701 Channelside Drive, Tampa, FL 33602
Cuisine: Casual Dining
Payment options: Credit cards accepted
Alcohol: Full bar
Admission: $23.95, $20.95 for seniors 60+, $18.95 for kids 3-12. Prices are generally about $2 cheaper if you buy them online at the aquarium's site.
More in this neighborhood: Channelside
The aquarium, located near the Port of Tampa, has more than 20,000 aquatic plants and animals in its various exhibits. Unlike other aquariums that might feature dolphins or other large mammals, the aquarium focuses on telling the story of water in Florida. The exhibits follow a "drop" of water from its underground source to the open sea, beginning the journey in the wetlands, with mangroves and native fish species.
From there, you are taken on a journey to the bays and beaches, to the coral reef and finally to the ocean. Along the way you'll see everything from eels, rays and sharks to frogs and ducks. Be sure to visit with the always entertaining otters. You'll also see a giant grouper (a highlight!), smaller alligators and several bird species that make their home around water.
And don't worry, you'll see the usual collection of exotic sea denizens, like sea horses and clown fish.
The aquarium has several shows and demonstrations, including one that focuses on sharks and one that focuses on penguins. You can also arrange to take tours that feature chances to interact: shark feeding, swimming in the coral reef and the popular penguin backstage tour. You can also dive with the sharks. (Almost all of these backstage interactions involve an extra fee.)
All of the fun isn't found inside the aquarium, though. It has a massive sprayground called Explore a Shore that features fountains, splash zones and water cannons aboard a pirate ship. A nearby cantina offers Mom and Dad the chance to have a margarita as their kids cavort in the water. You can read more about Explore a Shore here.
And then there's the 90-minute Wild Dolphin Ecotours, a tour aboard the aquarium's Bay Spirit II. It's a powered catamaran that tours the port and educates guests about some of the animals in the aquarium. Expect to see lots of dolphins, making it well worth the extra expense. Tour times vary, so call ahead to reserve a spot.
Visit the official site.
-- A favorite convenience at the aquarium: rocking chairs found in some of the passageways that invite you to sit a spell and watch the fish swim by. This is especially a treat for older visitors who might need a break.
-- If you plan on making it a full day at the aquarium, be sure to bring a change of clothes for the kids. They can zoom around and see the fish, then change for some play time at Explore a Shore (or vice versa). That way they won't be all wet and drippy (and likely cold) as they view the exhibits.
-- Weekends are busiest, so if you can make it a weekday visit, go for that.
-- The food choices at the aquarium are actually pretty good and pretty reasonable. But if you do want to eat off-site, the options are limited to mostly bars or more expensive restaurants nearby.
-- A mandatory photo stop is the giant ray found outside the aquarium's entrance.