Winter the Dolphin.
Say those three words and you’ll get one of two reactions from a kid: An excited smile or a blank stare. Those blank stares? They go away after a kid watches Dolphin Tale.
Winter is special and kids know it.
There’s something magical and inspiring about Winter. And the Clearwater Marine Aquarium knows it.
Disclosure: The thoughts and opinions expressed here are mine. My family received complimentary admission to Clearwater Marine Aquarium so that I could write about the experience. This post contains affiliate links.
My family visited the aquarium during our visit to Tampa Bay. We knew Winter, the real rescued dolphin who helped saved the aquarium, was a big deal, but when you arrive Clearwater Marine Aquarium, you realize just Winter and her movie(s) how important they are there.
Tip: Watch a “Dolphin Tale” and “Dolphin Tale 2” before you visit. Things will make a lot more sense.
My initial impression of the aquarium was not the most positive. It did get better, so I should explain that I get irritated by places that make you pass through a gift shop before seeing the attraction.
We had to do that here, plus pose at a souvenir photo station before beginning our exploration of the aquarium. It’s all in good spirit, I suppose.
Our souvenir photos were cute after all.
And we had pretty much expected we wouldn’t be leaving the place without some sort of dolphin memorabilia. We ended up leaving with two dolphins – don’t forget Hope – and a plush Rufus.
But still. Couldn’t we just get right to the animals already?
A bit about this aquarium. It’s not like most; certainly, not like any I’ve been to… which is a good thing. It’s a functioning marine rescue center, so your little wanna-be vets and marine biologists are going to love it. They may get the chance to see pros in action, either doing regular physicals on the animals or in an emergency situation in the surgical suite.
Unlike the typical aquarium with resident stars, a lot of animals at the aquarium won’t be there forever. The mission of Clearwater Marine Aquarium? Three words: Rescue. Rehab. Release.
They’re doing great things.
And, if your kids loved “Dolphin Tale,” like really loved the movie, they’ll love seeing pieces of the set (don’t miss Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure), in addition to all the rescue animals.
While my kids didn’t get up close to Winter, they did get to hold a replica of her prosthetic tail, and they were pretty psyched.
My kids each had different areas of the aquarium they liked best. My youngest gravitated to the stingray touch tank, again and again and again. The stingrays there were super friendly, way friendlier than I’ve ever seen them behave. My 3-year-old was tickled silly.
My 5-year-old enjoyed watching the trainers with the dolphins. He observed one little girl’s personal session with a trainer and dolphin, and then was part of the crowd that was soaked by the onary dolphin at the end. He loved it.
Locals and Clearwater fans alike have told me to expect a crowd at the aquarium, and they were right. This place draws families in. Indoors, it was sometimes difficult for our little ones to see much of the action between the trainers and the dolphins. Outdoors was great.
However, they found things they liked beyond that. There’s a classroom with a coloring station that drew my kids in.
And it had a few items the kids could gently touch. And if you’re really into educational videos, there’s one playing on loop in there.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium takes every opportunity it has to educate visitors, and it does it well. Whether it’s a storytime geared toward younger kids, or words of encouragement on the walls telling visitors how they can help, the aquarium stays true to its mission.
If you really want to make your visit memorable, the aquarium offers many opportunities for animal encounters, from feeding a puffer fish to getting up close to dolphins (even Winter!).
This aquarium was one of the highlights of the trip for my kids, which totally surprised me. Winter has that power.
Explore more of Tampa Bay
Thinking of flying your family to Tampa? Check out our two-day Tampa Bay 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.
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