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The Florida Aquarium – Tampa - Orlando / Florida Guide

Florida Guide > Other Florida

On our early holidays in Orlando one of the attractions our kids used to make a beeline for the Tropical Reef Aquarium at Sea World. Alas due to re-development this attraction is no more. While there are a few small displays at the Living Seas at Epcot you now need to travel to visit a good aquarium. This is why on our last visit to Tampa we decided to take a look at the Florida Aquarium, and were not disappointed.

The aquarium is spread over three floors although the exhibits are contained on the two upper floors and trace the travels of water from its freshwater sources down to the sea. From the main entrance you take the elevator to the second floor where the tour begins. Here, under a spectacular glass dome, you can explore the Florida wetlands from freshwater springs to mangrove forests and swampland and see the inhabitants including otters, alligators and freshwater fish. Then come the Invaders – no not you and the other holidaymakers – but a variety of creatures, such as termites, swamp eels and walking catfish (! ) that have got out of control.

You then pass through the Bays and Beaches area where lobsters, seahorses, sharks and a giant grouper can be observed in an area featuring dunes, waves and live seabirds. Next up is the ‘no bone zone’ where a variety of invertebrates; sea urchins, starfish and various molluscs can be both seen and touched.

The highlight for many will be the Coral Reef Gallery. Here you descend through tunnels, caves and reef walls to be brought to a superb panoramic view of the colourful coral reef teeming with thousands of fish. It is here that, several times a day, divers enter the 500, 000-gallon tank to both entertain and educate the visitors. They do this by communicating via intercom and answering questions by swimming around and pointing out the answers. Here also, at a cost of $75 for 30 mins, visitors get the opportunity to don scuba gear and enter the tank to swim with the fish, without the need for SCUBA certification! – one of only three facilities in the USA where you can do this.

Next up are the Dragons of the Sea; those leafy looking Australian relatives of sea horse, and pipefish which are also to be seen.

The final main exhibit shows us a selection of the predators that are to be found in the sea. Ratfish, groupers, jelly fish, sharks and even a giant Pacific octopus can all be seen. In addition there is the opportunity – this time for certified SCUBA divers aged 15+ - to get up close and personal with the sharks. For $150 those brave enough are accompanied by a dive master and taken from the shark cage into the tank itself. Just take facemask and your swimwear!

For those less adventurous and the children (well the children really) there is an outdoor fun area with water jets, a pirate ship and wave water slide, and toddlers have there own Shipwreck Shore.

The Florida Aquarium which is to be found at 701 Channelside Drive, Tampa, is open 9am – 5pm 7 days a week and it costs only $17. 95 for adults with discounts for Seniors and children under 12.

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