Sunday, April 3, 2011

Visiting the Florida Aquarium

Back in December when I was just starting to think about what adventures would be fun while on vacation in Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida, the Florida Aquarium immediately captured my attention. (In fact, I wrote a post all about dreaming of this outing.)

One of the reasons that I like to do some planning before we head out of town is that I have so much fun watching dreams like this come true. Spontaneity is great, but so is a vision realized. I hope you'll indulge me in a little reflection on our time at the Florida Aquarium. I'm including a few insider tips to make it worth your while!

Hands-On Fun
One of the best aspects of the Florida Aquarium is that they offer hands-on interaction with the animals. And you don't have to wait long to get your hands on the animals. Right in the lobby is a Sting Ray Touch Tank. The arrow was a little too nervous to get his hands in there, but I did and he had fun watching me pet the rays.

Sting Ray Touch Tank at the Florida Aquarium
Further into the aquarium, there's a tank called the No Bone Zone where kids can touch sea stars, mollusks and such. Having been there for over an hour by then, the arrow was all warmed up and ready to get in on the action. He wasn't quite the right height to navigate this on his own, but he managed to touch a few things.

No Bone Zone at the Florida Aquarium
Insider Tip: Weather permitting, dress your child in short sleeves so that they don't spend the day with wet sleeves.

Accessible for Toddlers
I also appreciated the efforts that the Florida Aquarium made to ensure that even the littlest kids could see all the wonderful fish and animals on display. Rarely did we have to lift the arrow... he could walk right up to floor-to-ceiling tanks or peer over ledges that were short enough for him to see over.


Insider Tip: If your toddler walks pretty well, leave the stroller in the car. We pushed an empty one around for our entire visit. The Florida Aquarium isn't that large in terms of square footage and each exhibit space flows right into the next one. You could easily just carry your little one for short periods of time if they do get tired.

Not Just Fish
I was a little worried that the arrow might get tired of staring at tank after tank of fish. Fortunately the Florida Aquarium, much like Mother Nature herself, includes all kinds of wildlife. So we could practice our "Hoo! Hoo! Hoo!" with the owl.

Owl at the Florida Aquarium
And pretend that we weren't scared of the alligator.

Alligator at the Florida Aquarium

And the arrow continued to avoid the camera while we tried to get a family photo with some cool birds.


Insider Tip: If your kids are a bit older, you'll appreciate that the exhibits are all very well labeled, so you can help them identify exactly what species of animals they're seeing. It might be fun to pack a notebook and keep a record of some of their favorites.

If You Visit:
Florida Aquarium
701 Channelside Drive, Tampa
Open 9:30 to 5 p.m. every day.
Admission is $19.95 for adults. (Or save 10% if you buy tickets online.) Children 3-12 are $14.95 at full price (the 10% discount also applies if you buy online).

More Insider Tips:

Get there early. There's an open area in front of the aquarium that kids can wander around and explore if you have 5-10 minutes to kill before it opens. It will help to get you to the front of the ticket line that forms.

Use the ticket kiosk. Don't want to wait in line for tickets but didn't buy tickets in advance? We used an automated kiosk near the entrance. So when the doors opened, we walked right in without a wait at the ticket window.

Ticket Kiosk at the Florida Aquarium
Take the trolley. If you have plans elsewhere in Tampa, consider taking the trolley system to get to the aquarium instead of driving. The Cumberland Avenue Station stop is right in front. You'll avoid the $6 parking charge at the aquarium and the arrow loved it!

Get outside. The arrow got a little worked up from all the excitement (animals! fish! people!) There were several chances to duck outside on the patio area for a breath of fresh air and let him settle down a little bit. It really helped to make our experience more enjoyable. (There's also a water park attached to the aquarium, but it was a little too chilly for that the day we visited.)

Patio garden where they grow fish food at the Florida Aquarium
Great Pre- or Post-Cruise Entertainment. If you're taking a cruise that starts or ends in Tampa, the Florida Aquarium is directly across the street from the cruise ship port.

View of cruise ship from patio of the Florida Aquarium
This post is a part of Mondays are for Dreaming at The Mother of All Trips. This week, my dream just happens to be a dream fulfilled.