AAA Editor Notes
The Florida Aquarium, 701 Channelside Dr. on the downtown waterfront, is a 20,000-square-foot aquarium with themed areas featuring more than 30,000 aquatic creatures.
Wend your way through the Wetlands Trail, which realistically re-creates Florida swamplands with native trees, plants and gurgling freshwater streams (complete with their feathered, finned and furry inhabitants) under a nautilus-shaped glass dome. Ducks race each other in a long glass tank that's within arm's reach—you can even see their webbed feet paddling underwater. You also can watch cavorting otters do backflips, gaze at exotic marine birds such as white ibis and roseate spoonbills, and check out the turtles and native freshwater fish that dwell here.
Bays and Beaches concentrates on the wildlife who call the salty waters of Florida home. Learn about sea turtles, touch stingrays and sharks at Stingray Beach and visit a cross section of a Florida beach complete with several species of sun-loving birds grazing in the sand.
Journey to Madagascar focuses on the uniqueness of that region and the challenges that threaten the creatures that inhabit it. Features include an Indian Ocean exhibit, a hissing cockroach exhibit and a ring-tailed lemur.
Walk through a tunnel to see the living treasures of the Coral Reef exhibit, a replica of the underwater habitat of the Dry Tortugas islands near the Florida Keys. Residents of the 500,000-gallon tank include sand tiger sharks, sea turtles, angel fish, grouper, puffer fish, eels and snapper in an array of colors. Stop at Dragons Down Under, an exhibit devoted to Australian sea dragons, highly unusual marine creatures camouflaged by either leafy or weedy protrusions.
Have a close encounter of the watery kind at Ocean Commotion, where you can interact with talking animated versions of the exhibit's sea animals. In the No Bone Zone, visitors can touch sea stars, sea urchins, sea cucumbers and anemones. Kids can splash and play in the Splash Pad children's wet and dry playground, complete with a pirate ship, while parents cool off at the park's cantina. Animal programs include the Penguin Promenade and Otter Show.
For additional fees, take part in such interactive programs as Swim with the Fishes, Dive with the Sharks, Shark Swim, a Behind the Scenes Tour and stingray or shark feedings. At Penguins: Backstage Pass, pet these tuxedoed birds and watch them waddle, swim and eat. Board a catamaran on a 75-minute Wild Dolphin Cruise and search for dolphins and other wildlife in Tampa Bay.
Guided tours are available. Food is available.