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What Tampa Bay attractions, zoos and museums have in store this summer

Local spots like ZooTampa at Lowry Park, MOSI and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium have new exhibits and special events.
Eleanor Walker, 4, left, and Edie Walker, 5, visit with Hope at her home in July 2020 inside the Kate Tidemann & Ellen Cotton Main Pool and Window of Wonder at the Ruth and J.O. Stone Dolphin Complex. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium opened an $80 million expansion thanks to fundraising and attendance that surged in the last 10 years because of Winter the dolphin. Winter died in November.
Eleanor Walker, 4, left, and Edie Walker, 5, visit with Hope at her home in July 2020 inside the Kate Tidemann & Ellen Cotton Main Pool and Window of Wonder at the Ruth and J.O. Stone Dolphin Complex. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium opened an $80 million expansion thanks to fundraising and attendance that surged in the last 10 years because of Winter the dolphin. Winter died in November. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published May 17|Updated May 20

Here’s what to expect this summer at local attractions and museums, which are expecting a close-to-normal season in the Tampa Bay area.

Herrerasaurus, a dinosaur fossil first discovered in South America, is part of the Dinosaurs Around the World exhibit running May 14-Sept. 5 at Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry. The lifelike animatronic dinosaurs offer a paleontological journey back in time to see roaring creatures from across the globe.
Herrerasaurus, a dinosaur fossil first discovered in South America, is part of the Dinosaurs Around the World exhibit running May 14-Sept. 5 at Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry. The lifelike animatronic dinosaurs offer a paleontological journey back in time to see roaring creatures from across the globe. [ Imagine Exhibitions ]

MOSI

The hands-on science museum has closed off a chunk of its exhibit space in recent years because of budget crunches, but the summer camps and other programs at Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry continue. The special event this summer is a Dinosaurs Around the World exhibit that opened earlier this month and runs through Sept. 5. Lifelike animatronic dinosaurs offer a paleontological journey back in time, and the museum’s Idea Zone also has dino-themed activities like fossil casting and dino digs.

Related: Dinosaurs are invading Tampa's MOSI

Admission: $12.95, $10.95 seniors, $7.97 ages 2-12. Ropes course is $10 by itself, or $7 with admission. Parking is free. 4801 E Fowler Ave., Tampa. 813-987-6000. mosi.org.

Ava Desilvio watches the manatees at ZooTampa at Lowry Park when it reopened in 2020 after a pandemic closure.
Ava Desilvio watches the manatees at ZooTampa at Lowry Park when it reopened in 2020 after a pandemic closure. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times (2020) ]

ZooTampa at Lowry Park

While so many of Florida’s attractions limped along as audiences were reduced because of the pandemic, ZooTampa at Lowry Park set a record for attendance in 2021 with more than 1.2 million visitors, beating its previous best year in 2016.

“Families were going to continue to seek opportunities to safely enjoy outdoor activities that connect them with nature and each other,” said ZooTampa president and CEO Joe Couceiro.

They have recently added some features like Expedition Wild Africa that takes vehicles out to offer up-close encounters with species like the one-horned rhinoceros. Florida Wilds, which opened March 3, features more spacious habitats for native species like panthers, red wolves, alligators and black bears. There also is a new exhibit of Hamadryas baboons in the primate realm. Still on hold is Stingray Bay, an interactive habitat that shut down last year after a dozen stingrays died suddenly. The zoo later determined that gas bubbles inside the rays, similar to the “bends” in human scuba divers, was the cause. A 34,000-gallon saltwater pool that will allow visitors to pet and feed the rays is slated to open in 2023.

Related: ZooTampa shattered attendance records in 2021

Admission: $44.95, $34.95 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.

Guests get a look at the Ruth and J.O. Stone Dolphin Complex, part of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium's facility expansion in 2020. The $80 million expansion included five times more space, a 1.5 million gallon water dolphin habitat, a new retail center and cafe.
Guests get a look at the Ruth and J.O. Stone Dolphin Complex, part of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium's facility expansion in 2020. The $80 million expansion included five times more space, a 1.5 million gallon water dolphin habitat, a new retail center and cafe. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times (2020) ]

Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Undulating waves of good and bad news have tossed the aquarium made famous in the Dolphin Tale movies for saving Winter the dolphin with a prosthetic tail. The world mourned when Winter died in November from an intestinal ailment. But Winter also saved the aquarium that rescued her. Thanks to the huge spikes in attendance and donations brought in by Winter’s story, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in 2020 opened an $80 million expansion with five times more space, a 1.5 million gallon water dolphin habitat, a new retail center and cafe.

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That has given it the space to open some new exhibits and a new virtual reality theater that for an added fee (typically $9.99) allows you to feel like you are swimming with Winter or taking a shark dive. And Dolphintopia, slated to open in June, will include art installations and interactive shows exploring the connection between humans and dolphins. CMA said the experience will change throughout the summer and will be included with aquarium admission. The aquarium is currently home to seven dolphins.

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

A roseate spoonbill feeds in the wetlands exhibit at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa.
A roseate spoonbill feeds in the wetlands exhibit at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times (2020) ]

Florida Aquarium

The kid-friendly aquarium in downtown Tampa showcases the aquatic animals and ecosystems of Florida and the world. African penguins at the Florida Aquarium recently got a new Penguin Pavilion that includes underwater viewing in the outdoor plaza. The penguin habitat was put on hold last summer following the unexplained death of seven penguins in July. An analysis by the zoo’s veterinary team was inconclusive. Only three of the exhibit’s penguins survived, and six new penguins were added to the colony earlier this year. The Penguin Pavilion, located in the aquarium’s outdoor plaza, opened in March.

Next to the aquarium’s Splash Pad water play area is a 4D experience called the 4Ducks Theater that combines the visual marvel of a 3D film with a variety of sensory effects such as scents, wind, water mist and seat vibrations. Included with admission.

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.

Hands-on activities such as this one in 2017 often accompany exhibits at the Glazer Children's Museum. The museum’s Summer of Stories program will offer daily play-based activities centered around storytelling, such as creating finger puppet characters.
Hands-on activities such as this one in 2017 often accompany exhibits at the Glazer Children's Museum. The museum’s Summer of Stories program will offer daily play-based activities centered around storytelling, such as creating finger puppet characters. [ Times (2017) ]

Glazer Children’s Museum

The interactive children’s museum has a combination of permanent and traveling exhibits as well as special events. A new exhibit in partnership with South Tampa ice cream shop Dairy Joy, which has been scooping up the cold stuff since 1958, is a retro-style space with playful nods to Elvis and wooden ice cream cones and scoops. The museum’s Summer of Stories program will offer daily play-based activities centered around storytelling, such as creating finger puppet characters. It coincides with the traveling exhibit Storyland that will be there June 11-Sept. 11. It is a trip through favorite childhood books both new and old, like Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff.

Admission: $16, age 1 and younger free. 110 W Gasparilla Plaza, Tampa. 813-443-3861. glazermuseum.org.

Great Explorations Children’s Museum has a brand new mascot, a large fuzzy cartoonish dinosaur named Morris the Explorasaurus, who makes public appearances.
Great Explorations Children’s Museum has a brand new mascot, a large fuzzy cartoonish dinosaur named Morris the Explorasaurus, who makes public appearances. [ Great Explorations Children’s Museum ]

Great Explorations Children’s Museum

The area’s oldest children’s museum has partnered with a number of local organizations and businesses for exhibits on agriculture, architecture, TV news, personal health and even a climbing structure called Longo’s Cove sponsored by former Tampa Bay Rays star Evan Longoria and his wife, Jaime. Great Explorations Children’s Museum has a brand new mascot, a large fuzzy cartoonish dinosaur named Morris the Explorasaurus, who makes public appearances. A special event this summer will be Space Exploration Day on Aug. 5, when the museum will work with NASA to hold a viewing event of the James Webb Telescope’s images sent back to Earth. This event will include photo viewing, space activities and a popup planetarium dome where families can stargaze at the night sky within museum.

Admission: $12, $15 ages 1-17, $11 seniors. 1925 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg. 727-821-8992. greatex.org.

Buccaneer Bay, one of the attractions at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, features water slides and a beach area.
Buccaneer Bay, one of the attractions at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, features water slides and a beach area. [ Times (2019) ]

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park

Florida’s only spring-fed water park has a live mermaid show that will mark its 75th birthday this year. It’s a bargain to get a sandy beach at Buccaneer Bay with flume rides, volleyball, river rides, a kiddie pool area and mermaid shows. It’s all for one admission, so there are often cars lined up by 8 a.m. on the weekends waiting for the park to open at 9, so get there early or check the Facebook page to see if it has reached capacity. Mermaid shows are offered daily at 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. Seating is first-come, first-served. The Wilderness River Cruise runs daily from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., on a first-come, first-served basis. The park also has kayaking, picnic areas, concessions and a gift shop.

Admission: $13, $8 ages 6-12, 5 and younger free. 6131 Commercial Way, Weeki Wachee. 352-592-5656. weekiwachee.com.

Tyrannosaurus Rex is one of more than 200 dinosaur sculptures that are popular with kids at Dinosaur World in Plant City.
Tyrannosaurus Rex is one of more than 200 dinosaur sculptures that are popular with kids at Dinosaur World in Plant City. [ JIM REED | Times (2015) ]

Dinosaur World

The kid-friendly play park has been around since 1998, but it has the feel of a much older retro roadside attraction. You can walk among 200 life-size dinosaur replicas that are set up throughout the attraction’s pine trees and palmettos. There’s also a playground, prehistoric museum and gift shop. Pets and picnic supplies are welcome, and you can order pizza to be delivered. The Fossil Dig, which had been put on hold during the pandemic, recently returned. For $3, kids use a sifter to dig in the sand and find three fossils, such as shark teeth or gastropods, that they can take home.

Admission: $19.95, $17.95 seniors, $14.95 ages 3-12, 2 and younger free. 5145 Harvey Tew Road, Plant City. 813-717-9865. dinosaurworld.com/florida.

Costumed historical characters, such as Civil War-era interpreter Amber Lamoreaux shown here in 2013 churning butter, will be at the Tampa Bay History Center on July 4, along with various military reenactors.
Costumed historical characters, such as Civil War-era interpreter Amber Lamoreaux shown here in 2013 churning butter, will be at the Tampa Bay History Center on July 4, along with various military reenactors. [ Times (2013) ]

Tampa Bay History Center

Aside from its permanent displays on local history, the museum hosts a range of traveling exhibits, such as the new Kitschy Cartography that shows a collection of whimsical maps of Florida and its cities as seen through the eyes of artists who populate their maps with colorful characters in the state’s history. There is also a current Smithsonian-sponsored Picturing Women Inventors exhibit and Cuban Pathways. It tells the story of how Taíno Indians, enslaved Africans, Chinese laborers and pastel-wearing U.S. tourists shaped Cuba over the past 500 years, including a strong Tampa-Cuba connection. You can celebrate the Fourth of July at the History Center with $5 admission and meet costumed characters from history and military reenactors representing several eras of American history.

Admission: $16.95, $14.95 seniors, military and students, $7.95 ages 7-12, 6 and younger free. 801 Old Water St., Tampa. 813-228-0097. tampabayhistorycenter.org.

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