Meeting Winter: Our trip to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium

After watching Dolphin Tale 2 on it's opening day my boys were asking me where Clearwater, Florida was located on the map and how far away it was from Orlando.

Not knowing any of the answers we looked it up when we got home and discovered Clearwater was near Tampa, Florida and only about an hour and a half away from our hotel.

The two oldest boys begged to go to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and meet Winter and Hope.  I told them we could probably try and do that but warned them that the aquarium was quite small.

Knowing we wanted to head to the aquarium and it would only take part of our day my husband and I had planned to spend the rest of our day at the beach since we were at the shore.  The boys were excited about swimming in the Gulf of Mexico in some nice 85 degree water; unfortunately the weather ruined our plans. 

By the time we arrived at the aquarium, after stopping for breakfast, it was starting to sprinkle.

We saw so many birds on our way into the town of Clearwater.  We saw pelicans, peregrine falcons on every other light post, seagulls, and what we believed were herons.  We didn't let the sprinkes stop us from having a great day though.

We read all about Winter and how she lost her tail before we even entered the building.  We walked in and headed to see the sharks.  We learned all about nursing sharks.  I had no idea that they were nocturnal and would sleep in groups on the bottom of the ocean floor during the day.

Reading about Winter
Looking at the nurse sharks
 Alec was amazed to hear that they sometimes sleep in groups of up to 40 sharks!  

reading about the different species of shark
The boys got to touch a sea urchin and we learned that all the urchins off the coast of Florida are non poisonous.  The employee helping the kids at the touch tank could see that Alec was very interested and very knowledgeable about sea animals and so she offered to show him more.  

touching a sea urchin
She showed us how small snail shells are when they are first "hatched" out and she showed him how big they can get up to.  They talked about the different types of feelers on the sea urchin and what they're used for.  We learned that sea urchins camouflage themselves by sticking shells to themselves so that sea turtles won't eat them.  We learned they're related to star fish and we even got to see the sea urchin's mouth when one of them was stuck to the corner of the tank.  

We also learned that the sea otters were not on display at the aquarium and Evan was so bummed-- that was his biggest motivation for going to the aquarium!

We left the touch tank area and entered the underwater viewing area for the dolphin tanks.  We first though they were empty since we couldn't see any dolphins but as Alec and I stopped to read a sign about turtles we saw a shadow pass by the window.  We went to look in and we saw Hope! She was bigger than we expected her to be.  She stayed near us for a moment flicking her tail and then she swam away.

Can you see Hope?  She's in the lower left corner.

reading about the turtle's tumors
We headed upstairs into the education room and attended a show all about river otters.  Since the otters were not on-site they had photographs of their three otters and we learned a lot about river otters.  Unlike sea otters, river otters are born not knowing how to swim and must learn form their moms.  Sea otters are born in the sea while river otters are born on land.

watching a movie about the aquarium

learning about the otters

While in the education room we checked out skeletons of whales and dolphins and saw a lot of different  shells.

We checked in on their white board and traced fish & shell shapes leaving our name and where we were from inside them.  The board asked "how far did you travel to see Winter?" and we looked at all the shapes already on the board and saw people from Georgia, California and Pennsylvania.

We looked through the small tanks in the back of the classroom and watched a sea horse eating some tiny see through shrimp, looked at a large rock crab and checked out some puffer fish.  Hope (a walking character) came into the room and started wreaking havoc dumping out crayons, stealing hats, "eating" anything she could get her fins on; the boys thought it was a riot and were laughing so hard.

We headed outside to Sawyer's Pool to see the sea turtles.

There were five of them swimming around in the tank and the boys were excited when one swam close to the top and across the deck area.  We could see the injuries of most of the inhabitants of the aquarium.

trying to pet a ray
One of the turtles swimming in Sawyer's pool
Not all of the animals are injured though; some were just too young when they were found to have learned the survival skills they needed to survive in the wild.

While outside, we also tried to pet a Cownose ray only Ian and my husband were able to though since they were hanging out rather low in the tank.  Evan reminded us all that they are the same types of rays that we can pet at Mystic aquarium so he already knew what they'd feel like. 

We headed back inside and into Winter & Hope's tanks.  They were getting ready to put Winter's tail on but it's a very lengthy process and the boys got bored with waiting.  There wasn't a real close up way to see the tank either and since the dolphins weren't real close to us the boys started wandering away.

Hope and Winter together in the large pool
We met the two pelicans that played Rufus in the movie; their names are Ricky and Lucy.  We saw a few more sea turtles and the boys were wondering if there was anything more.

We wandered around for a while and didn't see anything else that we had missed so we went to take a boat ride over to Winter's Dolphin Tale Adventure.

It had taken us about an hour to see the whole aquarium and read all the signs and I was thinking we'd be finished in another hour but I was wrong.  We had a nice 15-20 min. boat ride across town to the second building that is dedicated to all the movie paraphernalia.

 Along the way our tour guide told us all about the costal waters of Clearwater, pointed out a bird sanctuary island, told us about the fishing fleets and docks, and other points of interest. 

We arrived at the museum and spent the next 2-3 hours walking around watching movie clips, seeing tons of props they had used in the movie.

We got to feel Winter's skin and try the sleeve on, we read all about the making of the movie, the real live people the movie is based on and even got to walk through a hurricane exhibit that shows us what's it's like to live through a category 1 hurricane.

watching Dolphin Tale at the movie
up close with a video of winter
reading all about Winter's tail
They had the carnival games from the movie set up and so we tried to toss the rings onto the glass bottles, do the bean bag tosses, fish for rubber ducks and try to ring winter's nose.  We saw the stages that winter's tale went through and learned about various animals along Florida's coast line.

Trying to ring the bottles
Playing with "Winter"
After a brief snack and a stop in the gift shop we were ready to go back and get our car.  By this time it was pouring and so we decided to just head to the hotel.

Our Other Vacation Posts:
Day 1: Checking out the Hotel Pool 
Day 2: Wizarding World of Harry Potter 
Day 3: Legoland
Day 5: Disney Quest
Day 6: Wekiwa Spring State Park 
Day 6 continued: Medieval Times Dinner Show
Day 7: Universal Studios 


  1. This looks like a fantastic place to visit. My kids would love it.

    1. It was wonderful... if only the weather had cooperated!

  2. I have always seen signs for that when I'm in Florida, but I've never been!

    1. It was really cute! Small though and hard to really see some of the animals since they are more focused on re-habbing them. My boys were so thrilled we went that it was well worth the trip.

  3. That boat house aquarium is so cool...reminds me of a lot of the houseboats I lived next to when I was a kid (I grew up on a boat).

    1. It was so neat to see so many movie props and explore the aquarium.

  4. We are going to Orlando next March - I may jot this in our "things to do?" list for our trip! Sounds like a great place to visit with kids.

  5. I would have loved this as a kid. Dolphins were my favourite - I had dolphin posters all over my walls. Sarah #ExplorerKids

    1. I too loved dolphins! Still have a few dolphin charms and jewelry pieces now.


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