During our cooler months (typically November through March), thousands of manatees migrate to Florida’s warmer waters. This annual visitation presents date night opportunities for couples to see the mellow giants up close in the great outdoors! There are multiple places to see manatees in Orlando and nearby. This year manatee season starts on November 15th.
We’ve rounded up the best places to see manatees in the wild near Orlando and other awe-inspiring viewing centers.
PS: Manatees can reach up to 13 feet in length and 3,000 pounds. Holy (sea) cow! However, it is important to keep a safe distance and not touch the manatees (as lawfully mandated).
Updated November 2023 by Meghan Roth
Manatee Habitats Closest to Orlando
- Blue Spring State Park
- Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge
- Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
- Silver Glen Springs (Ocala)
- Tampa Electric Company Manatee Viewing Center
Blue Spring State Park
2100 W. French Ave., Orange City | (386) 775-3663
Less than one hour from Orlando, Blue Spring is the largest spring on the St. Johns River, the longest river in Florida, emitting 104 million gallons of water every day.
At 73°F, Blue Spring transforms into a manatee refuge in the winter. While watercraft and swimming are prohibited during the winter, you can watch the marine mammals from walking paths, viewing areas and via an online manatee cam. The park gets very busy on weekends, so visit on a weekday if you can.
There is a small cost to enter Blue Spring State Park ($6 per vehicle), which is a small price to pay to visit the best place to see manatees in Orlando. Locals and visitors alike flock to Blue Spring to see manatees in the winter.
If you can visit on a weekday you’ll experience fewer crowds. Otherwise, try to get these as early as you can. The park can reach capacity. Expect a long line to enter if you arrive around 10am or later.
A small shop offers casual food and snacks, and there are plenty of picnic tables. Or head to downtown DeLand for lunch or dinner.
Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge
1502 S.E. Kings Bay Dr., Crystal River | (352) 563-2088
Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge preserves the last unspoiled and undeveloped spring habitat in Kings Bay, which forms the headwaters of the Crystal River. It’s definitely worth the two and half hour drive.
Most importantly, unlike Blue Spring, you can dive in to snorkel with the manatees! Believe me, it’s a breathtaking experience in spite of your snorkel gear!
If 72°F is a pinch too chilly for you and your hottie date, head to the boardwalk at Three Sisters Springs, the only spring (of 30) in Crystal River accessible by land rather than by boat. You may see manatees pop up to the surface to breathe every 3-5 minutes.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Titusville, FL 32782 | (321) 268-2655
Located just over an hour from Orlando, this wildlife refuge on Florida’s Space Coast is home to an incredibly diverse ecosystem that protects around 500 wildlife species.
If it’s manatees you’re hoping to see, the 90-minute Manatee and Dolphin Encounter kayak tour with A Day Away Kayak Tours will get you up close and personal with the gentle giants. Afterwards, seek out dolphins to observe them as they fish the shallow waters.
Silver Glen Springs
5301 North Hwy. 19; Ft. McCoy | (352) 236-0288
About an hour and a half away, situated within Ocala National Forest, the teal water of Silver Springs is a vibrant contrast to its surroundings. This natural swimming pool also has manatees.
Captain your own date night excursion alongside your favorite mate by renting a boat from The Castaways on the River.
Tampa Electric Company Manatee Viewing Center
6990 Dickman Rd., Apollo Beach | (813) 228-4289
I know, I know… you’re questioning if an electric company located an hour and a half away is really a date night spot. Oddly enough, it is.
For more than 30 years, manatees have flocked to the warm waters outside of this station and, so, an official viewing center opened. After manatee spotting, stroll the beautiful garden hand-in-hand with your date.
READ MORE: See Manatees in the Wild at TECO Manatee Viewing Center at TampaBayDateNightGuide.com
Other Places to See Manatees in Orlando
Nothing compares to seeing Florida manatees in the wild. And there are plenty more places to see them in the wild near Orlando, listed in the next section.
But if you want to stay in Orlando without any travel, and in a place you’re guaranteed to see manatees, then head to either SeaWorld Orlando or EPCOT.
At SeaWorld Orlando, you can learn about the incredible manatee rescue efforts led by SeaWorld in partnership with multiple wildlife organizations. There are two manatee viewing areas at SeaWorld Orlando, including an underwater viewing area.
Or at Walt Disney World’s EPCOT head to the Seas with Nemo and Friends. You can board the family-friendly ride with Nemo and friends, which exits at the massive aquarium. Or if you’d rather not wait for the ride, then head for the gift shop on the side of the building. You can access the massive aquarium without riding the ride by going through the merchandise shop.
The manatee viewing area at EPCOT is relatively small, but you’ll be able to see some rescued manatees. There is an above-water viewing area on the second story of the aquarium as well as underwater viewing on the first floor.
Manatee Viewing Near Orlando – Worth the Drive
- Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
- Manatee Observation & Education Center (Fort Pierce)
- Manatee Springs State Park (Chiefland)
- Manatee & Eco River Tours (Fort Myers)
Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
4150 S. Suncoast Blvd., Homosassa | (352) 628-5343
Head about an hour and 45 minutes west to Homosassa. Here you’ll find both a rehabilitation facility for injured manatees and a natural spring for wild migrated manatees. See the manatees from the underwater observatory in the large spring pool and from boardwalks.
Also, check out the wildlife zoo and picnic area — you know outdoor dates always need a picnic!
READ MORE: Complete Guide to Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park
Manatee Observation & Education Center
480 North Indian River Dr., Fort Pierce | (772) 429-6266
Headed to South Florida anytime soon? If so, stop at this waterfront environmental education and wildlife viewing center where manatees await. After the easy 2 hour drive, take a 90-minute tour through the Indian River Lagoon on the ‘Gator,’ a covered pontoon boat.
Manatee Springs State Park
11650 Northwest 115th St., Chiefland | (352) 493–6072
Manatee Spring is 25 feet deep and has over 26,000 feet of cave passageways, making it one of the longest systems in North America! How cool is that?
Take the turnpike north for a 2 hour and 15-minute drive; then hike and camp at this dog-friendly park. You can’t swim, canoe or kayak during manatee season, but you can see them from the elevated boardwalk.
Manatee Springs State Park is a great side trip during a Weekend Getaway in Cedar Key.
Manatee & Eco River Tours
8771 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach, FL | (239) 247-4955
If you’re headed to Fort Myers for a weekend getaway on the Gulf Coast, book a manatee tour on the Caloosahatchee and Orange Rivers. The 2-hour trek is narrated by a knowledgeable outdoor enthusiast. Tours are typically offered from January – March.
How to Help
You can Adopt-A-Manatee through the Save the Manatee Club! This nonprofit is focused on protecting manatees and their aquatic habitats for future generations. No, you can’t keep a manatee as your family pet (duh!); but “adoptions” help these endangered animals to live longer, healthier lives.
If you struggle with gift ideas for your ‘hard to shop for’ partner, Adopt-A-Manatee might be a fun fix.
Adopting a manatee starts at $25, and you get an adoption certificate, photo of an endangered manatee, a manatee biography and other stuff. Plus, the priceless knowledge that you helped to fund emergency rescue response for sick and injured manatees, in addition to waterway signage, public awareness/education, research, and more.
Discover Crystal River Florida is excited to present the “Step Into Awareness” augmented reality (AR) experience. Discover Crystal River’s new AR Experience will be available to all via a mobile device starting in April 2023, so everyone can experience the ongoing conservation efforts to maintain “The Manatee Capital of the World’s healthy manatee habitats.
Accessible via a QR code online, the new Step Into Awareness AR experience transports viewers to an underwater world where they can see manatees and witness the incredible strides made to conserve the habitat of these gentle giants, all from their smartphone. For the best experience, stand in a well-lit area without any obstacles so they can move about freely through crystal-clear springs, waving beds of eelgrass, and schools of fish to observe manatees.
Feature image credit: Discover Crystal River