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 which is featured in the 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
If you are driving to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, there is a parking garage available for an additional fee. Members of the aquarium receive discounted parking. The ticket booth is on the 3rd level of the aquarium. Guests are able to pre-purchase parking online at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium website.
For our trip, we took an Uber from our hotel. There are also different shuttle options in Clearwater. I generally recommend arriving at popular tourist destinations early – it’s a good way to avoid large crowds.
Timed tickets are available online. There are several options available, including combo tickets with a meal at the cafe, a boat tour, special animal experiences, and a behind-the-scenes tour.
For the museum’s 50th anniversary, there are several discounts available to guests. These include free admission on your birthday and discounted admission for U.S. Veterans.
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 ZooTampa at Lowry Park Zoo.
Animal Encounters 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.
There’s also Dolphintopia, an immersive dolphin experience including displays, art, and more. It’s included with admission.
From October 15, 2022 through April 15, 2023, guests can visit Dino Rescue as part of admission. In this experience, you can walk around life-sized dinosaurs who are currently “rehabilitating”.
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 indoor dolphin interactions, we also watched an outdoor 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 in February, and it was relatively quiet. In addition to the regular aquarium, there are also special tours and experiences that can be booked separately. See the website for specific details.
If you want to enhance your visit, there are several boat rides and guided tours available to purchase with your tickets. The Sea Life Safari Tour is a 90-minute journey where you can watch the wildlife expert onboard pull sea creatures from the local bay. There’s also the opportunity to collect shells at a local small island.
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium also offers a Dolphin and Wildlife Boat Tour. This is a 60-minute ride where you can learn about dolphins and other wildlife in the area.
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 museum isn’t too far away.
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, and you can purchase a combo ticket that includes food. However, there are also some fabulous restaurants in the Clearwater Beach area, if you want to venture out of the aquarium. I would recommend visiting a local restaurant if you aren’t staying right in Clearwater.
During our visit, we were staying in nearby Tampa, So, 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.
Have you been to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium? What was your experience?
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Friday 17th of March 2017
I love that this aquarium is focused on rehab and releasing the animals back into the wild. We just visited the zoo in Chiang Mai in Thailand which is a wonderful space but when you see penguins in a small room behind glass windows and a tiny pool or lions with barely enough space for then to run around it's actually quite sad. Although my 2 year old loves the zoo i never know if by taking her i'm doing the right thing. Great to know that places like Clearwater exist though. Great post!