Friday, June 3, 2016

Clearwater Marina - Clearwater, FL

There are a lot of pictures of us squinting into the sun.  I assure you we do actually have eyeballs.
I have two daughters, aged 10 and 8, and they love Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2 featuring Winter, the dolphin with a prosthetic tale.  Along with an astronaut my daughter wants to be a marine biologist and my younger daughter wants to be a veterinarian and loves animals so I knew that they would want to go to Clearwater Marina.  I didn't realize how much they would want to go; once they heard we were going to Florida seeing Winter was at the top of their list of things to do. Winter and her new friend, Hope both reside at Clearwater Marina in Clearwater, Florida so off we went!  We dragged my nephews along too even though they had never heard of Winter or Hope. 
Hope?  Winter?  Can't tell without seeing the tale!
Winter and Hope are the stars at Clearwater Marina and my kids loved seeing them but there are actually lots of other animals at the Marina.  All of them injured or otherwise in need of help.  So it is a nice way to see animals even if you are ambivalent about zoos or animals in captivity.  My kids loved seeing Ricky who plays Rufus the pelican in the movie.  They also thought it was hilarious that the pelican "played" a different pelican. 
This turtle is missing his hind legs?  Flippers?  Appendages!
Another highlight of the visit for my kids was feeding the stingrays.  You buy a few fish and then stand with them between your fingers and the stingrays will come along and snatch them from your fingers.  It was hilarious.  Be warned they only have a certain number of fish and once they are gone you are out of luck so if this is something you want to do head to the office to pay for them as soon as you get there.  Don't worry you don't have to carry the fish around with you all morning or anything, they bring them out at feeding time and hand them out to the people with tickets. 
Feeding a stingray
My kids also liked going into the animal rehabilitation area.  The first time we went through there wasn't a lot happening but when we went through again later there was a turtle being helped which they found fascinating. 

Our tour guide for the Sea Life Safari.  I am horrible at remembering names but he was great!
In addition to the Aquarium there are also other options that you can go for while at Clearwater.  We opted for the Sea Life Safari Boat Tour which was awesome.  It is a 90 minute boat ride where you get to see dolphins in the wild.  This was one of the highlights of the whole trip to Florida for my kids.  You also stop at a little island and can collect shells.  Our tour guide was very informative and friendly and told us all about the animals and plants that live in the area.  He helped my kids identify different shells too which they loved.  They each brought home a baggie full of shells to share with their friends. 
Checking out some sea life samples on the boat ride
On the way back to the Marina the kids got to check out a whole bunch of sea life samples up close.  Things like fish, coral, urchins etc.  They loved it.  The crew of the boat also hauled in their nets and collected some samples while we were heading back.

If you need a break from the heat there is a movie theatre that shows a movie about the making of the film and Winter.  Bring Kleenex, it is oddly affecting.  I know this because the woman across the aisle from me was sobbing through the whole thing.  I am a repressed British person who maintains a stiff upper lip at all times but still...I feel ya, lady.  There might have been a little moisture in my eyes at times. 
Clearwater beach
All in all our visit to Cleawater Marina was a big hit.  It is a must see for anyone who likes the Dolphin Tale movies but even kids who aren't familiar with the movies will have a blast since there is so much else to see and do.

Things to keep in mind:
  • It takes about 2 hours to get from Orlando to Clearwater.  I know some guide books and website say 1 hour but they are LIARS!  You can get to Clearwater the town in just over an hour if the traffic doesn't happen to be bad but once you get there you still have a ways to go and traffic always seems to be bad along the stretch between the town and the Marina.  If you are doing a boat tour or anything they are at specific times so be sure to leave enough time to get there.
  • Parking is free.
  • Clearwater beach is lovely so it is worth spending the day in the area.  Do all of the stuff at the Marina and then hit the beach if the weather is good. 
  • You can bring your food with you or buy food there.
  • General admission is around $20 a person which, frankly, is insanely reasonable for an attraction in Florida. It includes seeing Hope and Winter, Ricky and the other animals, the hospital area, movie etc. If you want to do a boat tour or animal encounter then it will be more.  The Sea Life Safari and general admission was around $40 for an adult and $30 for children.  Animal feedings also cost extra.

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