What is the difference between a ‘group tour’ and a ‘semi-private’ tour?
The group encounters are done on certified pontoons that hold anywhere from 7 to 20 participants. Typically, we keep the capacities at 10 or below and reserve the biggest boats for large private groups, schools, scouts, churches or very busy times when conditions are very good. The group tours run about 3 hours from start to finish and the price includes everything you need from the tour except for towels and a change of clothes.
Any tour that is described as ‘semi-private’ will be a smaller vessel and a smaller group. These boats take a maximum of 6 passengers at any time. Most semi-private tours run 4 hours from start to finish and include snacks and beverages. The exception to this rule is the manatee confidential which is our most affordable semi-private because it is only 3 hours, and DOES NOT include snacks or assorted beverages.
What is the difference between the ‘Pontoon of Privilege’, the ‘Outstanding Odyssey’ and the ‘Manatee Confidential’?
This is one of our most common questions, so we are glad you are reading!!
The ‘Pontoon of Privilege’ (especially early) is the tour in highest demand among our guests. This is a 6 person luxury pontoon, enclosed with Eisen glass and has a heat source. This ride includes basic snacks, beverages like soda and juice, coffee, cocoa, and assorted beer and wine. This boat has a commode for emergencies, and a curtain to pull for a bit of privacy.
The ‘Outstanding Odyssey’ is a very similar tour, but on a houseboat-not a pontoon. The houseboat is fully enclosed and has large windows for viewing with a boat commode behind a door for optimum privacy. The Odyssey includes snacks and assorted beverages but does not include beer and wine. 6 person max, 4 hours from start to finish. This is probably our warmest vessel, as it is cozy and has a small interior.
The ‘Manatee Confidential’ is a houseboat that carries a 6 person maximum for a 3 hour tour. This is very similar to the group experience, but with less people on an enclosed vessel. This boat has a heat source and we include bottled water and also hot cocoa when it is cold. There is a boat commode with curtain and a front deck for your viewing pleasure. This is our most affordable semi-private tour but does not include snacks or assorted beverages.
How long is the ride?
Our boats are moored on the manatee refuge. This means no long boat rides to your swim destination. You can't get any closer than we are. This is especially important as it does not take away from your swim time.
With that said, keep in mind that these are wild animals that move about and can sometimes be elusive depending on many factors. We never know how long it will take to find them from day to day or exactly how much riding will be involved to have a chance to swim with them. Typical rules are that during warm weather we will have to ride longer looking, and when it is very cold we have the least amount of riding because they will be in multiple locations with a bit more predictability. Our Captains do this every day, so even in times of tough conditions they will do their best to find animals efficiently.
Do you provide in-water Manatee Tour guides?
YES! We are huge supporters of an animal friendly environment and manatee sensitive practices. This means that you will be accompanied into the water by a guide who is trained and educated about the laws that apply, the animals….and will also serve as your photographer. The guides are there from the beginning of your manatee swim to the end, ensuring you have a pleasant, safe and educational experience and to do we all we can to give the animals the respect they deserve as we are visitors in their home. Please choose a responsible operator, and having someone in the water that does this daily can make a huge difference to your ultimate encounter!
Are there any hidden fees?
River Ventures tour prices are all inclusive. Your wetsuit, gear, parking, captain, guide, even bottled water is included in your price. You will have the option to leave gratuities or purchase photo packages after your tour, but there are no other fees associated with your tour.
Do you have a wetsuit that will fit me?
We have wetsuits for both Children and Adults and in sizes up to 5x. We do require that you wear a wetsuit when you snorkel with the manatees as they help you stay warm, buoyant, and assist you in keeping your feet near the top of the water and not dangling, which often will stir up the bottom and scare the manatees. You of course can choose to bring your own gear if you would feel more comfortable. If bringing your own gear, please remember that we are only snorkeling in the shallow water, not diving, so advanced diving gear is not necessary.
Where do we meet?
We meet at our full service swim with the manatees tour and educational facility where you will check in and enjoy a cup of complimentary coffee or hot chocolate. We will sit down to watch a short video on how to swim with the manatees, then gear up for your manatee tour in our climate controlled changing rooms. Once your swim with the manatees tour is over, and you exit the water, you may change immediately in our on-board changing room, or change in the comforts of our dressing rooms when you return to prepare for your trip back home.
Are your boats covered, do they have bathrooms?
All of our boats are equipped with complete roof overs and have clear vinyl glass enclosures that can be rolled down during inclement weather. These features make for a comfortable ride to and from the swim areas, especially during cold winter days and during periods of rainy weather. Each boat is also equipped with a curtained privacy area with a flushable porta-potty. This curtained area can also be used as a changing room for those who wish to change into dry clothing for the short ride back to the dock.
How long is the Manatee Swim Tour?
Our group tours are approximately 3 hours from start to finish. We do a short educational presentation when you arrive and gear the groups up. The time it takes to prepare each boat varies, some are very efficient and some groups take longer to get out on the water. It is very important that you arrive on time for your tour (or even a few minutes early) as we can’t deviate from our scheduled manatee tour times. Don’t miss the boat….please arrive on time!
Do you offer group discounts?
Yes, we offer a ten percent (10%) discount on groups of 10 or more people. Please contact us by phone to reserve discounted group tours. You can reach us daily from 6 AM EST until 8 PM EST by calling 877-581-8401 FREE.
What is your cancellation Policy?
We require five (5) days advance notification if you can't make your scheduled tour reservation. This cancellation policy allows us time to re-sell any seats left vacant and helps us keep our prices reasonable for you. We pre-charge all credit card reservations for the cost of the tour and do not refund short-notice cancellations. This is consistent with airline, car rental agency, hotel policies and other swim with the manatees tour companies. Our boats are US Coast Guard certified for a certain number of passengers, once our boats are full then we are forced to turn others way. Our captains are scheduled according to the number of seats we have reserved. We take reservations so that you will be guaranteed to have a seat available on our boat and we would appreciate it if you make the same commitment to arrive on time, and to keep your reservations. We can't hold a boat for late arrivals, as this means those who did arrive on time would have to wait, and would also make our other scheduled tours depart at a later time than scheduled
Are there any age limits?
Children 3 years old and up to seniors of all ages are welcome to swim with the manatees. You should be comfortable in the water, and parents must stay close to their children at all times for safety, and to help them remain quiet. Children under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult. Remember, wearing a wetsuit not only helps to keep you warm, but also helps you to stay buoyant. We also carry inflatable snorkel vests and foam swim noodles on our boats for those who wish to have a little extra buoyancy. Even though you are invited to swim with the manatees, we actually just float on top of the water and snorkel with manatees which does not require much actual swimming
Are there rules that we follow when we snorkel with the manatees?
Yes, manatees are protected under both the Endangered Species Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Both the State of Florida and the U.S. Federal Government oversee the protection of the manatee. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission (FWC) and the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) have laws in place to ensure the safety of the manatees. These laws are strictly enforced and must be followed by everyone who enters the water. Upon arrival to our center we will have you watch a movie covering the do’s and don’ts, and will go over the rules with you so that you are fully aware of the guidelines when you swim with the manatees. You can view these rules by clicking here.
How many manatees will we see?
Please remember that manatees are an endangered species and that our tours are conducted in their own natural environment. The manatees are not contained to any specific area of the refuge and are free to come and go as they please. No two days are ever the same. Weather, tidal influences and time of year affect the conditions daily and it can never be predicted just how many manatees you will see. During the colder winter months we have the largest concentration of manatees however, because we have a unique eco system which is a prime habitat for manatees, we have a resident population that stay with us year round. These resident populations of manatees that make Crystal River their yearlong home are the ones that we are able to swim with during the warmer summer months.
How many people do you take on your boats?
Our boats are US Coast Guard Certified, inspected, and stability tested for your safety and are designed to comfortably carry anywhere from 6 to 16 swimmers and observers. Some tour companies advertise that they only take small groups because it makes for a more personal tour. Remember, when tour companies advertise more private or personal tours, that you can be the only ones on the boat BUT not the only ones in the water. Their boats visit the same areas as ours and the same as other tour companies. While we do our best to keep you from the crowds it is not always possible especially during busy holiday’s and holiday weekends. Remember we go where the manatees go. Our boats simply transport you to those areas. The boat ride is not what makes the tour it is the guide’s knowledge of the manatees and their habits and the comfort and friendliness provided by the staff and facility that you tour with. We do always recommend the 6:15 AM tour to avoid the largest crowds in the water and avoid the other tour companies that get a later start as well as recreational watercraft. The early tour simply beats the crowds and gets you in and out while the refuge is at its quietest and the manatees are still in their most relaxed state
Where is River Ventures Manatee Tour Center located?
River Ventures is located in the Town of Crystal River, on the west coast of Florida known as the nature coast, home of the manatee. We are approximately 1 hour north of the Tampa International Airport and approximately 1 ½ hours northwest of Orlando. For further driving directions and approximate driving time click on our directions link and enter the address that you will be coming from.
Can I touch the manatees?
Remember we are guests in the home of these endangered animals. It is a privilege to share their natural habitat and imperative that we treat them with respect. This is not a petting zoo, and no one can ever EXPECT to touch a manatee; however, sometimes the animals touch us. If a manatee engages with you, legally we are allowed a one open-hand touch, but at River Ventures and Safaris we try to encourage passive observation as we have found the less you touch these animals the longer they will hang out with us! There is an evolution in this Industry to a more animal-friendly environment, and we are doing all we can to lead the charge!
Can I ride on the boat and not swim?
Yes! We always welcome observers. You can often see the manatees from the boat and sometimes they get close enough to the boat that you can reach down and touch them. Bring your cameras and binoculars and enjoy the surroundings of the refuge.
We respect and are committed to protecting your privacy. We may collect personally identifiable information when you visit our site. We also automatically receive and record information on our server logs from your browser including your IP address, cookie information and the page(s) you visited. We will not sell your personally identifiable information to anyone. We do use the email you give us to send trip reminders and keep contact, we also typically do an email follow up but beyond this we DO NOT share your emails with any other parties.
What is Your Security Policy?
Your payment and personal information is always safe. Our Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) software is the industry standard and among the best software available today for secure commerce transactions. It encrypts all of your personal information, including credit card number, name, and address, so that it cannot be read over the internet.
What about weather conditions?
Very rarely do we cancel due to poor weather conditions, we do tours rain or shine! We are located right along the coast in a small, protected Bay, so many times storms will move through quickly and little effect on our tours. There are times, during heavy rain, lightning or winds that we may postpone a group and wait for the storm to pass. When this happens, we take the postponement into consideration so that it doesn’t take away from your tour experience and try to give you the time that you paid for. We do all that we can to deliver a great experience!
If we cancel, you are always offered a full refund or option to reschedule. If the conditions make you uncomfortable (but will still choose to run) you will have the option to reschedule or get gift certificates to come back and see us when conditions are better.
If large storms are approaching, often times we will call the day before to update and give our visitors options, this is why dependable contact info is so important. If at any time you are concerned, please give us a call! We are at the mercy of Mother Nature… This is Florida, weather changes quickly and often times forecasts turn out to be incorrect, so no worries!
DO WE NEED FINS? Can I use my own?
NO, at River Ventures we stopped using fins nearly 6 years ago and are leading a charge to a more 'animal friendly' environment. Typically we are in 4 to 6 feet of water, and we have no need to chase the animals, so fins are really overkill. Fins encourage the kicking of people, animals and also stir up the bottom destroying visibility. We find we do much better without them and we try not to over complicate this relaxed experience!!