Florida’s nature coast continuously surprises me with what it has to offer.
If you’ll recall, I visited Crystal River for the first time in April and absolutely loved it. The natural environment. The food. The outdoorsy vibes of it all. It was truly a vacation spent immersed in Florida’s beautiful nature and wildlife. Quite the switch up from the beachy vacays I’m used to in Clearwater and in a VERY good way.
Plantation on Crystal River was home for our 24 hour stay during this trip.
Pulling up to the entrance, I was immediately struck with a mix of Old Florida, Key West, and a touch of Charleston vibes. The columns and architectural details were impressive. Filled with 196 rooms, the resort is larger than it appears at first look. I like how Plantation has a hometown feel, yet comes equipped with so much to offer. Plantation’s Adventure Center allows guests (and non-guests) to get their fix of nature-driven excursions including sunset and river cruises, manatee tours, scalloping and more.
After checking in, Ben and I dropped our bags then got ready for the adventure we came to Crystal River for.
On my last trip to Crystal River, I got my first up close and personal experience with a manatee.
That cutie sea cow was honestly the highlight of the trip. This trip’s excursion was a bit more adventurous and active: I was going scalloping for the first time ever with Crystal River Watersports.
Scalloping season in Florida runs from early July through a little after the middle of September. We got in right at the tail end of the fun. Just like last time, Ben and I’s experience with Crystal River Watersports was top notch. The crew and captain make you feel SO comfortable, no matter your level of scalloping expertise (especially for someone like me who has literally none). CRWS will walk you through everything you need to know including what to look for in the water and even a demo on how to clean and shuck your scallops. If you’re looking for a group to go scalloping with, I’d highly recommend booking a tour with them.
One perk of the tour is that the boat stops at multiple locations. So don’t get too discouraged if your first scalloping hole doesn’t turn up a bunch of blue eyes staring back at you. Crystal River Watersports knows the hot spots to hit to make sure you get your share of scallops.
[CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT AND BOOK TOURS THAT CRWS OFFERS]
Another thing I love about scalloping with this group is that you’re not alone. CRWS’s guides are very hands on – they’re in the water with you the whole time looking for scallops as well. Granted, you’re spaced out on a huge scallop scavenger hunt, but I personally like the fact that it’s all hands on deck (errrr – off deck?) in the water. On the trip, our guide Alyssa actually found the very first scallop!
The best thing I can relate scalloping to is an Easter egg hunt, except nature is the one who hid the eggs.
The playing field is also gigantic. You’re consistently on the hunt for beady blue eyes peaking out from dark shells within the sea grass. Once you spot one, it’s game on. Just make sure you take a breath from your snorkel, zero in and scoop up your scallop. Easy though, apparently they can swim way from you.
By the end of our tour we had quite the pack of loot – mostly thanks to our amazing CRWS guides. They are pros at this! I even got to try a raw scallop on the way back to Crystal River Watersport’s dock. Mike with CRWS had given me the heads up to bring hot sauce and citrus juice along in case I was brave enough to create some fresh boat-side scallop ceviche. We all know I’ll take any reason to use hot sauce on anything so I had to do it.
Topped off with hot sauce and lemon juice, I shot the scallop back. It was unique to say the least, but oh so fresh. If you’re feeling brave as a first timer, you should totally mark the experience with shooting a raw scallop. Obviously make sure you clean and shuck your scallop before doing so (CRWS will give you the walkthrough). I’d
[WATCH THE REEL OF MY FIRST RAW SCALLOP SHOOTER HERE]
Here is the cool thing about scalloping in Crystal River.
You can take your scallops to a local restaurant for a little catch and cook experience. That’s right – it’s exactly what you think it is! Crystal River is full of restaurants that will happily take your scallops and turn them into a meal for you. Quite the service, huh?
Ben and I took our bag o’scallops to Seafood Seller & Cafe. Don’t let the location deceive you. This spot is in a strip mall, but its menu is full of authentic Cajun cuisine and seafood. It serves it up meals just as good as any stand alone restaurant that I know. Consider it a hidden gem in Crystal River.
Seafood Seller & Cafe can prepare your scallops a few ways.
Ours were served back to us as an app to enjoy before our main meals. The seasoning, textures and broth they were in was delectable. You can’t really get fresher than this.
The blue crab balls came after our scallopy kickoff and let me tell you – the homemade remoulade sauce they come with is fire. Following that were Ben and I’s main entrees. Every time I visit New Orleans, I always have to get a po’boy so it was only fitting that I ordered one here. I sprung for the Fried Shrimp Po’boy which was honestly as big as my face. Big fan of the Mardi Gras mustard sauce it came with (can you tell I take my sauces seriously?).
Sticking with the sandwich theme, Ben ordered the French Dip and a side of jambalaya. It was quite the spread for us to enjoy. Regardless of how full we were, the beignets absolutely had to happen. Such a beautiful sweet finish.
After dinner, Ben and I ventured over to Norton’s Riverside to catch the Thursday night football game. As luck would have it, we could spot the seats we had at Vintage on 5th during our last visit to Crystal River.
The next morning we had breakfast at West 82 Bar And Grill, the onsite restaurant at Plantation on Crystal River.
The buffet spread was full of classic favorites – scrambled eggs, breakfast meats, biscuits and gravy, and even a grits station among other things. Rumor has it that the Sunday brunch buffet is fantastic. It even has a carving station to boot. Ben and I sat at a four person table, had the nicest waitress and took in views of the pool alongside King’s Bay while we enjoyed our breakfast.
I know I mentioned it already, but Plantation on Crystal River’s property really is bigger than meets the eye.
Ben and I took a stroll of the grounds landing at the outside tiki bar where we ordered some mocktails. We sipped and chatted with the bartender while boats drove down the waterway. It was our last bit of downtime before we needed to meet our onsite contact Laurie.
Upon meeting Laurie in the lobby you could immediately see how passionate she was about the property. She touted us around on a personal golf cart tour that allowed us to see even MORE of Planation. I took in views of the Adventure Center, the golf course, rooms they had and more. Laurie was our own history and present day tour guide – I loved it! We even got to see William Mickey hard at work on a brand new mural for Plantation on Crystal River. It was literally art in motion. William has murals all over Crystal River. It was so cool to get to meet him in person.
Now comes the part of the post where I tell you again that you should take the time to discover Crystal River.
I’ve been twice this year now and each visit has been a unique experience. Crystal River has given me a greater appreciation for the nature that exists in Florida outside of its beloved beaches. Even as a born and bred Floridian, I had no idea that there was to explore in the manatee capital of the world. It turns out it’s a whole heckuva lot more than cute manatees.