Crystal Isles RV Resort is so far our favorite of all the Encore/ Thousand Trails spots we have stayed. Crystal Isles is set back in the woods, just the way I like it! Almost every spot is either on the water or has water visibility. The resort sits right on a canal just off the main channel of the river. It was quiet, beautiful and had great amenities. Our favorite? The pontoon boats they had that could be rented, either by the half or full day. We got there later in the afternoon on Friday and spent the evening boating up and down the river right up until the sun set. It was a beautiful way to get a first glimpse of what Crystal River had to offer! It was a really nice feature for the park to have, especially since pretty much everyone staying there had a boat. I would have been quiet envious seeing people motoring out, so having an option for those who don't own a boat was great. We also really liked that this park seemed to consist of a majority of fellow road travelers like us. There were a few seasonal setups or longer stay residents, but most people seemed to be traveling from elsewhere. RVs (and lots of boats) kept rolling on in. Crystal Isles is really a great place for fishers or boaters! It has quiet a number of spots where you can put your boat in and leave it docked right off your campsite for the length of your stay. Great from those who don't want to have to put in and take out everyday.
Other great perks included a pool and hot tub, great clubhouse with games and darts, big outdoor chess board, horse shoes, volleyball and a set of swings. Don't have an RV? We also saw a set of tent campers, plus they have a row of cabins that you can rent. With not a lot of super close state park options if you want to stay in the heart of Crystal River, this spot was the perfect medium. In my opinion it actually had a very state park feel to it, in the fact that it was set back in the woods, while also being conveniently located to restaurants and grocery stores for stocking up on essentials (about 5+ minute drive). Overall, this was a great spot and we plan to be back!
What We Did:
Oh, you guys! Let me tell you! Crystal River is a nature lovers dream!
Our main mission for this trip was to meet some manatees, but we found so much more to love too!
~Befriending Manatees~ This was definitely the highlight of the trip for me! I have dreamed of swimming with sea cows for as long as I can remember. This trip let me check it off the bucket list! Crystal River is the only place (apparently in the world) where it is still legal to be in the water with manatees. We went to Manatee Tour and Dive and they were wonderful. They were so knowledgeable about the manatees and you can tell they really care about what they do. You can not touch the manatees (though they can and may touch you), despite what pictures will show when you google Crystal River and manatee swimming. While I was really hoping to get to touch one when they explained how to passively observe the manatees, and why it is important, you could hear how seriously they take conservation and I really respect that. So, we were given wetsuits, snorkel gear and a noodle, loaded the boat and off we went in search for sea cows! Our guide, Bryan, was great at finding all the best spots and at showing us how to get in and stay alongside the manatees. Though there weren't a lot right now due to the late winter (oh, Florida!), we got to see a handful of grown manatees and one super cute manatee calf, whom I dubbed Carl! And I saw a stingray too! Word of warning: It is cold! But you get used to it pretty quickly. We were in and out of the water for about two hours, sometimes in for over 30 minutes, and while you aren't really swimming, more like floating (you aren't supposed to kick your legs), you can get a little tired, so I would recommend bringing water to stay hydrated and make sure you eat a good sized breakfast if you go. ** If you plan ahead, you can also get some pretty good Manatee Tour Deals on Groupon!
Where We Ate:
Food, glorious food! A lot of my love for a place can be determined on the eating options, which I think is what sealed the deal on making Crystal River one of my favorite new spots.
~Cracker's~ I love spots on the water! Crystal River has a few options, but we chose Cracker's based on the fact that they had oysters. A lot of times, river dining can be great and others the view is what is bringing people and not the food. This place was great, because I would come for both! I got the grilled oysters and they came shucked and ready and they were delightful. Babe got a grouper sandwich and said that the fish was really well cooked and tasted great! The only downside for me would be the birds and squirrels. They were a little too peoplized and since they both freak me out it was not so comforting. However, it was quite the show to watch one of the waitresses try to scare them off with water guns. I actually think I may have seen one of the squirrels stop and try to catch it in his mouth for a drink. Ok, so that's an exaggeration, but still.
~Copp Winery~ Oh this place was my absolute favorite! It is a cute little wine and beer brewery. It is very deceiving from outside, because it looks so small and quaint (quaint is a big Crystal River word for me apparently) that you wouldn't think they would have room to brew. But brew they do! And it is delightful. Babe really liked his flight options and I (not being a beer girl) loved that they had wine too. And sweet wine!! I had a wine named after a manatee! They also had some really good food options. We opted for the cheese plate and enjoyed it immensely. They even had a homemade mozzeralla that was delicious! Though we didn't stay for dinner, they did have some sandwich options if you were looking for a bigger meal. There is also a really cool secret feature, but I won't spoil the surprise in case you go! The prices were super reasonable too, which was just icing on the cake!
And though we didn't eat there, we stopped in for a cup of coffee at the Highland House and oooo, yum!! I got a caramel latte that reached right to my soul! Babe got a coffee and together our bill didn't reach what I hit on one drink at Starbucks. Can't beat that!
Overall I loved pretty much every minute of this trip and if you have ever thought about visiting Crystal River I fully believe you should! Like yesterday! We can't wait to go back and try our hands at scalloping when the season rolls around!
Happy Adventuring Y'all!!*We used Groupons and camping discounts for a portion of this trip, but all opinions are completely ours.