Going Ground Hog Wild

Even though our visit didn’t coincide with the big day, we didn’t feel that we could pass through Pennsylvania without a stop at the town that decides our frozen fate every February… CONTINUE READING >> 

Punxutawney Phil in Top Hat

Even though our visit didn’t coincide with the big day, we didn’t feel that we could pass through Pennsylvania without a stop at the town that decides our frozen fate every February.

Are they crazy about groundhogs in Punxsutawney? You betcha. The place is (wood) chucked full of them.

Not counting groundhogs (real, wooden, fiberglass, bronze, or welded metal) the town of Punxsutawney has a population of a bit above 6,700.

Legend has it that the town got its odd name from a defeated Native American sorcerer who was killed in combat. The ashes of his burnt body turned to sand fleas or Ponksad and through these lovely fleas he continued his harassment of man. Ponksad-uteney means The town of the Sand fleas.

Punxutawney Phil as Lady Liberty

We saw neither flea nor sorcerer on this trip, so we?re assuming the town has rid itself of these pests. Or maybe we were just lucky that the vermin weren’t out and about in December.

Like a lot of folks, we learned about Punxsutawney from the movie Groundhog Day, which celebrates the town’s annual tradition of yanking a large rodent out of a stump to predict the weather.

This occurs every February 2nd, right smack between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, in a tradition that dates back to the ancient European holiday of Candlemas.

Even though both holidays include springtime predictions, the Europeans never seemed to discover camping out, tailgating, or the shadows of furry prognosticators.

All they did was look up to see if it was sunny or cloudy and predict then, as now, sunshine meant six more weeks of winter.

Pantall Hotel Punxutawney

Back in Pennsylvania, the first whistle pig was held high above the now famous Gobbler’s Knob in  Punxsutawney in 1887. It’s doubtful anyone at the time expected this humble hill to become the epicenter of seasonal forecasting.

Now the sole keepers of those long-held secret weather rituals are a handful of top hat bedecked Inner Circle members of the Groundhog Society.

Should a person be so lucky as to be ensconced among the elite few of the Inner Circle, an aisle at the local supermarket will bear his name — a high honor indeed.

Strolling through the Tree Circle in the town square to see the beautifully lit trees decorated by local schools and community groups. Hand in hand, we wondered in the crisp, winter air when suddenly a sharp screech broke the silent night.

Punxutawney Groundhog Glockenspiel

We spun around just in time to see a jolly family of chucks dashing back into their hole on the top of the tree-clock-glockenspiel in front of the Fraternal Order of Eagles lodge across the street.

Venturing out to see the rest of the town by the light of a grey winter day, our first stop was the town library  where the famous woodchuck himself resides.

Punxsutawney Phil, and his wife Phyllis, spend everyday but The Big One in their climate controlled den. The hutch can be viewed from either outside or inside of the library. Our viewing was a tad anticlimactic, since the stars of the show seem to do a lot of sleeping.

Our next stop was The Wizard?s Workshop and it turned out to be a must-see. The proprietor, Randy “The Wizard” Rupert, is an ice sculpting champion and now uses the same chainsaw technique on various sized parts of trees.

Punxutawney Phil the Groundhog

With our usual snarky attitude, we entered past the sign that read What wood you like for Christmas? and Come see what I saw — expecting a hoot, but instead walked into a true master’s den.

Oh, the joys we found there. Randy, the only true link we found to the movie in the entire town, was the guy who taught Bill Murray how to pretend ice sculpt.

The angelic ice carving in the movie is his, ditto the electric chainsaw Bill used for the movie. The saw is prominently displayed in the store along with a VCR tape and poster of the celebrated flick.

The Wizard's Workshop Punxutawney

The most charming aspect of the workshop is Randy himself, who jawed with us for quite sometime about his art, the movie, and the quirks of Punxsutawney.

Oh my.

Off the beaten path was a slightly disturbing groundhog and we did quite a bit of blinking as we stood next to it — trying to chase out the image that was forming in our heads.

“Phil Your Dreams with Butterfly Wings” outside the hospital is meant to represent new life emerging from a cocoon, but from most angles, it sure seems to represent something else entirely. If you bring your grandkids, it might give you a good chance to explain just where new life really comes from.

Putting that image out of our minds, we knew we couldn’t leave without a visit to the famous Gobbler’s Knob. It’s easy to find, just follow the whistle pig prints up Woodland Avenue to the center of the weather forecasting world.

Gobbler's Knob Punxutawney

The Knob is festooned with signs and art dedicated to the most famous seer of them all, Punxsutawney Phil, including the greeting Can you believe it, we’re at Gobblers Knob.

Believe it or not, we could.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

A Happy New Year Present from The GypsyNesters and VBT

To welcome in 2017 we have a great gift for all GypsyNester visitors.

VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations has been kind enough to offer discounts worth up to $300.00 per person off of their great vacations.

We’re not talking about just any old getaways here either, just look…CONTINUE READING >>


 VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations  has been kind enough to offer this big discount to everyone of our visitors here at GypsyNester.com. Just use the special code below to receive up to $300 off a fantastic VBT tour.

We’re not talking about just any old getaways here either, just look at the fantastic adventures we have had with VBT.

Last year we joined them for an amazing walking tour of the Basque Country of Spain…

…and in 2015 we were introduced to the VBT style of up close and personal travel on an incredible bicycling tour of Sicily.

View all of VBT’s Bicycling and Walking Vacations here.

Here’s the scoop:

For a limited time, GypsyNester followers can save $300 per person off any of VBT’s fantastic International Bicycling and Walking Vacations, or $150 per person off a  Vacation in the U.S.

The offer applies to travel through June 30th 2017 and must be reserved by Thursday, March 9, 2017.

Call VBT’s Tour Consultants at 1-800-245-3868 to reserve your 2017 tour. They’re available Monday-Friday 8:30am-6:30pm EST, Saturday 10:00am-3:00pm EST.

When reserving, first-time travelers must mention the following code to receive this exclusive offer: INET857.

Note: This offer is for first-time VBT travelers and new reservations only and cannot be combined with any other offer, including their Group Program and Travel Agent Commissions. You must reserve by March 9, 2017 in order to receive these savings. Standard terms and conditions apply. Visit www.vbt.com for more details.

About VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations:
VBT offers over 55 deluxe, small group bicycling and walking tours in 25 different countries, including destinations throughout Europe, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Peru, Chile, South Africa, and the United States. Each trip includes all accommodations, many meals, two expert local Trip Leaders, unique sightseeing and cultural activities, free use of VBT’s custom bicycle and helmet or walking poles, and on-tour vehicle support. Unlike other companies, VBT also includes roundtrip international airfare from over 30 U.S. cities and select Canadian cities for all overseas vacations. VBT has been rated by the readers of Travel + Leisure among the “World’s Best Tour Operators” for six years.

We are happy to provide this offer and are not being compensated.

Extra! Extra! Read All About It! New York Times Picks GypsyNesters as Travel Experts!

We hesitate to call ourselves experts at anything beyond being goofy, but The New York Times Travel Show has asked us to participate in their Meet the Experts on Saturday January 28th… CONTINUE READING >> 


Yes, The New York Times Travel Show has asked us to participate in their Meet the Experts on Saturday January 28th at the Javits Center in the Big Apple.

As part of the Largest Travel and Trade Show in North America everyone is invited to: “Stop by the Meet the Experts area where travel connoisseurs are available one-on-one to offer advice, insight, tips, information and inspiration on a variety of travel topics.

gypsynesters-ohareWhile we would hesitate to call ourselves experts at anything beyond being goofy, we’re glad the Times declared our expertise. We guess traveling to forty countries and covering half a million miles might just qualify as qualifications.

But mostly, who are we to argue with The Gray Lady, the national “newspaper of record” since 1851?

We will be joining over 250 travel industry speakers and experts, and participating in a forum entitled: Oh, the Places You Can Go Over 50!

While we certainly hope folks join us for this fun question and answer session, but there is so much more to see and do at the show.
From Friday through Sunday attendees can join the over 40 destination specific seminars focused on topics from Cruising to Family Travel, or take in some of the more than one hundred cultural presentations from around the world.gypsynester-africa

There are also over five hundred Exhibitor booths from across the globe to visit on the convention floor. All will be filled with useful information, and many with great deals on wherever globetrotters want to gallivant off to this year.

Hope you can join us!

When: Saturday, January 28th 12:00 pm – 12:45 pm

Where: The New York Times Travel Show Booth #933 Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, 655 W 34th St, New York City

More Info:http://nyttravelshow.com/general-information/meet-the-experts/

David & Veronica James, GypsyNester.com

Skiing Southern Style

Where in the world could we ski all day and make it back to the hotel in time to catch some rays by the pool? Only at America’s southernmost ski area… CONTINUE READING >> 


The day was the kind that draws snowbirds to Arizona, warm, sunny and dry. The sort of mid-winter day that we could spend by a swimming pool, but we had a different idea… skiing.

No, not water, but snow. How could we do that on an eighty degree desert day? By driving the short stretch up Mount Lemmon to America’s southern most ski area, Ski Valley.

ta9Even though the slopes are high enough in the Santa Catalina Mountains to get several feet of snow each year, the ski area only opens when conditions are right.

They don’t make snow, usually it is not cold enough, so Mother Nature has to provide the flakes.

Fortunately for us a big storm had just dumped about three feet of the white stuff up on the mountains a few days ago. So much fell that the road up to the ski valley had to be closed, but we, and a bunch of other enthusiasts from nearby Tucson, finally did get a chance to get to the fresh trails.


The drive up Mount Lemmon was gorgeous, going from sizzling arid desert to frigid alpine winter wonderland in less than an hour. At the top, the views were nothing short of spectacular. From this perch it seemed we could see  hundreds of miles stretching out before us.

ta8While that would have been worth the trip, Veronica could hardly wait to revisit her fear conquered skiing prowess. That is, until fate threw her a curve ball.

At 9,000 feet above sea level, it can be a little tough to breath.

Never having done too well with high altitude, before she could finish her first run down the bunny slope she was dizzy and seeing stars… in broad daylight. She decided that working the snow bunny angle, complete with a toddy by the fire, at the Iron Door lodge might be a better idea.

David, who grew up at over 8,000 feet high, didn’t seem to notice the altitude at all and took directly to running down the slopes. It’s a small area, just one main lift and a half dozen trails, so he had covered the entire mountain in time to join Veronica back at the lodge for a late lunch.

mtlemmon3The Iron Door takes its name from a legend that a stash of gold mined from the mountain was hidden by seventeenth century Jesuit missionaries somewhere in this vicinity. They supposedly buried it in an underground vault secured behind an iron door.

The treasure has never been found, but we did find some pretty good soup.

After our meal David took one more schuss down the slopes before we headed back down the mountain and returned to the summer-like climate.

It was like passing through all of the seasons in one day.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Plan Ahead by Applying for a Turkey Tourist Visa Online

Turkey has been at the crossroads of civilization pretty much since there has been civilization.

One thing we learned on our visit is that a visa is required to enter the country, and the last thing we wanted to do was wait in a long line… CONTINUE READING >> 


Turkey has been at the crossroads of civilization pretty much since there has been civilization. Istanbul, first known as Byzantium and then Constantinople, sits at the gateway between Europe and Asia and has a long history as one of the world’s great cities.

Having served as the capital of the Byzantine, Roman, and Ottoman Empires, we found incredible historic sites at every turn. Since this was the city of the Emperor Constantine, religious landmarks were at the top of our list. Some of Christianity’s earliest churches were built here.

Hagia Sophia could be one of the most impressive structures we’ve ever seen. Not only is the building spectacular, but this massive cathedral was built in the year 532, and finished in only five years. The Emperor Justinian wanted to build the largest church in the world, and succeeded.

istanbul-viewCenturies later, under the Ottomans, the city became of great religious importance to Islam.

The Sultanahmet Mosque, better known to us as The Blue Mosque, embodies this. Built in 1609 by Sultan Ahmed I, it is considered the pinnacle of two centuries of Ottoman mosque development.

Istanbul has long been a marketplace of more than religious ideas between continents. The Grand Bazaar – the granddaddy of all malls – embodies this cultural commercial intersection with products from all across the globe.

istanbul-grand-bazaarThis is one of the oldest, and certainly largest, covered markets in the world with around 400,000 visitors each day. As we wandered the sixty-one covered streets inside, it was hard not to feel like lab rats looking for cheese.

Beyond Istanbul, Turkey has also played a huge role in the spread of Christianity prior to the time of Constantine.

The ancient Greek city of Ephesus may have been famous for its Temple of Artemis, which was recognized as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, but the apostle Paul truly immortalized the city when he was a resident for several years around 50AD.

One thing we learned on our visit to Turkey is that a visa is required to enter the country, and the last thing we want to do if and when we return is wait in a long line after several lengthy flights like we had to the first time. The solution is simple, get a visa prior to the trip.

The entire process can be handled online. No sending passports through the mail (which always makes us more than a little bit nervous), no visits to the Turkish Embassy, no photos to take, no delays, and best of all… no lines.

This electronic tourist visa for Turkey is truly one of the easiest things ever when it comes to planning an international trip. An eVisa is available from the Turkish Government for most countries including the USA, U.K., Canada, Australia, Germany, Japan, Spain, and Holland as well as many, many more.

Apply online for your tourist visa to Turkey here.

What is the Turkish Electronic Tourist visa and how does it work?
To apply for the Turkey Tourist Visa simply complete an online form.
Fill out the details as shown on your passport.
Pay with a credit card or Paypal account.

After receiving a confirmation email you will be sent a second email with the official visa attached in PDF format. Then simply print the PDF document and off you go on your magnificent trip to Turkey.

It is important to note that the Turkey tourist visa will be linked electronically to your passport, so any errors on the application will require filing a new application.

What do I need to apply online for the Turkey Tourist Visa?
1. Passport valid for at least 6 months after your entry date.
2. Credit card or PayPal account.
3. Computer, laptop, or smartphone to visit www.iVisa.com

How long is the Turkey eVisa valid?
The Turkey Tourist Visa is valid from 15 to 90 days depending on your nationality and typically comes with single or multiple entries. Visit www.iVisa.com for answers to any questions.

Apply for your tourist visa to Turkey today!

 Thanks to eVisa for sponsoring this informative article. As always, all opinions are our own. 

Looking for a Deal? Find it on Dealspotr

Just in time for the new year we discovered a fantastic new way to save some dough, and have fun while doing it. It’s called… CONTINUE READING >> 

dealspotr1Everyone who doesn’t like to save money raise their hand.

Not gonna see many hands in the air asking that question, are we?

Nope, but just in time for the new year we discovered a fantastic new way to save some dough, and have fun while doing it. It’s called dealspotr.com.
When we heard about it, we had to check it out. So with no idea what to expect we decided to dive right in. What we found was a boatload of bargains, delivered with tons of fun. Think what if Groupon and Pinterest had a baby.

In the quick sign up process we entered our info and picked our interests from a huge variety of possibilities. When we finished, we instantly got a personalized feed of deals relating to them. We also got a list of other users with similar preferences who we could subscribe to and message back and forth.

dealspotrWe dug in and looked for deals from our favorite retailers, both online and brick and mortar, and found plenty. Then we could use them, share them, like them, or save them for later. In no time at all we were totally hooked.
We had to wonder, where do all of these great deals come from?  That’s the fun part, users add them, and are rewarded for doing so. Of course our next question was how do we get in on the excitement?

It’s easy. After reading the through the instructions and tips for posting we were on our way to earning points toward our first reward, an Amazon Gift Card.

Just in case that isn’t enough motivation, dealspotr has a few features that really added to our enthusiasm by giving us goals. Each day we get a Daily Checklist. Checking items off of the list makes it more fun to earn our bonus points for finishing.checklist

Simple tasks such as adding new bargains, verifying existing ones, or searching the sight for deals we love and passing them along or saving them for later are engaging and easy to complete. Even finding new friends to subscribe to helps us get closer to our next gift card.

Another positive feedback that keeps us motivated is our Accuracy Score. By increasing the score through our activities we earn the ability to post more and more deals, which means we can collect bigger and bigger bonuses.

on fireIf we find and post a deal that other members really like it can become Hot, or even On Fire, which helps us build a reputation and move faster to our next reward.

All of this means that dealspotr is like the Wikipedia of finding great deals, because the content is provided by the users themselves. Thirty thousand members contribute, edit, and authenticate each of the bargains, ensuring that all of the information is accurate and complete. This crowdsourcing has saved shoppers over fifteen million dollars, as well as paying users thousands in rewards.

Now, let’s ask everyone who wants to save some money to raise their hands.

OK, OK, put them back down so you can use them to go to dealspotr.com.

Are you an Influencer? Send us an email at info@gypsynester.com and we will be happy to share an Influencer access code with you. Use it to join dealspotr’s ambassador program and get an automatic upgrade to Verified Influencer status with tons of added benefits. 

Dealspotr rewarded us with bonus points for posting this review, but as always our opinions are our own.

Damn, That’s One Big Dam! The Delta Works of Holland

Dubbed one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, the Delta Works is an engineering marvel.

The Dutch have been on a mission to protect themselves against the ocean’s onslaught since the mushy low country was first settled…CONTINUE READING >>

Thanks to Viking River Cruises for inviting us along and providing this adventure through the tulips and windmills of Holland and Belgium with stops in Amsterdam, Kinderdijk, Antwerp, Bruges, Veere, Hoorn, and Arnhem.

The hydraulic doors of the Delta Works in Holland

The Dutch have been on a mission to protect themselves against the ocean’s onslaught since the mushy low country was first settled.

David holds the water back with his finger in a dyke in Holland!

At first the hardy inhabitants sought out small batches of higher ground, but as the population grew and became permanent a series of dams, dikes, drainage ditches, and pumps began to take shape.

With over half of their homeland sitting below sea level, over a thousand years of nonstop planning, digging, and building has taken place.

A dike near the Delta Works in Holland

Windmill museum in Kinderdijk, Holland, The Netherlands - GypsyNester.com

That is why Holland is famous for windmills.

These lovely landmarks have served as air-powered pumps to keep the land above water for centuries.

As much as everyone loves to see Holland’s signature symbols turning in the breeze, technology drastically improved over time bringing about an even more impressive, if less endearing, system of enormous doors to hold the North Sea at bay.

As we drove toward the shore from Antwerp we were eager to learn a bit more about The Delta Works, or Deltawerken in Dutch.

This amazing flood controlling technological marvel has been declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Jan survived the floods in Kortgene, Holland in 1953
Our guide, Jan, survived the floods in Kortgene, Holland in 1953 and shows us the names of those from his village who perished

Created in response to a tragic flood throughout the Netherlands province of Zeeland in 1953, huge hydraulic doors at three openings to the North Sea can be closed when the weather turns nasty, preventing the flooding tides from inundating the Lowlands.

Before this solution, earthen dams and dikes protected the islands and peninsulas.

However, these proved inadequate when they gave way during an intense storm and over eighteen hundred people perished.

Something better had to be done.

Driving atop the Delta Works in Holland
Driving along the top of the Delta Works

The original idea was to simply dam the channels, cutting them off from the sea, but this would have destroyed the tidal ecology, ruining the shellfish industry that is vital to the area.

By using doors to control the flow without stopping the tides, the mussels and oysters continue to thrive.

Museum at the Delta Works in the Netherlands

Near the giant sea doors, there is a museum about the history of the flood and solutions to the problems of keeping the seawater at bay.

The tribute for the lost of the 1953 floods in Zeeland, Holland at the Delta Works Museum
Beautiful memorial to the lost

We descended inside a caisson underneath one of the earthen dikes, and got an inside look at the defenses built after the flood.

In a stroke of amazing luck our guide, Jan, was a survivor of the 1953 disaster.

This gave us a firsthand account, and a rare, personal brush with history, as he described the night when he was eleven years old and the flood waters hit.

Lucky for him, his family, and the entire town of Kortgene, his older brother and friends were up late celebrating a birthday when they noticed the water rising.

Artifacts saved from the floods
Artifacts saved from the floods

Thinking fast, they saved almost all of the town’s residents by breaking into the church and ringing the bells to awaken them.

With the alarm sounded, people had just enough time to climb to the upper floors or roofs of their houses and survive.

Across the low country many others were not so fortunate, as the water quickly rose over ten feet in the middle of that fateful night.

Schouwn-Duiveland had no contact with the outside world after the massive flood until a man named Peter Hossfeld cobbled together this transmitter that blasted out a distress signal.
Schouwn-Duiveland had no contact with the outside world after the massive flood until a man named Peter Hossfeld cobbled together this transmitter that blasted out a distress signal.

In light of the tragedy, the huge Delta Works project was designed to withstand floods so severe that they are predicted to occur only once every four thousand years. Hopefully those tolerances won’t ever be tested.

So far the doors have only needed to be deployed a few times, other than the usual testing that is done at least four times each year.

By the time the works were declared finished in 1997, they had become the largest storm barrier in the world and is the basis for several similar projects worldwide.

However, the truth is that the battle against the sea is never really completed, and new reinforcements are undertaken any time a potentially weak spot is identified.

Riding bikes on the dikes of Holland

As a bonus, the massive gates allowed for a road to be built along the tops making for a shortcut to the north.

This also meant that we got to drive along the crest of the world’s most impressive water works.

Even on a relatively calm day, that vantage point kept us in complete awe of the power of the Atlantic Ocean crashing into the shore.

David & Veronica, Gypsynester.com

Thanks to Viking River Cruises for inviting us along and providing this adventure through the tulips and windmills of Holland and Belgium with stops in Amsterdam, Kinderdijk, Antwerp, Bruges, Veere, Hoorn, and Arnhem.

Man o’ Manatees

January is manatee mania month in Florida. There is no better time of year to see – and swim with (yes!) – these gentle giants in The Sunshine State, and Floridians go all out to show off the endangered sea cows, including throwing a festival or two.

Did someone say festival? No way we would miss that!

During the winter the… CONTINUE READING >> 

With temperatures plunging across the country, we thought this story from a few years ago might provide some inspiration for a great winter getaway. This year’s manatee festival is January 28 – 29.

Swimming with manatees in Florida!

January is manatee mania month in Florida. There is no better time of year to see – and swim with (yes!) – these gentle giants in The Sunshine State. Floridians go all out to show off the endangered sea cows, including throwing a festival or two. Did someone say festival? No way we would miss that!

Swimming with manatees in Florida!

In winter the Florida subspecies of the West Indian Manatee (Trichechus manatus) can be found on both the Gulf and Atlantic sides of the state seeking warm waters. Since we had seen them on the Atlantic side a couple of years ago, and especially since we learned that it was the only place where we could actually get in the water and swim with manatees, we headed to the town of Crystal River on the Gulf Coast.

Swimming with manatees in Florida!

The area around Crystal River has about fifty mammoth fresh water springs that feed Kings Bay with perfect seventy-two-degree water year round. The manatees come to the springs to mate, feed, or just rest and get away from the colder seas. In fact, they like the water in the bay so much that they have been known to stay even through the summer.

We made an afternoon out of exploring our options as to which of the many “Swim With Manatees” boat tours to use by bicycling around the quaint little bay side village of Crystal River.

Along the way we spotted several sea cows feeding along the seawall in the bay. Let the mania begin.

Swimming with manatees in Florida!

After talking to a few of the tour operators, and reading up on the excursions while stopping off for a little waterfront refreshment, we were convinced that our ultimate meeting-the-manatees experience awaited us not in Crystal River, but ten miles south at Homosassa Springs.

So the next day we drove on down to board our boat ready to say howdy to some sea cows face-to-face.

Snorkeling with Mantees in Florida!

Another of the massive springs common to the Florida Aquifer feeds the Homosassa River, and manatees are known to swim several miles up the stream to congregate near the source. We chose this tour because it is usually less crowded, the water is often clearer, and it had the added bonus of getting to see some monkeys.

Monkey island of The Homosassa Riverside Resort, Florida

Yup, monkeys, as in more fun than a barrel of. Just after leaving the dock our boat passed by the famous monkey island of The Homosassa Riverside Resort.

The five resident spider monkeys all gave us a good show, climbing trees and swinging from ropes while we cruised by. Our captain, Laura, explained how the little primates got there.

Monkey island of The Homosassa Riverside Resort, Florida

Dr. John Hamlet was convinced to move to Florida by the resort’s colorful owner G. A. “Furgy” Furgason. It seems the good doctor had been using monkeys to study the polio vaccine and Furgy, always the promoter, had the idea that they might make a good tourist attraction.

After dredging in the marina created a pile of rocks just offshore from his businesses, Furgy had his monkey island.

Homosassa River, Florida

Another fifteen minutes or so up the river and we were wetsuited up and ready to go. But first the rules. Manatees are protected by several state and federal laws, so it is strictly forbidden to harass them in any way.

No chasing, poking, scaring, riding, or in any way going cowboy with the sea cows is allowed. It is not a roundup, pardner.

Veronica all snorkeled up and ready to go!

Captain Laura explained that it was best to try to stay still and let them come to you. And they did. A lot. They are huge, adults often reach over one thousand pounds and babies nearly half that, and they swam right up to us. Several times we had no idea one was around until it was right next to us. They seemed to come out of nowhere.

Swimming with manatees in Florida!

Manatees are slow moving, very gentle, and actually seem to enjoy interacting with humans, so we mostly floated silently and let them move around us.

We even got to touch a couple of them, which is allowed as long as it is done softly and with an open hand. Their skin is a little bristly, with short, coarse hairs, and often covered with a layer of algae.

Scars on the back of a manatee from boat propeller

Sadly, as we had noticed in our land-based manatee viewings, almost every one of these congenial creatures bears scars from collisions with watercraft.

They nearly all have tell-tale parallel lines across their backs from boat’s propellers. In fact they have no natural predators, humans are really their only threat, mainly from impact with boats, but also loss of habitat and pollution.

Swimming with manatees in Florida!

The good news is that a great deal of effort is being made to protect them and their numbers seem to have stabilized, with at least five thousand spending the past few winters in Florida.

One of the groups working to preserve the manatee population is Friends of Blue Springs State Park. For thirty years they have been raising funds and awareness with The Orange City / Blue Springs Manatee Festival.

Our timing was perfect, the festival was winding up the next day. So we drove across the peninsula to Orange City to get our fest on and see some more sea cows.

Food truck at Manatee Festival

Disc-Connected K-9 Frisbee Dog

The in-town portion of the festival is a really fun fair, with food, music, booths and the like, but the main attraction was not manatees – it was dogs.

The Disc-Connected K-9 show wowed the crowd with the amazing frisbee catching antics of a group of well trained border collies. We even got to watch a world champion do his high flying disc catching thing.

Disc-Connected K-9 Frisbee Dog

Save the Manatee Club at the Manatee Festival

But the festival really is all about raising money to help the community and the state park, so busses were provided to shuttle folks from town out to the park.

We climbed aboard our standing-room-only coach for the short ride while reading up on the park from a brochure.

Blue Springs State Park, Florida

Blue Spring is another first magnitude spring, pouring forth over one hundred million gallons of water a day, and like the springs around Crystal River, the water stays a constant seventy-two degrees year round.

So manatees love it, and many will swim miles up the St. Johns River to get to it.

Click here for more pics of beautiful Blue Springs State Park

Blue Springs State Park, Florida

Exiting the bus, we took a boardwalk path up to the source of the spring and got exceptional views of all sorts of wildlife along the way.

Turtles, alligators, and any number of birds and fish, but the stars of the show were being quite shy. The half dozen or so manatees we saw were all resting on the other side of the river from the path, so we didn’t get a very good view.

Manatees at Blue Springs State Park, Florida
Click here for more pics of beautiful Blue Springs State Park

But that was fine with us, we really didn’t want to get greedy. We had already experienced about the best manatee encounter anyone could ever hope for.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Can’t get enough manatee action? Click here to see our sightings on Florida’s east coast! Be sure to watch our video on How to Spot a Manatee: