Now that summer is in full swing, finding a fun, inexpensive place for the whole family can be tough, especially during dismal economic times.
Luckily, the folks down at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium got you covered.
For under $15, the aquarium features a dolphin show, otter presentations, educational movies, and an interactive stingray exhibit, to name a few of the delightfully entertaining and intellectually stimulating presentations.
The modest-sized aquarium near Clearwater Beach, offers a unique spin on the conventional aquatic experience because CMA doubles as a working animal hospital that rescues and rehabs sea creatures deemed unfit to survive on their own in the wild.
There are several rehabilitation centers within the aquarium where staffers and volunteers work to help various sea life animals regain their health. Most of the rescued aquatic life is released back into the wild, but a few stay at CMA as permanent residents.
"Each creature has a unique story as to why they are here," said Jeni Hatter, director of media relations. "A lot of the stories are really touching."
Visitors may need to bring tissue because you can expect to see turtles without fins, or orphaned otters, and a unique dolphin named Winter.
This tailless dolphin barely escaped death after her tail was entangled in a crab trap. Typically, dolphins cannot survive without their tails, but Winter has beat the odds and now uses a prosthetic tail to swim.
"Her story has touched so may people," Hatter said. "People come from all over the world to see Winter."
Now, the jovial dolphin swims along with the others during the daily presentations.
For an additional fee, visitors can take photos with Winter and have one-on-one sessions.
During my visit, Winter and I played an adorable round of peak-a-boo.
The dolphin performance is the major highlights at the Aquarium, but there are smaller events going on throughout that day as well.
If you'd like to walk on the wild side, there is stingray beach, where you can dip your hand in shallow water and play with stingrays.
Don't worry, the stingers have all been removed.
"You're able to pet all the stingrays here," Hatter said. "Most of the kids just love that."
If you're crunched on time, I would skip the movie presentation on Winter. Although it's a touching and educational story, you may have more fun seeing Winter for yourself during the dolphin show.
Also, if you are lucky, you may witness a surgical procedure at CMA because the public is always allowed to watch, through a glass window, as the staff attempts to treat wounded animals.
"We treat a lot of sea turtles and help them rehabilitate everyday," said Danielle O'Neill, of CMA.
Clearwater may be known for its beaches, but for a well-priced, thought-provoking good time, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium cannot be beat.
Whether you are 7 years-old or 77, there is something at this aquarium for everyone.