I read hundreds of reviews of the top ten manatee tours before deciding on Florida Tours and I so glad I chose this operation. First of all, their morning tour doesn't leave until 7:30; if you're coming from Orlando with a teenager or child, that extra hour of sleep is important. The folks in the shop were very nice and they made it clear that they have a vested interest in making sure that we understand the rules of swimming with manatees because there's a lot of opposition to the practice. Apparently there are a lot of pinko-Commi tree huggers (my words not theirs) that want to shut these businesses down. Knowing that their livelihood depended on my son and me following the rules made us pay closer attention to the video and guidance.
As for the experience there's no question we had the best tour of any group that day. As we entered King's Bay, other tour operators were rushing to the two main spring areas where manatee typically feed with boats of 15 to 20 people. Our guide, Adrian (sp?), maintained a Minimal Wake speed and watched the horizon. As we passed a small point, we spotted a couple of noses coming out of the water. It turned out to be eight manatees including two cows with calves. Our party of four spent nearly an hour with more manatees than people. It was awesome; my thirteen year old who usually can't climb out of his Ipod long enough to breathe hasn't stopped talking about it for three days.
When the manatees left to feed elsewhere, we climbed back in the boat and proceed to the springs were everyone else had gone originally. In the water were forty people and two manatees; it was laughable. We had about fifteen minutes left, so we cruised around the bay just looking for more noses.
Now this is clearly a hit or miss type business; any tour operator could experience a bad day depending on weather and the mood of the animals. However, there's no question that Adrian's steady, observant approach led to an excellent experience for us.