On a recent family trip to Tampa we visited the popular Florida Aquarium. This aquarium is spacious and very well laid out. We were greeted by a host of volunteers and provided with a map of the venue as well as a list of animal showtimes and appearances for the day. There are markers along the way listing interesting facts to keep you entertained from the moment you arrive.
Just a one hour drive from Anna Maria Island Condo Rentals – 601 Gulf Dr. N. Anna Maria Island, Florida 34217
We started at Florida Wetlands Trail, home to free flying birds, otters, turtles and alligators. Filled with Ring-tailed Lemurs, hissing cockroaches, and colorful chameleons, this exhibit captures the unique Island of Madagascar and the diverse animals that call it home. We were amazed at the variety of birds that were showcased in this area. The educational boards throughout were awesome telling us what kind of birds we were looking at with a list of facts about each one.
On the second floor of the Wetlands gallery is the Journey to Madagascar. In this area you will see ring-tailed lemurs, chameleons, geckos, cockroaches and a colourful Indian Ocean reef. I was feeling brave and crawled into a small dark alcove inside a tree to hear hissing cockroaches, a rather cool thing to do. We learned a lot from the educational displays in this area. I didn’t know that 80% of Madagascar’s plants and animals are exclusive to that country only.
Next was Bays and Beaches which features a 300 pound Goliath Grouper, spiny lobsters, and species that are home to Tampa Bay. The awesome Stingray Beach allowed us to touch stingrays and sharks. I was surprised that their skin felt firm and extremely slick. Stingray Beach is also home to penguins. The aquarium does have a few African Penguins, but they are not currently on exhibit. You can still see one by attending a daily “penguin talk” held at specific times, or get up close and personal by registering for an encounter with one.
We all agreed The Coral Reef Gallery was the most impressive exhibit. The 500,000 gallon tank with viewing windows and a walk-through tunnel giving you the illusion you are in underwater depths. It is full of coral tunnels and caves, reef fish, eels, sand tiger sharks, barracudas, green sea turtles and dozens of other exotic fish and sea animals. At the Coral Reefs, you truly get to examine sea life’s natural habitat and the lighting and colourful displays were fantastic. South African penguins make appearances in the Coral Reef Gallery. For an additional cost, you can purchase Penguins: Backstage Pass, a 30 minute long encounter where you will get an up-close look at the daily lives of , these cute little creatures.
No Bones Zone is a unique presentation of unusual creatures with no backbone such as sea stars (formerly known as star fish) and sea cucumbers. This touch and learn area is designed for the young marine enthusiast with low tanks and lots of hands-on opportunities, but enjoyed by all ages.
Make sure you bring swimsuits and water shoes for the kiddies at Explore-a-Shore, a two acre outdoor waterpark. There is plenty of seating for parents as well as beverages to enjoy while you watch your littles. You can have lunch at the Caribbean Cantina, a full service bar and grill or the Café Ray that serves a variety of delicious looking food. The Aquarium gift shop contains a wide variety souvenirs for purchase and best of all, their prices were affordable.
There are some others thing to do, for an additional fee, like Wild Dolphin Cruise, Close up with Critters, and Behind the Scenes Tours as well as Swim and Dive Programs. Check the Florida Aquarium website for more information.
Overall, this is a wonderful aquarium. An amazing and educational experience. A great way to spend the day!
(There is often is a Groupon deal available so if you are planning to go, check out Groupon first! It doesn’t allow you to purchase the same day passes so make sure you plan ahead.)
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