By Danny and Alice Scott
Clearly, Crystal River is all about the manatees as reflected in the elaborate circular fountain at the entrance of the Plantation which is whimsically adorned with the sculptured creatures. Guests at the breakfast buffet or in the jacuzzi are abuzz with manatee mania, sharing their experiences or anticipation of swimming with the manatees. One Indiana gal is a perennial visitor so smitten that she is seeking a waterfront site to plant grass on the shoreline in hopes of adopting one as a pet.
Captain Ross and Snorkel Guide Corey at the Plantation Adventure Center led us to the wonder waters in Kings Bay where we were amazed at the profound sense of nature sharing the warm water with the gentle giants. Pictures with manatees are cute but the indelible memory of having one swim up next to you on the right and then one nudging you on the left and more soaring up from the bottom to greet you is beyond imagining. Placed on the endangered list in the 60s, manatees have made a comeback with 9,000 in the gulf where grasses have been seeded for their preservation and that grass is now being trucked to the east coast where their food source has all but disappeared with development. Nature finds a way as they say and watching a baby sucking on its mama right under the fin in such a manner that they can still swim through the water at the same time, justifies that theory. The experience is absolutely priceless.
The Plantation Golf Club is a vacation bonus on Crystal River with 18 holes of championship golf plus a nine-hole executive run. It is a little bit woodsy with wispy moss and lots of waterways. A bright red headed pileated woodpecker greeted us loudly and dramatically on the first tee box. As with most Floridian courses, it is an open aviary. Locals and guests alike love the group outings and burgers or wings at the 19th Hole Bar & Grill. The clubhouse is filled with the latest golf fashions embroidered of course with the manatee logo and it was nice to see our article in Northeast Golf Magazine displayed by the comfy wicker chair setting. More area courses avail for public play including World Woods and if you fall in love with the area, realtors are ready with affordable homes or high end estates along the water, next door in Beverly Hills or at Black Diamond, one of the top private courses in Florida.
Rooms at Plantation on Crystal River are spacious with patios looking out over the lawn and water beyond, perfect for mingling with other guests as the sun sets and the stars sparkle in the sky. A game room, and lawn activities entertain including the sand volleyball court or at the pool complex, giant chess and checker boards.
In addition to the famous “Swim with the Manatees” Tours, The Plantation Adventure Center offers scuba certification, bird watching, boat tours or rentals and fishing. The chef is happy to cook your catch at West 82 Grill. Locals meet for business or recreation and drink specials there and at the poolside Tiki Bar.
There are so many recommended eateries for fish to fork savoring in Crystal River and so little time. We stopped at Seafood Cellar where the “whodat, fleur de lis” is proudly displayed everywhere, just as the fresh fish from their own boats is displayed in the case. Buy and cook your own or dine in here. Owner Jim is from Natchez Mississippi cooking authentic cajun cuisine with his wife Sue whose crab cakes are lean and delish. Tiny blue crab claws by the quarter pound are filling enough but no matter how full, you better order the beignets. Healthy portions are served, and service of veterans is appreciated.
Crystal River is on a natural preserve coast of Florida that is much less crowded than the southern beach scenes yet with easy access from Tampa or Orlando airports. Book a stay for hu-manatees’ sake. www.plantationoncrystalriver.com