April 27, 2015

Exploring The Florida Aquarium

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. 

What to expect at The Florida Aquarium in Tampa, especially when you visit with kids | Things kids love in Tampa | Things for kids to do in Tampa | Guide to The Florida Aquarium #familytravel #Florida #Tampa

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.

Things to do at The Florida Aquarium - Check out the giant sting ray at the entrance
My kids were too excited to go into the aquarium to stand still for a photo at the entrance.

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.

Things to do at The Florida Aquarium - Visit the Inside the Wetlands exhibit. It felt pretty open-aired while still being under a roof.
Inside the Wetlands exhibit. It felt pretty open-aired while still being under a roof.

Here, you get up close to Florida wildlife, including alligators. The design of this space allowed plenty of viewing opportunities of the animals.

Things to do at The Florida Aquarium - See an alligator up close!
Photobombed by an alligator.

Other animals we saw in the Inside The Wetlands exhibit included 14-feet pythons (not Florida natives), birds, turtles and free-flying birds.

Things to do at The Florida Aquarium - Find the turtles at the Florida Aquarium.
My daughter was excited to find some turtles at the Florida Aquarium.

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.

Things to do at The Florida Aquarium - Look for the garden eels.
These little garden eels were fascinating to my 5-year-old. They’re called garden eels.

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.

Things to do at The Florida Aquarium - Touch the stingrays at Stingray Beach
Mooch loved being able to “pet” stingrays.

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.

Tips for visiting The Florida Aquarium - The No Bone Zone has touch tank to touch urchin and other creatures without a backbone.
The touch tanks at The Florida Aquarium included sea urchin and starfish.

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.

Things to see at The Florida Aquarium - The Coral Reefs area, featuring sea dragons from Australia and their seahorse cousins.
This guy was found in a little room off the Coral Reefs area, featuring sea dragons from Australia and their seahorse cousins.

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.

Things to see at The Florida Aquarium - Look for the tanks with LEGOS in them
Want to win my kids’ favor? Put LEGOS and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the fish tanks.

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).

Not-to-miss things at The Florida Aquarium - Don't skip Explore A Shore outside of the aquarium.
Shooting water cannons at strangers.

At the center is a pirate ship surrounded by fountains shooting up from the ground and little misters around animals.

Things to do at The Florida Aquarium - Play outside in Explore a Shore.
There were a couple little slides at The Florida Aquarium’s Explore a Shore.

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.

What to expect at The Florida Aquarium - There's an outdoor play space, that also happens to include a cantina (for adults melting outside while the kids play in the water)
Hello, Caribbean Cantina. You have any drinks with umbrellas in them?

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.

Explore a Shore is the awesome outdoor play area at The Florida Aquarium in Tampa
A view of Explore a Shore from above.

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.

Website

Looking for fun things to do in Tampa, Florida? Don't skip The Florida Aquarium! Here's a look at what kids will like at the aquarium, including the touch tanks and the awesome outdoor splash garden. This guide includes tips on how to save money, when to visit and what to bring. #familytravel #Tampa #Florida

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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:

Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) 

Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Morean Arts Center and Hot Shop

Columbia Restaurant

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.

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