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Tampa Bay area aquarium options

The Pier Aquarium

800 Second Ave. NE, St. Petersburg; (727) 895-7437

What we liked: It's very touchy-feely. There are interactive displays where you can match the fish up to its name, and a touch tank. You'll get to touch (but be gentle, please!) different critters, from sea stars to sea urchins.

What we didn't: The aquarium is very small, only about 2,000 square feet. A good place to bring the kids, but you may have difficulty with a bulky stroller or a tribe of little ones.

Insider tip: Check out the Web site before you go. The touch tank (a must-do) is only from 1 to 4 p.m., with a chance to help feed at 3 p.m. The aquarium also has other activities throughout the week.

The basics: The aquarium is at the St. Petersburg Pier, along with restaurants and shops. It takes up three quarters of the second floor and includes an aquarium gift shop. It is a nonprofit organization that was created in 1988.

Cost and hours: $5 adults, $4 seniors and students (ages 7 and older) Mon.-Sat.; $2.50 for everyone Sun; always free for children 6 and under. Hours are 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Sat., noon-6 p.m. Sun.

Web site: pieraquarium.org

Amy Mariani, Times staff writer

Clearwater Marine Aquarium

249 Windward Passage, Clearwater; (727) 441-1790

What we liked:Visitors may need to bring tissues because you can expect to see turtles without fins, or orphaned otters, and a unique dolphin named Winter, above. The tailless dolphin barely escaped death after being 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. For an additional fee, visitors can take photos with Winter and have one-on-one sessions.

What we didn't: 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.

Insider tip: 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.

The basics: 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 animals regain their health.

Cost and hours: $11, $9 seniors, $7.50 ages 3-12, free for children 2 and under. Hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Thur., 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Fri.-Sat. and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun.

Web site: cmaquarium.org

Ryan Strong, Times staff writer

Tarpon Springs Aquarium

850 Dodecanese Blvd., Tarpon Springs; (727) 938-5378

What we liked: The shark and baby alligator feedings are sights to see. Knowledgeable staffers pull baby gators out of the tanks and allow wide-eyed kids to rub their back while at the same time giving valuable educational information about the reptile. Four times a day and while providing narration, a trained diver hand-feeds the aquarium's big sharks and fish.

What we didn't: While the 20,000-gallon tank is filled with more than 30 species of fish, including nurse sharks, bonnethead sharks, snook, tarpon and goliath grouper, the place still feels small.

Insider tip: There's a room with an open tank that allows you to feed and touch small sharks and stingrays.

The basics: The aquarium's mission is to provide a hands-on educational opportunity about Florida's marine life.

Cost and hours: $6.75, $6 seniors, $4.75 ages 3-11, free for children 2 and under. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Sat., noon-6 p.m. Sun.

Web site: tarponspringsaquarium.com

Demorris Lee, Times staff writer

Parker Manatee Aquarium at South Florida Museum

201 10th St. W, Bradenton; (941) 746-4131

What we liked: Snooty, right, of course! At nearly 61 years old, he's the oldest known manatee in captivity and worth the drive to see. During several presentations daily you can see cutie Snooty poke his open mouth above water for his favorite snack (sweet potatoes and carrots) and get pets from a staffer. You'll leave feeling very smart as you get the lowdown on Snooty's life as well as tons of interesting manatee facts (who knew they are nearly blind, but have awesome hearing?). The star sea cow is visible in his 60,000-gallon tank from either above or below water.

What we didn't: Although the price of admission also includes the Bishop Planetarium and the South Florida Museum, Snooty is really the only reason to visit the aquarium. There's also an educational exhibit, but that's it.

Insider tip: It's Snooty's 61st birthday on Tuesday! And you're invited to his annual birthday bash from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the aquarium, with exhibits, games and food. Half-price admission: $8 adults, $7 seniors, $6 children and free for children 4 and under. Don't miss the really cool gift shop while you're there.

The basics: The aquarium is Snooty's home and a rehabilitation facility. During our visit, there were two other manatees waiting to be released into the wild.

Cost and hours: $15.95, $13.95 seniors, $11.95 ages 4-12, free for children 4 and under. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun. Closed Mondays during May, June and August-December.

Web site: southfloridamuseum.org. You'll find a $1-off coupon (good for up to four admissions) under the "Visit" drop-down menu.

Kelly Smith, Times staff writer

Tampa Bay area aquarium options 07/15/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 17, 2009 1:51pm]
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