Florida Aquarium vs Clearwater Marine Aquarium
I love great aquariums, so over Thanksgiving I made a visit to the Florida Aquarium in Tampa and over the Christmas Holidays I stopped by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. If you don’t have the luxury of multiple visits to the area, you might be wondering (as I was on my first visit) which one to prioritize. It all depends on your interests and preferences. The Florida Aquarium is well done. I don’t know if I’d list it in my top five aquariums in the world, but I felt like I got my $22 (actually $19.95 because I bought my ticket online) worth. It’s multilevel, with a tropical greenhouse at the top featuring lots of Florida natives like horseshoe crabs, stingrays, and even birds wandering loose around the enclosure. The traffic flow then moves into a very kid-friendly exhibit of various tanks featuring the weirdest of sea life, a collection of all the Nemo characters, sharks, etc with lots of interactive informational placards. I particularly loved the bait ball exhibit. And you finally end up with a petting tank of sting rays. But the fun doesn’t end there – there’s also an extensive outdoor section with an area for marine life shows in good weather, a playground, and for harassed parents, a bar. This was a great destination for the whole family, even those with short attention spans when it comes to fish. Wide variety, lots of hands on options, not to mention great displays. Then you have the Clearwater Marine Aquarium which I have very fond memories of from a field trip in kindergarten. Housed in a converted water treatment plant, this option definitely isn’t flashy. The facilities look rather old (though lots of construction suggests things are getting a facelift), their marine life selection is limited, and the tanks are definitely not reminiscent of Sea World. But they have an amazing and large contingent of friendly knowledgeable volunteers who are proactive about seeking out and answering questions. The charm of this aquarium lies in its mission. To rescue and rehabilitate injured wildlife and to provide a home for those who can no longer survive in the wild. So if you have a real interest in how such operations are undertaken and learning more about what dangers exist, you’ll be enthralled for hours. And that’s not to say they don’t have interesting exhibits! They feature dolphin trainings & shows, and also offer a sting ray petting tank.
Not to mention there’s a whole location devoted to props and pieces of interest from A Dolphin Tale, which was based on Winter, one of their resident dolphins. A free trolley or boat ride between exhibits is included in the price. So a good place place to go for anyone who’s interested in learning, but if you’re just in the mood to watch pretty fish, not your best choice.
The cost is $19.95 for adults, but I found a buy one get one free mobile coupon through Valupak, which makes it definitely worth it.
If you have time and interest, do both!
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