If you love sea life, the Clearwater Aquarium in Clearwater, Florida, is definitely worth a visit! The Clearwater Aquarium is a great place to learn about sea life because it is not a zoo but rather an active hospital where sea life is rescued, rehabilitated, and released (when possible)!
How to Get There
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is located on Sea Island, which is located right next to Clearwater Beach, Florida. It’s a short drive from Tampa and about 90 minutes from Orlando.
Getting to the aquarium is easy. If you’re visiting the area, you can of course walk (depending on your location) or Uber. There are also some shuttle options. However, we parked in their parking garage, which was very convenient. It does cost to park there ($12 at the time of this writing).
You can purchase tickets either ahead of time or at the aquarium. We purchased ours at the aquarium the day of our visit. The line looked long when we initially got there, but their employees are efficient and we waited under 5 minutes.
Current admission prices are free for children under the age of two, $26.95 for children ages 3-12, $32.95 for adults, and $30.95 for seniors. These prices are for admission only and the aquarium has more activities at an additional cost. Those activities include boat tours, virtual reality programs, animal experiences, and more. We did the virtual reality experience while we were there but did not add on any of the other additional activities. The aquarium is a non-profit organization and the admission fees helps fund the resources needed for the animals they rescue, so we felt good about our admission fees.
It is also worth noting that the Clearwater Aquarium offers $0 admission to active duty military and teachers with valid IDs Monday through Thursday.
If you were planning on visiting some other attractions in the area like Busch Gardens, the Florida Aquarium (in Tampa), Lowry Park Zoo, or the Museum of Science and Industry, the cityPASS would be worth considering. It offers entrance to each of these places at a discounted price. You can find out more about what is included, as well as current prices, on their website.
Now, onto what you’re really here for! The animals! The Clearwater Aquarium is home to Winter the dolphin, which you are probably aware of. Winter the dolphin attracts many visitors, she’s kind of the star of the show! All around us we heard kids and adults alike so excited to see Winter.
If you haven’t heard of Winter, she is the star of the movie Dolphin Tale. She was found at the age of 2 tangled in crab trap line which resulted in the loss of her tail. Winter now lives with other dolphins in a 1.5 million gallon tank. All of them were rescued and unable to be returned to the ocean. Dolphin Tale, and its sequel, Dolphin Tale 2, were both filmed on site at the Clearwater Aquarium.
I was fascinated to learn that the main observation window where the dolphins live was 52,000 pounds! It is also 12.5 inches thick. There are actually 9 different viewing windows where the dolphins can be seen, which really helps with crowds. We were able to get a really good view of the dolphins without having to navigate large groups of people.
The Clearwater Aquarium is not only home to dolphins. You can also see pelicans, turtles, otters, sharks, stingrays, and more. There are some shows and educational tanks throughout the aquarium which can be enjoyed at certain times. This is included in the cost of admission. My favorite exhibition was “petting” the stingrays!
As I mentioned earlier, there are things you can do at the Clearwater Aquarium for an additional cost. These are fun activities that give you unique experiences (like virtually swimming with whales!) or get you special treatment (like “meeting” the dolphins!).
There are many experiences to choose from, such as feeding stingrays, special photos with a dolphin, meeting the dolphins, helping on the farm that feeds the sea turtles, assisting in the care of the sharks, and more. The rates for each of these experiences vary but you can check them out here.
They also have two different boat tours – the dolphin and wildlife boat tour and a sea life safari tour. You can find out more about Clearwater Aquarium’s boat tours here.
When we were there, we swam with the whales using virtual reality goggles. That particular experiences is only at the aquarium temporarily as their exhibits do change; however, experiences with the animals are more consistent.
About the Clearwater Aquarium
The best part about the aquarium is that it’s dedicated to rescue, rehabilitation, and release of animals. The Clearwater Aquarium is an active hospital and the animals you will see are rescues unable to survive on heir own in the wild. Not only that, but they are committed to preserving quality of life for all of the non-releasable animals that permanently reside at the aquarium.
The aquarium recently spent $80 million on an expansion which opened in late 2020. The expansion allowed five times more space for guests as well as a food court and retail area. It also tripled the size of the dolphin habitat while allowing a designated area for larger rescued animals, such as whales and dolphins. Before the expansion, some of the animals had to be turned away due to space issues.
It is worth noting that the Clearwater Aquarium has some pretty spectacular views. It truly is located in a beautiful location, right on the water.
If you want to visit but can’t make it, Clearwater Aquarium has some webcams set up that you can watch for free! See them here.
Hopefully this has been a helpful guide to prepare you for your trip to the Clearwater Aquarium!