Visit The Florida Aquarium
Sometimes it is hard to believe that I am 46 years old because at the mention of a zoo, festival, aquarium, theme park, or carnival, I am ready to go, camera in hand. On a recent family trip to Tampa, we chose to visit the widely popular Florida Aquarium, or Tampa Aquarium as it is sometimes referred to as. My daughter Taylor’s boyfriend Blake and I are huge animal lovers and we crave new knowledge, so we could not wait to see what all the Florida Aquarium had to offer.
We arrived in downtown Tampa and saw the enormous, two story contemporary museum long before we came to the parking lot designated for visitors. Although it seemed to be a great distance, it was actually less than a five minute walk from the car to the doors of the Aquarium. There are markers along the way listing interesting facts about aquatic life to keep you entertained from the moment you arrive. A host of volunteers greeted us at the door and provided us with a list of animal showtimes and appearances for the day, as well as a map of the venue.
We started by visiting each of the five exhibits at the Florida Aquarium.
- The Wetlands Trail is home to free flying birds, otters, turtles, alligators, and even pythons. Since these birds are free flying, many will play with you and try to get your attention. Living in Florida, I commonly see the great blue herons, ibis, and egrets, but the Roseate Spoonbills are beautiful and this was my first time seeing them up close. My favorite animal located here was the North American river otter. He was so playful and I loved watching him float on his back. He was much too fast for me to get a good picture! I was surprised by the variety of birds showcased in this area and I appreciated the educational boards posted throughout the exhibit that told visitors what kind of birds they were looking at and the plaques also listed a few facts about each. Overall, the Wetlands Trail was remarkably done.
- Possibly the coolest, and most unique exhibit at the Florida Aquarium is the Journey to Madagascar. Here, you can find ring-tailed lemurs, chameleons, geckos, and animals from the Indian River Reef. Everything was displayed in a most educational manner and I learned quite a lot, including the fact that 80% of Madagascar’s plants and animals are exclusive to that country only. Be sure to step into this little, dark alcove (simulating a tree) to hear hissing cockroaches; that was neat. Another thing I loved in this area were the chameleons. I find them so adorable and this is coming from someone scared to death of reptiles. Their eyes are so animated and cartoonish.
- Bays and Beaches featured a 300 pound grouper, spiny lobsters, and other neighbors to Florida’s shore (around 20,000 plants and animals!). The awesome Stingray Beach allowed visitors to touch stingrays as they quickly swam around. They felt much different than I had expected; firm and extremely slick. Caution as you may get wet in this area. As if this was not exciting enough, Stingray Beach is also home to penguins. These African black-footed cuties are the stars of a hosted program complete with a penguin biologist guide who strolls the penguin around afterward for an up close look. They will show off for you with their waddles, jumping in and out of the pool, and by swimming. The penguins are real show-stoppers!
- The Coral Reefs exhibit was by far the most impressive. The tanks were full of coral tunnels and caves, reef fish, eels, and dozens of other exotic fish and sea animals. Each window you come to represents a different microhabitat and it changes as the depth of the ocean increases, or as you view another window. This is remarkable for visitors to experience because it is something that only scuba divers ever get to witness when they are way down in the ocean. Speaking of scuba divers, real life divers can explore the tanks here and interact with guests by playing a game. It was neat to watch. At the Coral Reefs, you truly get to examine sea life’s natural habitat and the lighting and colorful displays were visually fantastic!
- Ocean Commotion is the newest exhibit and the name is spot on. This area is home to tons of jellies, octopus, and tiny fish. Each tank has a plaque giving descriptions of each plant and animal found inside along with facts about their lifestyle. For those who enjoy aquatic life, this exhibit is definitely for you!
Afterwards, we explored the rest of the Aquarium. The Touch Tank is home to animals with no backbone, such as sea stars (formerly known as starfish) and sea cucumbers. Here, visitors can touch these animals, which was very cool. Explore-a-Shore is a two acre outdoor waterpark that is not officially open until Spring of 2016. From what we saw this place is going to be huge! The best part, is that adults can enjoy lunch at the Caribbean Cantina, a full service bar and grill, while their children play next to them at the Explore-a-shore. The last specialty was Dragons Down Under, which was home to many seadragons and well as seahorses. They were all beautiful to look at.
If the Cantina is not your style, Café Ray serves a variety of delicious looking food. The gift shop contains a wide variety of souvenirs for purchase and best of all, their prices were affordable. The Aquarium also offers four adventures to their guests: a 75 minute dolphin cruise, scuba dive with the sharks, behind the scenes tour where visitors can see how animals are fed and were all of the water comes from, and a penguins backstage pass. Numerous camps and events are held here all year long, and it is easy to see why! You may also want to consider purchasing a family membership or giving one as a gift.
I am so glad that my family got to spend the afternoon at the Florida Aquarium as we all loved it! There was so much more to see and do that I had imagined and I felt that we learned a lot in the process. If you are in the Tampa area I definitely recommend checking it out.
The Florida Aquarium is open daily 9:30AM-5:00PM. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas days. Their address is 701 Channelside Drive, Tampa, FL 33602. You may reach them by phone at 813.273.4000.