One of the coolest things about living in Florida is the abundance of aquatic life and the opportunities to learn about all the sea creatures. Spotting dolphins or manatees at the beach, going fishing and spending time out on the water are all great ways to pique your kids’ curiosity about marine life. If your kids love fish and animals, or if you are looking for a fun family experience, The Florida Aquarium is a great place to visit!
Located just about an hour north of Sarasota, near downtown Tampa, The Florida Aquarium is a fantastic place to spend a morning or afternoon on a hot day. The aquarium is open 9:30am-5pm daily, and is only closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas. We first took our son there when he was just under 1, and went back when he was 2. During both visits we got there right when they opened for minimal crowds and stayed about 3 hours. You can certainly spend the whole day there, especially if you have older kids, but for little ones a few hours is perfect.
There are seven different zones you will travel through on your journey through the aquarium, learning all about fresh water, beaches, bays and the ocean. The path is easy to navigate with a stroller and has plenty to see for all kids, from toddlers to teenagers. Halfway through the exhibits, there is even a touch tank where kids can pet stingrays! There is also a wind simulator kids can stand in to feel what it might be like to be in hurricane-force winds. Along with seeing fish, families will learn about marine life and things we can do to protect our oceans.
The Splash Pad
Although seeing all the sea creatures and learning about marine life was a lot of fun, our favorite part of the Florida Aquarium is The Splash Pad. The large splash pad is located right outside the aquarium and is included in your admission. My son loved splashing in the water, playing in the fountains, and climbing around on the playground. There are both wet and dry areas, shady spots, and plenty of activities for kids of all ages. The Splash Pad is right next to one of several dining options at the aquarium so Mom and Dad can grab a drink or snack while the little ones play. Be sure to bring swimsuits, towels and sunscreen on your visit so you can enjoy cooling off in the water!
What else do I need to know?
Outside food and drink, except for diaper bag essentials for babies, are not allowed. Breakfast and lunch are served at Cafe Ray from 9:30-4:30 if your visit falls during meal time. I love experiencing new restaurants and local food culture, so we took the opportunity to check out nearby spots in Tampa after our aquarium trips. Tampa Bay Brewing Company and Ulele were both really good family-friendly restaurants close to The Florida Aquarium. Totally unrelated to fish, but IKEA is also close by, so it’s not a bad idea to make a stop there while in the area!
In addition to the aquarium and splash pad, there are other interactive experiences you can purchase with your tickets. A dolphin cruise, closeups with penguins or other critters, and a shipwreck dive adventure are all extras that can be added on to your trip
Tickets can be purchased online ahead of time, and advance purchase will save you a few dollars. Kids 2 and under are free, and kids 3-11 are under $25. Adult admission is around $30. With The Florida Aquarium being only an hour away, annual membership is definitely something to consider. An annual membership costs less than the price of two visits and gives members free parking and additional discounts on food and other tickets.
Let us know your favorite part of The Florida Aquarium after your visit!