In January we took a field trip to the Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach, Florida. My dear friend, Shelley, who is another full-time RVing mama, introduced me to this great family resource. The manatee viewing is fabulous and…it’s FREE! Fabulous and free make for an excellent resource combo. As we travel to vacation destinations all year long, our expenses can add up rapidly if we don’t make strategic selections. We all know that free venues do not always provide a quality experience, however that is not the case with this place.
You can visit the Manatee Viewing Centers website HERE, for more information and discover what this place is all about.
As this was our first time viewing manatees in the wild, my kids and I were thrilled!
It’s amazing to see how large these creatures are in person. I feel that seeing them in the wild gave us a better perception of these gentle giants…way different than when we’ve seen them in aquariums. They almost look like giant stepping stones in the water.
The viewing center is run by the electric company. Story goes…that years ago people began to notice that the manatees would congregate in the water near the power plant every winter. It was discovered that they were warming themselves in the hot water that was discharged into the bay. Fortunately for us, the electric company decided to serve the public with this fascinating occurrence and maintains a lovely public exhibit. They have created a pier that extends out in two directions for use as a viewing platform. A touchtank that includes rays and horseshoe crabs was recently added. My son thought this was an excellent exhibit and he rolled up his sleeves and spent a good half-hour with his hands in the water. Upstairs there is a small museum and gift shop to peruse. The content is quite good, especially considering the admission price! I highly recommend this wildlife exhibit as it is geared towards visitors of any age. You can spend as little as a half hour here and make a stop just to view the manatees in the water. If you want to get full use of the facilities, plan for an hour or two. There are restrooms and picnic-tables, should you wish to bring a picnic lunch.
If you a traveling in a bigger vehicle, then I suggest arriving earlier in the day, so that you have easier parking options. The parking lot is not very big and we noticed that this place is popular around lunchtime. Parking is always on my radar as we have a large dually that is pulling our fifth wheel around the country…so we have some very wide hips on our truck!
We had hoped to visit Crystal Springs and snorkel with the manatees, but that did not pan-out this time in Florida. This was the next best thing for us. Have you seen manatees in the wild? What are your favorite viewing spots?