April 27, 2015

Exploring The Florida Aquarium

My family spent a fun morning at The Florida Aquarium in Tampa recently. When I was planning out trip, I had asked a friend in Florida what she thought we should not miss and right away she said, The Florida Aquarium. I took her advice and I’m glad we did.

 Florida Aquarium title

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.

You guys. Don't look up.

You guys. Don’t look up.

 

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 just try to shuffle your kids past it without a stop.

Tip 1: 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.

 

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.

Photobombed by an alligator.

Photobombed by an alligator.

And 14-feet pythons (not Florida natives), birds, turtles and free-flying birds.

Mooch spies some turtles at the Florida Aquarium.

Mooch spies 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.

These little garden eels were fascinating to my 5-year-old. They're called 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.

Mooch loved being able to "pet" stingrays.

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.

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.

This guy was found in a little room off 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.

Want to win my kids' favor? Put LEGOS and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the fish tanks.

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.

Tip 2: 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 (no huge waterslides for big kids or anything like that).

Shooting water cannons at strangers.

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.

There were a couple little slides at The Florida Aquarium's 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. If we had, 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.

Hello, Caribbean Cantina. You have any drinks with umbrellas in them?

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.

 

A view of Explore a Shore from above.

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: Adult tickets are $23.95, seniors 60+ are $20.95, kids 3-11 are $18.95 and kids 2 and under are FREE. Save $2 off adult tickets and $1 off senior and kids tickets if you purchase your tickets online!

Website

 

Disclaimer: Thanks to the Florida Aquarium for providing complimentary admission for my family so that I could write this review. 

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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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