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Tampa Bay’s zoos, aquariums and children’s museums: What’s coming this summer

Local spots like ZooTampa, MOSI and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium have new exhibits and special events.
 
Ben White of Tampa examines Big John’s skull while attending an event on Friday Feb 3, 2023, hosted to welcome the fossilized triceratops to the Glazer Children's Museum in Tampa.
Ben White of Tampa examines Big John’s skull while attending an event on Friday Feb 3, 2023, hosted to welcome the fossilized triceratops to the Glazer Children's Museum in Tampa. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published April 25, 2023|Updated May 10, 2023

A record-breaking dinosaur skeleton will be stalking Tampa Bay this summer, and other local attractions like the Florida Aquarium, Adventure Island and children’s museums have new exhibits and special events to check out. Here’s what to expect this summer at Tampa Bay attractions and museums.

The Glazer Children's Museum is getting a skeleton of the world’s largest triceratops ever discovered for a new display that will open Memorial Day weekend. Nicknamed "Big John," the record setter is nearly 26 feet long and 10 feet high.
The Glazer Children's Museum is getting a skeleton of the world’s largest triceratops ever discovered for a new display that will open Memorial Day weekend. Nicknamed "Big John," the record setter is nearly 26 feet long and 10 feet high. [ Glazer Children's Museum ]

Glazer Children’s Museum

Memorial Day weekend brings the much-anticipated arrival of Big John, the largest triceratops ever uncovered. The Glazer Children’s Museum has built an immersive dinosaur exhibit designed to take both children and adults into Big John’s world. The skeleton exhibit will feature tunnels with clear domes, where curious kids can pop up and see the skeleton from underneath.

And for curious adults, the museum is waiving its rule that currently prevents adults without kids from entering the children’s museum. The dinosaur, nearly 26 feet long and 10 feet high, will be included with admission. Registration will be required because they will be doing timed entries, which can be done online starting May 1. See bigjohndino.com for information.

The interactive children’s museum has a combination of permanent and traveling exhibits as well as special events such as Free Tuesday on the first Tuesday of every month when it offers free admission for the whole family from 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.

Admission: $16 ($18 after May 26), age 1 and younger free; $2 off for military, first responders, educators and seniors. 110 W Gasparilla Plaza, Tampa. 813-443-3861. glazermuseum.org.

A lionfish swims at an exhibit at the Florida Aquarium in downtown Tampa. Visitors can get a behind-the-scenes look at animal medical care at the newly opened Tampa General Hospital Animal Health Care Center at the aquarium.
A lionfish swims at an exhibit at the Florida Aquarium in downtown Tampa. Visitors can get a behind-the-scenes look at animal medical care at the newly opened Tampa General Hospital Animal Health Care Center at the aquarium. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]

Florida Aquarium

The kid-friendly aquarium in downtown Tampa showcases the aquatic animals and ecosystems of Florida and the world.

This summer, the aquarium is bringing back an up-close experience with birds of prey called Raptors! Featured birds from around the world will include the Aplomado falcon, European common buzzard, European eagle owl and Harris’ hawk. It will be held several times a day in their new gallery, which will be focused on animals with unique adaptations. The gallery is part of a recently announced $40 million expansion plan that will add an outdoor sea lion habitat. The project, which has three phases, began in January and is scheduled to be completed in 2025.

Admission: $30.45-$33.70 depending on the date, $27.20 and up ages 3-11, 2 and younger free. 701 Channelside Drive, Tampa. 813-273-4000. flaquarium.org.

A new toddler splash area called Shaka-Laka Shores has opened at Adventure Island. It features 25 individual elements for kids to splash around in at the front of the park.
A new toddler splash area called Shaka-Laka Shores has opened at Adventure Island. It features 25 individual elements for kids to splash around in at the front of the park. [ Adventure Island ]

Adventure Island

The water park across the street from Busch Gardens in Tampa has been on a building streak lately. This summer they are still adding to the mix with a new toddler splash area called Shaka-Laka Shores. An opening date hasn’t been announced yet, but “we do foresee an opening of this attraction very soon,” a spokesperson said.

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Shaka-Laka Shores will feature an area with 25 individual elements at the front of the park. The splash zone and the recently opened attractions Rapids Racer and Wahoo Remix are part of the water park’s largest expansion in more than 30 years.

Admission: $44.99 and up. Parking is $30. 10001 McKinley Drive, Tampa. Check adventureisland.com for park hours and tickets.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium

The aquarium made famous in the “Dolphin Tale” movies recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. Thanks to the huge spikes in attendance and donations brought in by Winter’s story, the aquarium in 2020 opened an $80 million expansion with five times more space, including a new 1.5-million gallon habitat for its bottlenose dolphins, a new retail center, cafe and ballroom.

It now uses that extra space for regular special events and exhibits such as Dolphintopia, a multifaceted immersive exhibition that explores the science of dolphins, and also their intimate connection with humans. There’s also a new free self-guided audio tour that has 26 curated stops marked throughout the facility.

This summer brings SunSips by the Bay, starting on May 19 and running select nights from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Enjoy food and drinks from local vendors, DJs and entertainers while overlooking Clearwater Bay, plus an intimate look at the aquarium. Tickets are $40 to $70 at cmaquarium.org/sunsips.

Admission: $35.95, $26.95 ages 3-12 at cmaquarium.org. 249 Windward Passage, Clearwater. 727-441-1790. cmaquarium.org.

Children visit with Hope at her new home inside the Kate Tidemann & Ellen Cotton Main Pool and Window of Wonder at the Ruth and J.O. Stone Dolphin Complex, part of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium's facility expansion.
Children visit with Hope at her new home inside the Kate Tidemann & Ellen Cotton Main Pool and Window of Wonder at the Ruth and J.O. Stone Dolphin Complex, part of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium's facility expansion. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times (2020) ]

ZooTampa at Lowry Park

USA Today’s 10 Best list recently included this Tampa zoo in the top 10 for Best Zoo and named its David A. Straz Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center as one of the Best Zoo Exhibits in America.

ZooTampa, which first opened in 1930, recently added a new educational installation to help guests better understand the state’s native species in the Florida Wildlife Corridor, a statewide network of almost 18 million acres of land and water. The effort was hailed by the Wildlife Corridor officials as an important way “to emphasize the importance of conserving and connecting the Corridor today because, once lost, the lands are gone forever.”

In just the last few years, the zoo has added Expedition Wild Africa, which takes guests through its Africa realm and see their Southern white rhinos. There also is a new exhibit in the popular Primate Realm, where a new species has joined the clan, Hamadryas baboons. They also expanded Florida Wilds, which aims to educate guests on environmental conservation with interpretative signage, including rookery towers that provide tips for Floridians on how to safely live alongside the many species that share our state’s diverse ecosystem.

Admission: $45.95, $35.95 ages 3-11, 2 and younger free. The zoo’s “pay for a day” deal adds unlimited admission for the rest of the calendar year. Parking is free. 1101 W Sligh Ave., Tampa. 813-935-8552. lowryparkzoo.org.

Museum of Science and Industry

Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry has added a new nine-hole mini golf course to its attraction, which is science-themed in keeping with the hands-on museum’s mission.

SciLinx Mini Golf is a new outdoor nine-hole, science-themed mini golf course located in MOSI’s Science Park, the museum announced on Instagram. Each hole has a science theme. One teaches putters about kinetic energy, another has mathematical principles. It’s $3 to play for members, and $5 for nonmembers.

The museum is also adding a new butterfly garden on the grounds, and “Wooden Wonders of the World,” a visiting exhibit running through May 29, shows off unique toothpick sculptures. From towers that stand more than 8 feet tall to fragile ones that can fit in the palm of your hand, artist Stan Munro holds the Guinness World Record for longest toothpick structure at 39 feet, 2.5 inches.

And coming June 10-Sept. 24, the S.T.E.A.M. Team Superhero Training Academy will connect physical challenges like rock-wall climbing or kung fu to teach the educational concepts in the S.T.E.A.M. acronym (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics).

Admission: $14, $10 ages 3-17. Ropes course is $7. Parking is free. 4801 E Fowler Ave., Tampa. 813-987-6000. mosi.org.

Legoland's new Pirate River Quest hearkens back to its previous life as Cypress Gardens, which used to offer boat tours of the wild Florida scenery.
Legoland's new Pirate River Quest hearkens back to its previous life as Cypress Gardens, which used to offer boat tours of the wild Florida scenery. [ Legoland ]

Legoland

The Winter Haven theme park that aims for kids 12 and younger has a new pirate-themed attraction that hearkens back to its previous life as Cypress Gardens, which used to offer boat tours of the wild Florida scenery.

On the Pirate River Quest, riders will experience “a voyage through the natural canals of historic Cypress Gardens,” a Legoland spokesperson said, adding it is “one-of-a-kind” in terms of an all-ages theme attraction that takes parkgoers on a voyage through a treasured landscape within Florida.

The 150-acre theme park also has an adjacent 5-acre water park, a themed hotel and the world’s first Peppa Pig Theme Park. Legoland Florida has a variety of special events throughout the year, including a Fourth of July celebration with nightly activities July 2-4 that will include treats, a DJ dance party and a fireworks show that gives out special viewing glasses to turn the fireworks into 3D Lego bricks.

Admission: $84 and up. (Currently, if you buy one $299 annual pass, you can get a second one for 50% off.) 6000 Cypress Gardens Blvd., Winter Haven. legoland.com/florida.