Fly south and suit up for a meet and greet with Florida’s friendly manatees! Explore the Nature Coast ecosystems via fun outdoor adventures like kayaking, nature walks, snorkeling, and a swamp airboat ride.
Join us for an educational science tour for students grades 5th -12th to experience the real Florida and to snorkel with manatees. Our adventures take us through rivers, springs, forests, and out to the Gulf of Mexico to help participants learn about the life-giving resources the springs of Kings Bay provide to both human residents and wildlife.
When the water temperature of the Gulf of Mexico drop below 68 degrees F the West Indian Manatee comes into Kings Bay National Wildlife Refuge seeking warmth is the constant 72 degree water temperatures. The largest congregations come in from December to March, but there are some year-round manatee residents in the bay making summer trips possible. Participants will meet face-to-face with these gentle giants in an experience that many people proclaim life changing! Be prepared to fall in love with these potato-shaped mermaids.
It is important to know that although the highlight of the trip will be snorkeling with manatees, the focus of the tour is springshed ecology. Wildlife encounters are not 100 predictable and when we do have in water encounters with manatees we are always instructed and guided by a local permitted, licensed guide to ensure we follow all rules and regulations.
- Experience the real Florida along the Nature Coast.
- Learn about Citrus County’s amazing springs and how people and animals depend on them for survival.
- Go kayaking in the wild Chassahowitzka River, Florida’s Amazon.
- Life-changing in water guided encounters snorkeling with wild manatees.
- A thrilling airboat ride over wetlands and through rivers to see wildlife not accessible by the prop boats.
- Take a walk on the wild side with naturalist-led hikes to learn about ecology of upland Hammock Forests.
- Plankton tows, microscopes, and habitat ID cards will get students looking more closely at the surrounding habitats.
- Visit to the Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park for a closer look at native Florida flora and fauna.
Meet Your Guides
Trip Facilitator / Guide
Tara has 17 years of experience in eco-tourism, guiding and educating students of all ages in the Americas, the Caribbean, and Iceland. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in Natural Resource Management with an emphasis in Environmental Education/Interpretation. Tara has worked for notable educational, scientific, and conservation organizations and institutions such as the John G. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago’s Museum of Science & Industry, USDA Forest Service in the Chugach National Forest in Alaska, and Wild Studies in the Bahamas. Tara is a PADI Open Water Diver, Advanced Diver, Rescue Diver and has specialty certifications as Underwater Naturalist, Deep Diver, Multi-Level diver and Night Diver.
Florida Master Naturalist / Youth Environmental Alliance
Kristen is an engaging and passionate educator who leads the Florida Master Naturalist program in Broward County, Florida. She creates science education and interpretive programs for students of all ages, and provides expertise for ecological surveys and monitoring through her non-profit Youth Environmental Alliance. She has a BS in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, a Masters in Conservation Ecology and Wildlife Sciences, and more than 28 years in the field of ecology (marine, aquatic and terrestrial) and the management of natural areas and wildlife. Kristen’s passion is making a difference in peoples lives, to the environment and to wildlife through working and partnering with like–minded people and organizations that share her vision of promoting sustainability through self empowerment and education.
►Where do we stay?
We will live together in a charming Florida rental home and share communal duties of preparing for, making, and cleaning up after meals. The house has separate male and female bedrooms, each with 10 beds, and 2 shared bathrooms, plus one room with a queen size bed, and some additional beds tucked away if needed. There is a large living and kitchen and dining area as well as a huge swimming pool and screened in porch that overlooks Crystal River.
►Day 1: Welcome to the Sunshine State!
Groups will fly into either Orlando or Tampa, Florida depending on the most economical flight options for groups. We will drive about 1.5-2 hours to the Florida’s Natural Coast. Move in. Orientation. Swimming. Dinner.
►Day 2: Kayaking on the Chassahowitzka River & Wildlife Park
Afternoon: Called by many, the Amazon of Florida, we will paddle up lazy streams meandering through breathtaking scenery on clear water. Chock full of wildlife, this is the best way to see dozens of bird species, and possibly elusive wildlife like river otters, alligators, deer, and manatees. A couple of highlighted stops included snorkeling in springs like Seven Sisters or The Crack to learn about karst formations and to explore the crystal clear underwater habitats.
Afternoon: Homossassa Wildlife Park. The refuge has all orphaned or injured wildlife that represent Florida (and a few other interesting residents). This is a perfect place to learn to identify Florida birds, reptiles, and other wildlife to help gain a better understanding of this regions ecology.
►Day 3: Snorkeling with Manatees & Hammock Nature Walk
Morning: It’s an early start, but well worth it. After breakfast we will head to the Homosassa River for your first encounter with manatees. Your captain will take you out into the springs on a pontoon boat in search of manatees in the calm water of the Homosassa River. You pass by Monkey Island and see spider monkeys and learn about why monkeys are living on that island. Then the “hunt” begins. Once the manatees are spotted, your captain will anchor and everyone will get in the water with the manatees.
Afternoon: Lunch is at restaurant. Shopping for souvenirs. Then a 1-2 mile walk through Hammock habitat. These areas are the uplands to springs and are home to fun Florida residents like armadillos, wild bore, raccoons, and deer. Students will use habitat ID cards to learn to identify plant communities. Your naturalist will show you wild edible plants along the way.
►Day 4: Manatee Snorkeling & Airboat Ride
Morning: Return to Homosassa Springs for snorkeling with Manatees because one time just isn’t enough. This time around, you will feel more comfortable and start to notice other animals like fish and turtles swimming around you.
Afternoon: This is an adrenaline pumping 1 hour adventure. Let’s go topside looking for more Florida wildlife on the Withlacoochee River (or crooked river)! The Withlacoochee is a river the flows North to the Gulf of Mexico. The habitat is dominated by Cyprus Gum and Maple Trees. An airboat ride is a great way to access parts of the river that are too shallow for prop boats giving us access to unspoiled natural areas. Some of the most famous residents of this river are the American Alligator, otters, turtles, deer, and wild boar. Birders will love the large variety of birds to see. – Bring your camera and binoculars!
►Day 5: Departure
After breakfast we finalize projects and have one last educational program. If time allows, students can enjoy free time and swim in the pool before checking out of the rental house and heading back to the airport.
Please note: The activities and schedule may change without notice as practical considerations arise during program development, or onsite for the safety of participants.
Inclusions & Exclusions
- All meals from dinner on arrival day to breakfast on departure day.
- Educational programs & guides.
- Baggage fees.
- Special travel.
- $60.00 gratuity.
- Personal spending money.
- Other travel related costs.
- Travel insurance.
A non-refundable $300 deposit per person paid via PayPal is required to join this trip.
All payments are non-refundable if cancelled by the participant. Participants are highly encouraged to purchase travel insurance to cover unforeseen circumstances that may interrupt or cancel the trip.