My family spent a fun morning at The Florida Aquarium in Tampa recently. When I was planning our two-day Tampa Bay trip, I had asked a friend in Florida what she thought we should not miss and right away she said, The Florida Aquarium (well, she had a big Tampa list for me to choose from). I took her advice and I’m glad we took the kids to The Florida Aquarium!
Disclosure: Thanks to the Florida Aquarium for providing complimentary admission for my family so that I could write this review.
We Omahans are spoiled by our zoo and aquarium. Even so, there’s a lot to be impressed by The Florida Aquarium, and a ton of stuff to excite little ones. It’s worth planning a visit here if you’re in the Tampa Bay area.
Tip: If you have a zoo membership, check if it’s part of the Association of the Zoos & Aquariums. You may receive FREE or 50% off admission to The Florida Aquarium! Members of Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium receive 50% off admission. Learn more about reciprocal membership discounts here.
The first level you walk into features the gift shop, access to the large “adventure water zone” called Explore a Shore, and a touch tank with horseshoe crabs. In my opinion, there are much cooler touch tanks upstairs, but you’ll still have a tough time getting your kids past it without a stop.
Tip: Get to The Florida Aquarium when it opens. We enjoyed light crowd at the start of our visit and then, whoa boy, everyone and their grandma showed up. This place is popular.
Now head upstairs and start exploring. The Wetlands Trail feels like an open-air exhibit without being one.
Here, you get up close to Florida wildlife, including alligators. The design of this space allowed plenty of viewing opportunities of the animals.
Other animals we saw in the Inside The Wetlands exhibit included 14-feet pythons (not Florida natives), birds, turtles and free-flying birds.
It was in this area that the kids got to listen to a little educational talk and touch a baby alligator.
You can check out The Journey to Madagascar exhibit in this area, too. Crawl up a tree and be surrounded by hissing cockroaches…if you dare.
The Wetlands Trail leads into Bays and Beaches and my 3-year-old’s favorite spot: Stingray Beach. It’s a large tank of water to accommodate a lot of people. At Stingray Beach, you can touch the tops of sting rays as they passed by.
Just past the stingrays is the No Bone Zone where you can feel sea stars, sea cucumbers and other interesting creatures without a backbone. For some reason, my kids weren’t that interested in this touch tank. I’m guessing they thought the urchin and other creatures were prickly.
I think the areas that were the most indoor fun for my kids were Coral Reefs and Ocean Commotion. There, they saw sharks and strange creatures from the deep blue.
A highlight for my son was the LEGO buildings inside different tanks. The different themed buildings provided a unique backdrop to the fish we were viewing.
The exit for this part of the aquarium just about blew my kids’ minds. It was the end credits to the film about the area projected onto steam coming down from the ceiling.
But all of these fascinating creatures from the ocean and tactile experiences could not hold a candle to the excitement Explore a Shore drummed up in my kids. Which leads me to another tip for visiting The Florida Aquarium (or really, any place in Florida):
Tip: Bring swimsuits for your children when you visit The Florida Aquarium.
Explore a Shore, included with aquarium admission, is an outdoor splash garden for little kids (there were no huge waterslides or anything like that).
At the center is a pirate ship surrounded by fountains shooting up from the ground and little misters around animals.
My kids could’ve stayed here all day. But we had an itinerary to stick to.
If we had stayed, though, I totally would’ve partaken in a mixed drink from the bar located inside Explore a Shore. Smart way to appeal to parents melting in the Florida sun.
Anyway, there are water cannon type things, a sandbox and little slides for the wee ones. They also have changing cabanas to get your kids in and out of their swimsuits.
The aquarium offers added experiences to make your visit extra special. I’ve been told that the Wild Dolphin Adventure Cruise is totally worth the ticket. There are behind-the-scenes tour options and older kids can do diving adventures in the tanks!
If you go
The Florida Aquarium
Where: 701 Channelside Drive, Tampa, Florida
Cost: General admission ticket prices vary and it’s best to buy them online for the lowest cost. If you’re getting the AZA reciprocal membership discount or a coupon, you will have to buy in person at the aquarium. Children 2 and under are FREE.
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Plan a Tampa vacation!
Thinking of flying your family to Tampa? Check out my two-day itinerary! We crammed a lot in, which I actually wouldn’t suggest. Mix and match my recommended places to see:
I also wrote about the Allegiant Air direct flight from Omaha to the Tampa Bay area, so check that out, plus if you need a hotel suggestion and you L-O-V-E food and pampering, read my post about Epicurean Hotel in the beautiful Hyde Park area of Tampa.