Once upon a time, Oscar and I went snorkeling in Crystal Springs, Fla., the only place where you can go snorkeling with manatees. (Or at least that’s what they say.) It was March, which is still technically “manatee season,” but we didn’t see any manatees. It was kind of sad.

More than two years later, we went manatee spotting again.

This time it was December — December 9, our official anniversary as a couple, in fact. The day before had been cold, which is a good thing if you’re going manatee spotting, because cold weather = colder water = manatees coming in from the gulf to find warmer water. This time, we were at Manatee Park, north of Fort Myers, Fla. And this time we were canoeing rather than snorkeling.

While coming across manatees while snorkeling would probably be amazing, canoeing meant we could cover a lot more ground.

The first sign that manatees are near is often a noise. Their noses poke out of their water as they take a breath. You see a little grey bump in the water and hear a big whoosh of air and water being snorted out.

The best thing is to hang near the edges, the more shallow areas. There you’ll get a better glimpse of how big these creatures really are. They’re HUGE. In fact, at one point, I saw a whole big chunk of manatee protruding out of the water, and I had to do a double take, thinking, “Is that a rock? Wait, has that been there the whole time…? No, it’s a manatee!”

We saw a handful of manatees in the approximately two hours we were out on the water. Some would come right up near our canoes, others we’d spot from afar. There were also tons of different water birds about, including pelicans (sitting in trees, which I thought was a kind of weird sight), cranes and herons.

There is some other less-friendly wildlife that may be lurking about. There are signs warning of alligators, and we did have one possible encounter with one. We were going under a bridge and heard a weird splashing sound on the other side of the shore. We didn’t want to confirm if it was an alligator or not.

Oh, and there’s also TONS of fish jumping out of the water constantly. After a while you just get used to it, but at first I was turning in surprise at every sound. Pretty quickly you learn to distinguish that noise from any other interesting possible wildlife noise.

Overall, it was a really amazing experience and I would highly recommend it. If you don’t have the time or desire to get out on the water, there is a viewing area where a ton of manatees seem to hang out pretty regularly. But getting out on the water, whether in a kayak or a canoe, really personalizes the experiences. It’s fun, and you feel like you’ve gotten a good workout by the end of it!

Plus, it’s not too expensive ($15/hour for a 2-person canoe or single kayak, check their website for up-to-date rates). And very few people do it, so you’ll pretty much have the water to yourself. We only saw two other couples out on the water in the entire two hours.