Visit Crystal River this weekend: Manatee Festival by day, Plantation overnight

click to enlarge IDYLLIC: Crystal River is a low-key getaway that requires less than a quarter-tank of gas for Tampa Bay residents. - DANIEL VEINTIMILLA
Daniel Veintimilla
IDYLLIC: Crystal River is a low-key getaway that requires less than a quarter-tank of gas for Tampa Bay residents.

click to enlarge NEARBY ESCAPE: Crystal River offers more than transparent waters. - DANIEL VEINTIMILLA
Daniel Veintimilla
NEARBY ESCAPE: Crystal River offers more than transparent waters.

Nondescript strip malls and corporate retail have been more invasive than kudzu in our Old South state. If you're craving an old-fashioned Florida setting, take a day trip or spend the weekend in Crystal River.

An hour and 20 minutes from Tampa, Crystal River encompasses the last unspoiled and undeveloped habitat in Kings Bay, the headwaters of the river. The bay is critical for the protection of the West Indian Manatee. The springs in the bay, with their constant 72 degree Fahrenheit water, provide a warm water refuge for the manatees that gather there in the winter months.

Tomorrow and Sunday, Jan. 18-19, the 7th Annual Manatee Festival celebrates its representative docile mammal in downtown Crystal River. The event offers down-home fun with live music, a juried art show, arts and crafts booths, and food and beverage vendors.

click to enlarge ON THE PLANTATION: View of the hotel from the river. - DANIEL VEINTIMILLA
Daniel Veintimilla
ON THE PLANTATION: View of the hotel from the river.

Arrive in the morning to swim with the manatees and stay the night at the hospitable Plantation on Crystal River, a colonial-style resort that really is right on the river. With Old Florida trappings and cool clear waters for aquatic fun, the inn offers a variety of amenities for fishing, diving, boat tours, golfing and more. The rooms are clean with comfortable beds, flatscreen TVs and lovely views of the river.

  • SWIM WITH THE MANATEES: Plantation offers tour, wetsuits and hot cocoa for a fun experience.

You could easily plan a weeklong family-fun vacation at the resort alone.

Photographer Daniel Veintimilla and I got to visit recently, accompanied by our new puppy, Obi. The pet-friendly resort offered friendly and clean accommodations with a good restaurant on the property and fun activities. We took the swimming with the manatee tour. The Plantation Adventure Center also has a marina and dive shop on the premises, with everything needed to enjoy a day on the water, including tackle, ice, area charts and current fishing reports. Marina captains can schedule a launch from the boat ramp and trailer storage on-property, or coordinate one of the best charters in the area, supplying provisions and all necessary fishing equipment.

click to enlarge UP CLOSE: A manatee swims up to a tour boat. - DANIEL VEINTIMILLA
Daniel Veintimilla
UP CLOSE: A manatee swims up to a tour boat.

We endured rainy weather on our visit but still found plenty to do even on a weekend with no special events happening. The Crawdaddy's restaurant near the hotel serves affordable, fresh-caught seafood, and we took some strolls in the nature preserves and old neighborhoods of the area between downpours.

The Plantation on Crystal River announced this year that it is now home to the only official International Game Fish Association (IGFA) weigh station for more than 400 miles to the north or south on Florida’s West Coast. If you're an amateur, you can have back-up for those tales about the big catch. If you're a serious angler/competing pro, this service allows what you need to be considered for one of IGFA’s nearly 7,000 world records.

click to enlarge PET-FRIENDLY: We took our puppy for walk outside the Plantation, which allows pets for a $25 deposit. - DANIEL VEINTIMILLA
Daniel Veintimilla
PET-FRIENDLY: We took our puppy for walk outside the Plantation, which allows pets for a $25 deposit.
  • Daniel Veintimilla
  • PET-FRIENDLY: We took our puppy for walk outside the Plantation, which allows pets for a $25 deposit.

Located at the resort’s Plantation Adventure Center, the weigh station has made arrangements to weigh fish up to 2,000 pounds. The Adventure Center will also have all the documents necessary to submit a catch for a world record, and with the knowledge of all the rules and regulations, will assist in completing them so that they have the best chance of being considered.

Non-fishing enthusiasts can take snorkeling tours and swim with the manatees. Humane and carefully managed, the tours at Plantation are fun and oh-so-rewarding, respecting the guidelines the federal government allows for "passive interaction" between manatees and people in Kings Bay and surrounding area. You can get face-to-face and gently touch and stroke manatees only if the manatee approaches you — and they do.

click to enlarge BOAT TOURS: Roll out of bed and swim with the manatees at Plantation. - DANIEL VEINTIMILLA
Daniel Veintimilla
BOAT TOURS: Roll out of bed and swim with the manatees at Plantation.
  • Daniel Veintimilla
  • BOAT TOURS: Roll out of bed and swim with the manatees at Plantation.

Swimming with the manatees is an experience beyond words. Few mammals that large are as friendly toward humans. Some might swim right up to your face and nuzzle your nose, or swim up the front of your body toe to head as if inviting you to hover above them. It's truly amazing.

Plantation provides a pre-tour education video to train participants how to engage the manatees with passive interaction. Swim, snorkel and dive experience manatee tour available with a hotel package that includes accommodations and breakfast with the Florida manatee tour. More info here.

click to enlarge HISTORIC: The old City Hall of Crystal River is now a cultural museum. - DANIEL VEINTIMILLA
Daniel Veintimilla
HISTORIC: The old City Hall of Crystal River is now a cultural museum.
  • Daniel Veintimilla
  • HISTORIC: The old City Hall of Crystal River is now a cultural museum.

The festival takes place in downtown Crystal River 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, at the intersection of Citrus Avenue and U.S. 19, where you'll find the shops and restaurants of Heritage Village and the waterside area along King’s Bay. $4 per person, 12 and younger admitted free. Parking: Free parking at the Crystal River Mall at 1801 NW U.S. 19 (approximately one mile north of the event). Shuttle buses will offer $1 rides to the event. There is limited street and handicap parking available.

Take a boat tour while you're there. Local boat captains will offer boat tours on a first-come, first-served basis. $10 for adults, children 12 and younger ride for free. The tickets are good only on the date purchased and are sold at the boat dock area near Northwest Third Street. In addition, Three Sisters Springs: Shuttles will transport visitors to Three Sisters Springs from the bus stop on Northeast Fifth Street.

More Crystal River photos below.

click to enlarge RIGHT OFF U.S. 19: Entrance to Plantation. - DANIEL VEINTIMILLA
Daniel Veintimilla
RIGHT OFF U.S. 19: Entrance to Plantation.

click to enlarge VIEWS FROM THE PLANTATION: Residential riverfront properties. - DANIEL VEINTIMILLA
Daniel Veintimilla
VIEWS FROM THE PLANTATION: Residential riverfront properties.

click to enlarge LOVELY GAZEBO: Plantation riverfront view. - DANIEL VEINTIMILLA
Daniel Veintimilla
LOVELY GAZEBO: Plantation riverfront view.

click to enlarge STAR MAPPED: See one of John Travolta's homes on Crystal River, indicated during a recent boat tour. - DANIEL VEINTIMILLA
Daniel Veintimilla
STAR MAPPED: See one of John Travolta's homes on Crystal River, indicated during a recent boat tour.
  • Daniel Veintimilla
  • STAR MAPPED: See one of John Travolta's homes on Crystal River, indicated during a recent boat tour.

click to enlarge NATURE EVERYWHERE: Grounds of Plantation on Crystal River. - DANIEL VEINTIMILLA
Daniel Veintimilla
NATURE EVERYWHERE: Grounds of Plantation on Crystal River.

click to enlarge IDYLLIC: Crystal River is a low-key getaway that requires less than a quarter-tank of gas for Tampa Bay residents. - DANIEL VEINTIMILLA
Daniel Veintimilla
IDYLLIC: Crystal River is a low-key getaway that requires less than a quarter-tank of gas for Tampa Bay residents.
  • Daniel Veintimilla
  • IDYLLIC: Crystal River is a low-key getaway that requires less than a quarter-tank of gas for Tampa Bay residents.

click to enlarge DRYING HER WINGS: An anhinga lands in Crystal River. - DANIEL VEINTIMILLA
Daniel Veintimilla
DRYING HER WINGS: An anhinga lands in Crystal River.

click to enlarge DOCK HERE: Several fishing docks and wildlife areas take you away from civilization. - DANIEL VEINTIMILLA
Daniel Veintimilla
DOCK HERE: Several fishing docks and wildlife areas take you away from civilization.
  • Daniel Veintimilla
  • DOCK HERE: Several fishing docks and wildlife areas take you away from civilization.

click to enlarge NO-FRILLS LUNCH: Located across U.S. 19, this spot offers affordable, fresh buckets of fish and shellfish. - JULIE GARISTO
Julie Garisto
NO-FRILLS LUNCH: Located across U.S. 19, this spot offers affordable, fresh buckets of fish and shellfish.
  • Julie Garisto
  • NO-FRILLS LUNCH: Located across U.S. 19, Crawdaddy's spot offers affordable, fresh buckets of fish and shellfish.

click to enlarge GOOD EATS: Vintage on 5th is the best place to eat in Crystal River. - DANIEL VEINTIMILLA
Daniel Veintimilla
GOOD EATS: Vintage on 5th is the best place to eat in Crystal River.
  • Daniel Veintimilla
  • RECOMMENDED FOR DINNER: Vintage on 5th is the best place to eat in Crystal River.

click to enlarge 'BYE PLANTATION: Lobby/main house at night. - DANIEL VEINTIMILLA
Daniel Veintimilla
'BYE PLANTATION: Lobby/main house at night.

Scroll to read more Local Arts articles
Join the Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.

Newsletters

Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at [email protected]