Our experience at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Clearwater, Florida, home to movie stars Winter and Hope from the Dolphin Tale movies.
My daughter loved the movie, Dolphin Tale, so when we recently headed to the Tampa Bay area for a quick family vacation, I knew that we’d have to make a stop at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Located about 35 minutes from our hotel in Tampa, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is definitely a must-visit for any family visiting the area.
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Visiting the Clearwater Marine Aquarium
Getting to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium
The parking garage at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is currently undergoing construction, so it’s best to arrive early to get a spot. We took an Uber from our hotel, and there are also different shuttle options in Clearwater. I generally recommend arriving at popular tourist destinations early anyway – it’s a good way to avoid large crowds.
Tickets can be purchased at the entrance gate. If you visit on a weekend (or during select weekdays seasonally), you’ll also get admission to Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure, which includes rebuilt sets and other things from the movies.
Depending on your plans in the Tampa Bay area, the CityPASS can be a great option for saving money. With the CityPASS, you can get admission to several popular Tampa attractions in addition to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, including Busch Gardens, the Florida Aquarium, and the Lowry Park Zoo.
See Winter the Dolphin at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is unlike other aquariums, in that it has a focus on rehabilitating and releasing animals back into the wild. In some cases, some animals can’t be returned to the wild; those animals now have a home at the aquarium.
After purchasing our tickets to the aquarium, we were provided with a map and schedule of shows. The aquarium itself isn’t too large – it was easy to walk around to see everything. Helpful employees and volunteers talked about the various animals we were seeing, and since we were there early, it wasn’t too busy. They were so friendly to my kids, and we were able to ask lots of questions.
Of course, Winter the dolphin is the highlight of the aquarium,and she lives with her friend Hope in a large tank that is the showcase of the aquarium. Trainers interact with these two dolphins throughout the day, and we were able to see both dolphins
Animal Shows at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is also home to several rescue turtles (including Harold, who plays Mavis in Dolphin Tale 2), Pelicans (including Ricky, who played Rufus in the movies), otters, sharks, and stingrays. There are various shows and educational talks offered throughout the day featuring the various animals.
In addition to the Winter/Hope dolphin interactions, we also watched a dolphin show starring Nicholas, who was found with his mom stranded on a beach, and a turtle talk during a turtle feeding.
Overall, we spent about 2 1/2-3 hours at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. We were there on a Thursday, so the Dolphin Tale Adventure wasn’t open. In addition to the regular aquarium, there are also special tours and experiences that can be booked separately. See the website for specific details.
Hotels Near Clearwater Marine Aquarium
The Sandpearl Resort, located right on Clearwater Beach, is one of the more popular resorts in Clearwater. If you are looking for a beach vacation, that’s definitely a fantastic option. The East Shore Resort, also located in Clearwater, is the top rated resort in the area. We stayed at the Westin Tampa Bay, which was about 35 minutes from the aquarium.
Restaurants Near Clearwater Marine Aquarium
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium does offer a small cafe with quick bites, but it’s not a great option if you are looking for a sit-down lunch. We took a quick ride down to the beach to Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill, a casual beachfront restaurant that offers delicious seafood. My kids loved it there, and then we spent a little bit of time walking on the beach before heading back to our hotel. There are several other Frenchy’s locations nearby, but we loved the water view of the Rockaway Grill location.
Here’s a quick video that we did of our experience:
Have you been to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium? What was your experience?