Story originally appeared on Checking In Travel Blog by Holiday Inn Club Vacations.
My hubby and I live less than an hour away from Cape Canaveral, where it’s easy to spot a manatee.
We love any excuse for an adventure, so we took advantage of the spring weather and went over to the Space Coast to see these gentle creatures.
Fun fact: Manatees, aka sea cows, are close relatives of the elephant, and way back in the day, pirates mistook them for mermaids.
Not-so-fun fact: You might’ve seen them in the news a lot lately because they’re quickly dwindling in numbers due to pollution and lack of food.
If you’re curious to see what manatees look like in their natural habitat, just head to Florida.
There are plenty of spots to see them, and below I’m sharing how we spotted these sea creatures during our weekend stay at Cape Canaveral Beach Resort.
Where to See Manatees in Florida
Mainly, you can find sea cows in shallow waters (about 3 to 7 feet deep), like canals, slow-moving rivers, estuaries and saltwater bays where there’s lots of vegetation. On one trip to Lido Key, we found one nestled up against a boat hiding in the shade while kayaking. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, during Florida’s short winter (November through March), you can find West Indian manatees in warmer waters (like freshwater springs). As the weather heats up around April, they start venturing out to all parts of the peninsulas coast and even as far north as Massachusetts.
If you’re wondering what exactly to look for, really just keep your eyes out for a large mass of light color near the surface of the water. (And I really do mean large: The average male can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh between 800 to 1,200 pounds. Thats a big sea cow!) They typically travel in pods but are often found in twos or threes near the surface. They spook easily from boat noise and traffic though, and it’s against the law to touch or harass them, so be sure to enjoy these beauties from a safe, respectful distance (and with your camera ready)!
Where to Find Manatees in Cape Canaveral
On a recent Saturday morning, my husband, Gio, and I woke up at 7 a.m. (which is early for us on the weekend). I wanted to take every opportunity I could to see a manatee before checking into Cape Canaveral Beach Resort in the afternoon. We jumped in the car, drove to Cape Canaveral (about 50 minutes from Orlando) and started our manatee search. The first two are the places we tried to spot these marine mammals during our trip:
1. Manatee Sanctuary Park
When researching places to see manatees, Manatee Sanctuary Park was at the top of the list. And when we arrived, I expected to find crowds of people peering over the observation bridge. To my surprise, it was pretty empty and small. As I looked around, I noticed a pavilion and a fitness trail with various stations scattered along the sidewalk. In the center of the park, there’s a lake with a fountain where I could imagine families setting down a blanket for a fun picnic. As we walked toward the water, we noticed a few sculptures, one including a mama and baby manatee (super cute!).
The observation deck was only a few steps away. We walked up to the stairs and looked toward the water. The waves were crashing against the rocks, and I thought to myself, the water was way too aggressive for a sea cow sighting. We checked TripAdvisor and discovered that manatee sightings were actually few and far between at Manatee Sanctuary Park. So, while I wouldn’t recommend the park for seeing sea cows, it would be a great place for families to have a picnic and enjoy the playground (and for visitors to get a workout in with the exercise stations).
2. Wildside Eco Tours
I was determined to find a manatee in Cape Canaveral. After leaving Manatee Sanctuary Park, we did a little digging and discovered there are all kinds of amazing things to do in the area, including wildlife tours where you can see different marine animals like manatees and dolphins. We settled on Wildside Eco Tours because its website and reviews guaranteed sea creature sightings, including manatees. It was on!
You can also see tons of aquatic birds, like this cormorant and blue heron, on the tour.
The tour took place on Banana River, which is a lagoon shaped like a banana (hence the name). Most of the water was no deeper than 5 feet. Our tour guide, Speedy, and the captain were extremely knowledgeable about the area. Safety-wise, before getting on the catamaran, we signed a waiver just in case we injured ourselves or fell off the boat. On the boat, there was plenty of seating, and Speedy told us we could stand, sit and move around. The catamaran didn’t travel at high speeds and the bottom was flat, so we were ensured a smooth ride.
That was great for someone like me who gets seasick immediately, even on cruises. I honestly didn’t feel sick at all during the whole tour. Pro tip: If you’re wary, take a non-drowsy Dramamine two hours before getting on the boat or use one of those sea sickness bands, just in case.
Here are some of the wildlife we got to see on this tour:
- We immediately spotted a cormorant (aka a big aquatic bird) hanging out on one of the posts on the water. Throughout our tour, I kept calling it a catamaran, getting it confused with the type of boat we were on. Oh, well.
- Soon after, we saw our second bird sighting, a blue heron.
- And then we were joined by a dolphin! I kept thinking Gio was more excited about the dolphin than anything else. His eyes lit up as soon as we saw Flippers cousin swim past the boat. Speedy asked us if we wanted to continue going down the lagoon or follow the dolphin. We all cheered, Dolphin! and the chase was on
I wish I could’ve captured the moment the dolphin leaped out of the water to grab a fish, but all I got was a blurry attempt. (Stick to your day job, Val.) One thing I learned on this tour was that it’s really hard to take good photos of aquatic animals.
- After our dolphin encounter, I asked Speedy, “Will we see a manatee?” I was getting a little nervous because 45 minutes had already passed. Not a moment later, he said, “There’s one right there!” I looked behind him and lo and behold, I spotted a sea cow.
The manatee looked like it was munching on the vegetation below the water.
This one stayed underwater the whole time, but I was just happy I finally saw one!! And we ended up seeing three more(!!) before the trip was over. Near the end of the tour, we spotted two manatees eating lunch with their heads peeking above the water. We got off the boat and walked toward the ramp to get a closer look. It took a few snaps, but we got a snout!
3. Dolphin & Manatee Kayaking Tour
Now, we didn’t do these next two activities during our weekend getaway in Cape Canaveral, but I wanted to offer a couple more options for your sea cow search. This first one takes you on a journey through the Indian River, which is parallel to Banana River. It’s a great place to find dolphins and manatees and there are all kinds of tours in the area.
If it’s anything like our experience in Lido Key, you’ll get a workout and an education. The Dolphin & Manatee Kayaking Tour has afternoon excursions where you can find manatees scouting for their lunch or cruising the waterway and enjoying the warm sun.
4. Rent or Bring Your Own Kayak, Paddle Board or Boat
There are tons of tours to choose from, but you can venture out on your own, too. Just bring your own kayak, paddle board or boat to the Space Coast to look out for manatees. Or rent them from several places in the area.
While Gio and I were out on the Banana River, we noticed quite a few people paddle boarding on the water. Like I mentioned before, the water is so shallow, paddle boarding is a breeze on the lagoon as opposed to the wide-open ocean. If you’re boating, make sure to pay attention to the minimum wake signs to prevent injuring any manatees.
Taking a Break at Cape Bar & Grill
After our long morning of manatee spotting, we were famished. Cape Canaveral Beach Resort was a quick 20-minute drive north from the tour location, so we were happy to head over to where we were staying for lunch before our check-in time! We walked toward Cape Grill & Bar, where a man was playing cover songs, sat down and checked out the menu via the QR code on the table. I ended up ordering a pia colada and pizza from the tiki bar window. Gio is gluten sensitive, so we were happy to see there was an option for us that wasn’t a salad.
After scarfing down our food, Gio and I headed to the lobby to wait for our text to check-in via the Safe Travels virtual queue. This helps make sure people in the lobby are kept safe and socially distanced at any given time. Throughout the resort, we also noticed signs to remain socially distant and wear masks, hand sanitizing stations are scattered through the walkways and transactions are cashless. Antsy for even more wildlife and beach views, we decided to explore the resort and local surroundings while we waited for our text message to check in.
Manatee Facts & More on the Beach Boardwalk
We headed out to enjoy the beautiful nearby Florida beach at Jetty Park. The resort has a walkway that passes buildings two and three and leads you straight to the ocean. To our surprise, on the way, we discovered there were fun animal facts, including some about manatees. I love when a day comes full circle!
I am a super nerd and enjoy learning while experiencing the great outdoors, so I was happy to read the signs on the walkway. It took about 10 minutes to walk from the lobby to the beach, but it passed quickly because there was so much to see. My hubby is always prepared. I’m surprised he wasn’t a Boy Scout growing up. He grabbed a beach blanket before we left the car, so we had a place to sit as soon as we got to the sand. At the end of the path, I took off my sandals, found a spot and attempted to place the blanket down. It was super windy, and the elements were against us, but we did it!
You can’t go wrong with a sandy walk on the beach and a huge beach chair!
On our way to the water, I received a call letting me know our room number and that the villa was ready. Perfect timing!
Winding Down in Our Villa
Before we entered our villa, we noticed a seal on the door indicating that no one had been in there after it was sanitized. That gave us great comfort in knowing we could enjoy the sanitized room without worrying.
Gio was extremely excited to see the size of the one-bedroom villa. It was very spacious. Even though I’m a little biased, it really felt like we were in a home away from home. The seats were comfortable, the kitchen was stocked with cooking supplies, we had a washer and dryer and the bedroom looked inviting.
Our one-bedroom villa at Cape Canaveral Beach Resort
After the long day, we were ready to call it a wrap. I stocked the fridge to hold us over until the following day, cracked open a bottle of wine and we set out to enjoy the balcony. The weather was amazing. It was breezy, cool and the sun was still peeking out to offer a little warmth.
Saying Goodbye to Our Space Coast Weekend
Yet another adventure is in the books for us. I’m excited we saw so much wildlife on our tour, and after getting nervous about not seeing manatees, we saw four! The Space Coast is really an ideal place to find sea cows as it’s a little island off the coast of Florida with lots of inlets where manatees can find food. Staying at Cape Canaveral Beach Resort made our hunt for aquatic animals even more special as we got to stretch out our legs after a long day and make plans to float along the lazy river.
If you’re searching for majestic marine life, I hope you have just as much fun (if not even more!) as we did seeing these sea creatures in Cape Canaveral.
Story originally appeared on the Checking In Travel Blog by Holiday Inn Club Vacations.
All information is subject to change. This article is a curated guide and is neither sponsored nor considered an official endorsement. Please be sure to check information directly with any/all tours, guides or companies for the most up-to-date and direct details.