This article was written by Carolina Grabova – a traveling mother and blogger, whose work can be found on janelaparaorlando.com.
There are many things I love about living in Florida, but my favorite has to be the fact that when I want to relax and unwind I don’t need to look far; there is always a good option within a reasonable driving distance.
A couple of weeks back, I had the opportunity to collaborate with Best Western® Hotels & Resorts, who provided me with a two night stay at one of their properties. I chose one of my favorite hidden gems, Crystal River, a small town located on the Gulf Coast and an easy day trip for anyone visiting Tampa (1 hour 20 minute drive away) or Orlando (1 hour 45 minute drive away).
We stayed at the Best Western Crystal River Resort, a great waterfront hotel right at Springs Fed Bay and since most activities in Crystal River involve water, I can say that location is everything when visiting this coastal town. Staying at a waterfront resort allowed us not to use the car for two whole days! Everything we needed was right there, plus Best Western has a lot of other perks that makes a big difference for families like free Wi-Fi, a rewards program with points that never expire, free breakfast and my kids’ favorite thing in the world: a waffle station. They also have an automatic pancake maker (I’ve never seen one of those before.), but it distracted my kids long enough for us to sit down and have a quiet breakfast before we started our busy day.
There are many reasons to visit Crystal River, during winter people from all over the world come to witness the manatee migration. Manatees can’t survive in waters below 60 degrees; that means that during manatee migration season, the number of manatees in Crystal River jumps from 60 (resident manatees) to over 400. The summer months bring scallop season and scalloping is a fun activity for the whole family.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t visit Crystal River off-season though because there is still plenty to do and see, so here are some of my favorite things:
Fishing is a great year round activity. Depending on the time of the year you can find trout, redfish, tarpon, cobia, mackerel and grouper of course. We used a company called Florida Fishing Adventures and Captain Randy took us around showing some of the best fishing spots and also on a sightseeing tour.
Crystal River is even prettier from the water! All the canals and crystal clear waters from Three Sisters Springs makes this place a perfect low-key spot for a relaxing getaway. It’s also important to note that the Florida Fishing Adventures was great with my kids. I have a 12 year old and a never-sit-still 9 year old, and Captain Randy was not only patient with them but also helped them fish their own trouts! Needless to say that was the highlight of our trip.
If you are staying at the Best Western as I did, Florida Fishing Adventures pick up location is the Best Western. Convenient right? Remember no need for a car here.
Once our fishing tour was coming to an end, Captain Randy took us to Pete’s Pier Marina where he cleaned the boys’ fish and introduced us to this great activity. Tarpons are big, fast and can jump to catch any bits and pieces of fish you are willing to give them. I’ve heard about tarpon feeding places in the Florida Keys but had no idea this also could be done in Crystal River, if you ever fed a tarpon in the keys you know it’s a paid activity, but in Crystal River there is no cost to feed them. It was a nice unexpected surprise that got my kids excited, but their excitement was nothing compared to my husband’s joy.
SNORKELING IN THREE SISTERS SPRINGS
Day two of our trip was dedicated to manatees, which is my favorite animal in the world. I have visited Three Sisters Springs before but had never snorkeled there and all I got to say is: it is beautiful! Florida has gorgeous springs, each one of them has its own charm.
Three Sisters is where manatees hide from cold waters during winter. When I visited Crystal River, the weather was not the best for manatee viewing, it was too warm, which means that manatees disperse. You won’t find many of them at the springs, but I was still able to see a manatee with its calf. My son, on the other hand, was really lucky and had a face-to-face encounter with one. Even though there was not many manatees in sight, snorkeling in Three Sisters Springs is a must do while in town. You can find several manatees snorkeling tour companies in Crystal River, but we opted for using the dive shop located at the hotel marina. They not only do excursions – you can also rent boats per hour, which is what we chose to do. If you decide to rent a boat make sure to also rent wetsuits, they can keep you warm in the 72 degree water temperature.
Renting boats in Crystal River is a great way to make sure you enjoy everything at your own pace, but especially near Three Sister Springs, be extremely careful! There are several boats, people snorkeling, canoe tours and manatees sharing the same space.
There is a big list of do’s and dont’s when it comes to interacting with manatees so please be respectful of the regulations. Manatees are protected under federal laws so fines are heavy. If you have any doubts about the best way to interact with them, click here to access Florida’s Fishing and Wildlife Conservation Commission guidelines.
When the day is about to end, bars and restaurants in Crystal River come to life! We ended up going to Cracker’s Bar and Grill because we’ve heard they can prepare your own freshly caught fish, and it was adjacent to the hotel. Cracker’s is by the waterfront with live music playing and just as advertised by our boat captain, they prepared the boys trout and it was delicious! It’s a sit back, have a drink and relax type of place where locals and tourists mix in perfect harmony.
Come find out what Florida living is all about in Crystal River! Cheers!