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Florida Departures Ft. Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Miami & Port Canaveral & Tampa
We went there before our cruise out of Port Canaveral. We walk down there from the Counrty Inn and Suites. Only a 15 minute walk. We were the only ones there. The manatees arrived around 8:30am and played for 45 minutes or so right next to the shoreline. We got some great pictures. If you have the time go and enjoy. I have no idea if the show up every day or if we were just lucky.
We've always had better luck watching them at Banana River Park which is right next to the Manatee Park to the north. We've watched around 10 of them swimming close to the shore. You cannot get in the water with them. We also saw a couple of dolphins swimming off shore. You can swim with them in the river at a couple of state parks outside of Orlando during certain times of the year. Can't think of the name right now - you could probably google and come up with something. There is a kayak tour in Cocoa Beach you could take. Again, can't think of the name but it comes up on Trip Advisor dot com under "things to do".
the basin where the ships tie up is a popular hangout for manatee
I was stationed in the Coast Guard right there and we'd hang a fresh water hose off the end of the ship and the manatee would come right to us .... then we'd toss lettuce....
Back in the 1980s and early 1990s when I was doing sailboat deliveries up and down the east coast and caribbean, the manatees would come right up to us in marinas and we'd also drop the hose for them and feed them lettuce.
Although we have seen manatees there numerous times, our favorite place to observe them is at the US Army Corps of Engineers' "Canaveral Locks" facility. This is actually at the end of the Port itself, but difficult to find without directions.
The advantage to the Locks is that you can see lots of other things, too, and that you sometimes are only a few feet from the manatees. We take our visitors to the Locks quite often to see what is swimming through. Plan on an hour or so to hang out to give yourself the best chance. Great place for a picnic, too.
I posted pretty detailed information about finding the Canaveral Locks, and what to expect there in this thread:
Manatees are an endangered species. Please do not get in the water and swim with them.
The oils from your body, your sunblock, splashing etc disturbs their natural habitat.
Why this isn't illegal is beyond me.
Can you not just observe them from land?
Yes, the manatees are an endangered species. There are very limited areas where you are allowed to swim with them in the United States and it is very regulated. The Crystal River and Homosassa Springs areas in Florida are a couple of the very few spots where it is actually legal to do so. It is highly regulated by the Fish and Wildlife Administration and it IS illegal to swim with them outside of these designated areas and it is punishable by a very large fine as well as jail time. The dive centers that are allowed to take people out to do this, work very closely with the Fish and Wildlife Administration in order to educate people and raise awareness. The manatees are not brought into captivity. They are in their natural environment. Special manatee sanctuaries are set up out in the open water where it is roped off with the use of buouys so that motorboats cannot go through and cause damage to them. The manatees are not restricted in the least bit, only the humans.
My husband and I did a "Swim with the Manatees" snorkel in February and I can say it was absolutely one of the most fabulous experiences of our lives. You slip into the water very quietly as to not scare them. You are not allowed to approach them. You have to remain quiet and calm and allow them to come up to you. If they do come over and you put your hand out, they will automatically roll right over for a big 'ole belly rub. I spent an incredible amount of time with a mama and her calf. They stayed right there and "played" with me for a really long time before going along on their way. They are absolutely huge but very docile creatures. It was really truly an amazing experience.
Norwegian Dawn, Feb 2009
Carnival Legend, Feb 2010
Emerald Princess, Nov 2010
Emerald Princess, April 2011
Norwegian Pearl, Oct 2011