At The Florida Aquarium in Tampa, you’ll practically feel like you’re part of the sea life. Turn a corner at one end of the museum, and a museum worker is chatting up visitors about his display of super-sharp sharks’ teeth. Touch them—if you dare! Then look behind you, and another employee has a penguin by her side so visitors learn more about its natural habits and habitat.
Ranked by Parents magazine as one of the top five kid-friendly aquariums, The Florida Aquarium is only about an hour away from Sarasota, located in Tampa’s Channelside area. It makes for an ideal Sarasota day trip. The aquarium’s two levels group together various aquatic life settings. On the Wetlands Trail, spot alligators, birds, otters, and turtles, all native to Florida. In Bays and Beaches, you’ll see a larger-than-life 300-lb. Goliath grouper and get a chance to touch stingrays at Stingray Beach. There are plenty more exhibits to ooh and ahh at with your family and friends. The aquarium also gives you a real sense of the importance of water in Florida. It’s not all just shoreline in the Sunshine State—there are streams, mangroves, ponds, lakes, rivers, bays, swamps, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean. Each area has its own unique aquatic life, and you’ll learn about those areas at the aquarium.
Here’s a Guide to Help You Get The Most Out of Your Visit to The Florida Aquarium
Buy Your Tickets Online
You’ll save a few bucks by purchasing in advance. General admission at the entrance is $28.95 for adults, $26.95 for seniors, and $23.95 for kids ages 3 to 11 (April 2018 prices). Paid parking is adjacent to the Museum and located beside the Port of Tampa, so you’ll likely see cruises or cruisegoers coming and going.
Plan Your Priorities
Although it’s easy to complete your aquarium visit in one morning or afternoon, be strategic if you’re with young kids. The Wetlands Trail gives a great perspective of natural Florida life and lets you get relatively close
with animals. An exhibit like Dragons Down Under shows real sea dragons from Australia as well as sea horses. However, it’s not as interactive. Pick your priorities, and use prompts from the aquarium or your own ideas to create scavenger hunts for kids—ask them if they can find specific fish in certain aquarium displays.
Make Time to Feel Like You’re in The Middle of The Sea
The aquarium’s Panoramic Viewing Window in the Coral Reefs exhibit area is a stunning way to view sharks, sea turtles, fish, and all kinds of sea life. They’re all part of a coral reef ecosystem with 500,000 gallons of seawater. Take a seat for a few minutes to take in the view. Even the youngest among your party will be mesmerized.
Decide if You Want to Participate in Any Special Programs
The aquarium has a 30-minute behind-the-scenes experience with penguins, dives with sharks, and swimming with fishes, and a Wild Dolphin Cruise. However, these all have extra charges involved. For fun that’s included with your admission, there’s an interactive Secret Sea Life Superhero show, Trail Talks along the Wetlands Trail, a Stingray Feeding Talk, and a 4-D theater experience. Check your program for specific daily times.
Cool down at the Splash Pad
Pack swim trunks and bathing suits for the little ones so they can use the outdoors Splash Pad. This splash and play area is great for toddlers and kids and helps them burn off energy. The splash area is surrounded by a playground, with a special zone for toddlers.
Catch a Meal at Café Ray
Café Ray has a variety of food options, including some on the healthier side (think pretzels with hummus and salads). There are also the usual pizza, pastas, and panini sandwiches. You and your fellow visitors can sit inside or outside to wrap up your experience at the aquarium. Don’t forget to check out the gift shop, too.
Look Beyond The Aquarium
There are other nearby restaurants in the Channelside area, or you can tour the American Victory Ship, used during World War II and during the Korean and Vietnam wars. You can see this massive ship from the aquarium, although you have to leave the aquarium to tour it.