch them. It is a gift.