Crystal River, FL: Blind Scuba & Manatee Nipples

About a week ago we were in a random Savannah antique shop, browsing and chatting with the shop owner. One thing led to another and she ended up mentioning a place in Florida where you can swim with manatees. “It’s the only place in the world where you can do this,” she said. Our ears perked. Within a few minutes we decided to take a detour to the place she mentioned: Crystal River. And, within a few hours we had reserved a float boat and scuba gear.

I love that we can do that! Change our plans at the drop of dime, or in this case, when an elderly woman’s eyes light up. Crystal River…. she said, and her face flushed with excitement. And so, Crystal River, here we come!

THGJ Crystal River - 0003
Tiny House Gj @ Lake Rousseau RV Park

We parked the tiny house at Lake Rousseau RV Park. It was packed! We leveled the house, detached our truck and began to plug-in, only to discover that the electric hook-up for our site was 50 amp (we use 30 amp or 110). Lesson learned – always check first. The office was closed, but luckily we found an after-hours manager and explained our debacle. He supplied us with an adaptor, and then was  almost embarrassed to ask: “Could my wife maybe take a look inside your home? She’s seen a few on television…” 

The next morning Guillaume and I went to Crystal Lodge Dive Center to pick up our rental gear and boat. We were required to watch a safety video, not for OUR safety but for the manatees’s safety. No touching! No poking! No chasing! No feeding! Etc. Of course, we would never do any of these things. But as the day went on, I witnessed how others would.

Isn't it winter?? #floridadoesntcare #florida #sunburnt #boatrides

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Crystal River is a small, shallow fresh water bay, only a few miles in length and boasts to be the home to over 500 manatees. The bay is divided up into areas for: 1). Scuba & Snorkeling, 2). Boating, and 3). Manatee Sanctuaries (no one is allowed to enter). The manatees stick mostly to the sanctuaries, and I don’t blame them. People are loud, violent, fast and scary. The sanctuaries are the only place where they can sleep in peace.

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Guillaume and I went on two dives in the deepest part of the bay (about 35 feet). The water was murky and the visibility was terrible. Where’s the “crystal” part of this river? While we were under, I lost Guillaume for a few minutes and started to freak out. I wasn’t sure which way was up or down, nor whether I had gone right or left. I tried to stay still, hoping he would find me. It was a horrible feeling: floating in the dark….listening to my own breath. In and out. In and out. It only lasted a few moments, because soon after I found him. And for the rest of the dive, I didn’t take him out of my sight.

Next we headed to Three Sisters Springs, and as we cruised the canal, I saw my first wild manatee swim right under our boat! A few moments later a nearby kayaker shrieked happily that there were two right beside her!

Guillaume and I anchored at the entrance of Three Sisters Springs, a series of three small coves. Here the water was (as advertised) crystal clear, and it was very shallow. We snorkeled down the small canal leading to the coves.

“Watch out he’s coming right at you!” Guillaume yelled.

I put my face back down in the water, and I saw a seven foot manatee swimming right for me! With only a few seconds to spare, I quickly darted out of his way.

I came up out of the water, grinning. “Did you see it??” Guillaume asked. “Are you kidding? We were almost in a head on collision!!” I replied giddily, full of adrenaline.  That moment alone, was worth our trip to Crystal River.

THGJ Crystal River Manatees - 0002

Thirty minutes later, deep in the three sisters cove, we watched a baby manatee breast feed. Did you know that a manatee has nipples behind its fins? The more you know. A nearby tour guide announced that it was a “National Geographic Moment.” It’s funny that she said that, because we saw this photo on the Nat Geo feed later that evening. The photographer must have been right next to us!

Photograph by @paulnicklen for @natgeo and @sea_legacy A baby Manatee nurses from its mother in Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. Interestingly, the teats are below the mothers flippers and not on the belly like many other marine mammals. According to the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species, the West Indian Manatee (Florida) is "listed as Endangered on the basis of a population size of less than 2,500 mature individuals and the population is estimated to decline by at least 20% over the next two generations (estimated at ~40 years) due to anticipated future changes in warm-water habitat and threats from increasing watercraft traffic over the next several decades". There is much pressure from many Floridians to have this species downlisted from Endangered so that they can drive their boats faster in the local waters. #nature #wildlife #manatees #florida #natureispeaking #gratitude #picoftheday #cute #Planetaphoto #PorElPlaneta @ElPlanetaPhoto #beauty @natgeocreative @thephotosociety #savethemanatee

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Guillaume and I went home exuberant and sunburnt, feeling like we had just experienced something rare and extraordinary.

Next we continued south, to a place where Guillaume might finally get his ‘gator sighting…





  1. Kim
    April 15, 2015 / 2:14 pm

    I so wish i could have seen this sooner! just 20 mini south of Crystal river is a place calls Homosassas springs! if you wanted a gator sighting! and an all around beautiful wild life preserve.

  2. Ron Recchino
    January 14, 2015 / 9:24 am

    My wife and I love Key West. Just catching the tiny house bug. We have a travel trailer and have talked often about traveling from Massachusetts to the Keys with the trailer. What campground are you staying at?

    • User Avatar January 14, 2015 / 9:32 am

      We stayed in a friend’s driveway, can’t afford the Keys campground fees! 😛

  3. Mollie Meow
    January 7, 2015 / 10:43 pm

    That video made me so giddy! Awesome!!

  4. Bekah W.
    January 7, 2015 / 9:34 pm

    You guys are living my dream! Unfortunately, we “bought into” the “American Dream”and have to figure out how to get back on track. I want to have the freedom to go wherever life takes me, and enjoy these pleasures and not be tied down to a house and the payments and upkeep that inslaves is, keeping us from enjoying life. We lived in FLORIDA for four years in a 900 sq ft. Condo, and for a family of four, it was pretty small. But because we were renting, we had no worries if things broke or anything. I have shown my 12 year old daughter a few tiny houses on YouTube, but couldn’t find YOUR house tour, which was one of my favorites! Can you provide that link please?? Also, is it practical at all to thing a family of a Hubby and Wife with a 12 and 9 year old daughters could do a Tiny House??? I can’t figure out where we would all sleep! My dream is to sell our house, and build our own Tiny House, and live for the experiances and memories we make with our girls, like we used to. This “American Dream” isn’t for me! I’m afraid it might have to wait until our girls are grown though, simply because four people in a tiny house seems impossible?

    Manatees are my absolute FAVORITE! My Hubby and I first saw them
    In the wild (mother and baby) in Key Largo, FL on a weekend away. I fell in love with them! I HAVE to go here!! It would thrill my soul!

    • User Avatar January 8, 2015 / 5:22 am

      Hi Bekah, glad you like what we have to share. We’ve heard of families of 4, sometimes 5 going tiny. You can have a couple lofts!
      Just click here for the videos: THGJ Video Tour.

  5. Barbara Trono
    January 7, 2015 / 3:12 pm

    Hi! I just moved from NH to Florida, nearby the Homasasa state wildlife area where the Manatees live. are you still in the area? I would love to see your place! Barb Trono

    Ps…I had emailed you when you were in NH area you could plug in at my place…but alas We didn’t connect.

    Sent from my iPad


    • User Avatar January 7, 2015 / 8:15 pm

      Hey Brad. We probably didn’t connect about NH because we literally just drove through without stopping… As for Florida, we were in Crystal River a couple weeks ago. We are now in the Keys and probably won’t head back that way. Your best bet to see our house will be in Orlando at the end of the month.

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