The Traveling Advisor at Crystal River Florida
Cookie and I took a few days off and traveled to a small community in western Florida along the gulf coast called Crystal River. We were looking for a quiet place to vacation away from the crowded beaches or theme parks commonly visited during the summer in Florida. We narrowed down our search based on its proximity to some friends we wanted to visit while we were in Florida. Honestly, we just picked out this location from a map and decided to “give it a go”. We also decided to “stay local” with our lodging, meals, and activities during our stay. Aside from the reunion with friends, the decision to stay local turned out to be the most enjoyable feature of the trip.
Crystal River Florida is a small community of about 3396 people, according to the 2020 census. The land is mostly designated as protected because of the presence of Crystal River Preserve State Park and Crystal River Archaeological State Park. The Crystal River area is in the heart of the nature coast of Florida, about 90 minutes north of Tampa Bay. Tourism is the chief contributor to the local economy. The primary attraction is the manatees who migrate to this area in the wintertime when the waters of the Gulf get cooler (Wikimedia Foundation, 2022). The local tour guides expressed how it is not uncommon to have over 1500 manatees swimming in the waters around Crystal River in the winter months. Of course, the manatee population thins out in the summer, but a few of them stay throughout the year. Tourists enjoy watching and swimming with these large mammals, who are vegetarians that only eat sea grasses and water vegetation. (Think cows who swim!)
Crystal River has a network of over 40 hydrological springs that feed the area and keep the water temperature at a constant 72 degrees year-round, making it a winter haven for people who want to kayak, snorkel, or swim with the manatees in the crystal-clear water. Many birds and wildlife also inhabit the wildlife preserve area, which makes for an interesting adventure on a boat ride excursion. These springs were once believed to have healing powers. Is this why Ponce De Leon thought the fountain of youth was in Florida? Unfortunately, according to Smithsonian magazine, Ponce De Leon never looked for the fountain of youth. Bummers…! (Smithsonian Magazine 2013)
During our time at Crystal River, Cookie and I enjoyed a boat tour of the islands where we observed several wild bird varieties and saw a couple of manatees swimming with some snorkelers. We also explored some of the local shops. Honestly, Cookie enjoyed the shops. I only enjoyed the local cuisine. We stayed at a remodeled old motel called Retreat at Crystal Manatee, located just off the main road. The motel was small but gave a local flavor to the stay. It reminds me of some of the old motels we visited in Florida when I was young. The owners attempted to mimic some of the larger franchised hotels by offering a continental breakfast with 24-hour access to the facilities. Naturally, it is not the smorgasbord of a Hampton Inn; however, it was just right for the size of the motel.
The day before we were scheduled to leave Crystal River, Cookie hypnotized me and persuaded me to drive to Clearwater Beach for the afternoon. Cookie is convinced that you are not on vacation if you do not sit on the beach and bake for a little while! Clearwater Beach was nice, but extremely crowded. It took us over 45 minutes just to find a parking space when we arrived! We got to visit our friends in Leesburg, Florida, which was the highlight of the entire trip. Overall, the experience was very educational and enjoyable. Maybe we will return in the winter and swim with the manatees.
Smithsonian Magazine (2013, June 1). Ponce de Leon never searched for the Fountain of Youth. Smithsonian.com. Retrieved June 29, 2022, from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/ponce-de-leon-never-searched-for-the-fountain-of-youth-72629888/
Wikimedia Foundation. (2022, May 6). Crystal River, Florida. Wikipedia. Retrieved June 29, 2022, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crystal_River,_Florida