3 Best Day Trips From Orlando

August 01, 2020 Laura Ratliff and Terry Ward

Salt and fresh waters mingle at the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico, where the tiny town of Crystal River is a true find for nature lovers. You can swim with manatees year-round here in spring-fed waters that glow neon blue, but the cooler winter months brings the greatest chance to paddle among the gentle giants on snorkeling tours to Three Sisters Springs. Come summer, it's all about snorkeling for scallops atop beds of undulating seagrass in the Gulf, then sitting at a table by the river to enjoy a blackened plate full of them (cleaned and cooked by someone else, if that's how you prefer it). The real Florida is within reach here. Dive in. 

Coast Guard certified captains lead private tours for up to six people from the marina at the resort, Plantation on Crystal River. They take you on a rolling ride through the mangroves out into the grassy flats in the Gulf of Mexico, where the scallops can be gathered in season from July 1 through September 24. All gear is provided (mask, snorkel and fins). This is a true ocean to plate experience—you forage, watch someone clean your catch (you can even help), and then eat it within hours. The scallops are beautiful to look at with iridescent blue eyes lining the rims of their shells. It's amazing to see them snap open and shut once they're in the bucket, too. Who knew a shellfish could be so energetic?


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