Visit Winter Clearwater FlAre you planning a trip to Clearwater Beach Marine Aquarium? One important thing to remember is that it began as Clearwater Marine Hospital. Before the famous Hope Dolphin and Winter Dolphin movies, it was just a place that cared for sick animals. Make sure you score some marine aquarium coupons or find a marine aquarium discount code, because for what you get- it is a little pricey. Be prepared to go through the gift shop a couple of times as you navigate the museum.
|The carnival exhibit at Clearwater Marine Aquarium was a hit!|
As far as tourist attractions go, this one is clearly a hospital first. If you go with that in mind, you will have a better experience. If you are on a limited schedule or budget, I'd suggest skipping this attraction. The worst part was how much my kids disliked it. It wasn't what they'd hoped.
|Scenes from Clearwater Marine Museum and movie exhibit.|
There was a long line of people (who'd paid a lot of money) waiting for their photo op with Hope and Winter. Since we didn't shell out the money for a photo, we really didn't get to see them. They were just sitting in the water. Though, they are the draw to the aquarium, they were the least exciting attraction. We preferred the otters.
We also saw a turtle show, er "talk". You know, the kind of show you might see at a zoo, but it wasn't much of a show. The presenters even said so... we just feed them. I mean what can a turtle really do? They fed them and talked about them... it was monotonous. Both kids tried to sneak off and eventually succeeded. If you have never been to an aquarium, by all means go-- enjoy it. If you have been to another aquarium, this one is just another aquarium.
|Movie set display: Visit Winter Clearwater Fl.|
There are a lot of volunteers, but none of them could answer our questions. Each time we asked, they had to find someone else to help. They weren't actively engaging with the guests.
On a more pleasant note, the best part of the experience was the FREE boat ride across the bay to the movie exhibit in downtown Clearwater.
They do offer a few paid boating excursions which sound like a lot of fun, but I noticed they had lukewarm reviews on TripAdvisor. Still, we were looking forward to our ride to the island, despite the reviews, but upon arrival we were told the last boat had left. I had scored passes for the boat too --- but I wasn't aware of the schedule. If you have your heart set on it, beware of boarding times and get there 30 minutes early!
|Turtle exhibit at Clearwater Beach Marine Aquarium Museum.|
Once inside the movie exhibit, breathe a sigh of relief. It is air conditioned and awesome. The actor's and director's chairs greet you as you walk in (though no one else really does). You tour at your own pace. The kids still weren't thrilled. They were grumpy. They'd just walked a mile up a steep hill in Florida heat! After awhile, they began to relax, stop complaining, and enjoy the atmosphere.
|Dolphin Tale movie exhibit at Clearwater Marine Museum.|
The kids thought the best part of this exhibit was the carnival set, but it was all good. Excited to find a real concession stand after the long hike up the hill, Mayhem rushed to the exhibit. A real life mirage. Once she got past the fact that it was all fake, she began to enjoy the hands-on carnival games. The hurricane exhibit was also a big hit. You can see a fuzzy picture at the top of the collage above.
You get back to your car in the parking lot the same way you arrived... You know, back down the steep "short walk" to the boat or hop on a trolley that is sitting right outside the door waiting for you. Yep, we took the trolley. No seat belts across the curvy bridge with a very confident trolley driver... another bonus! Ha, felt more like a roller coaster. Hang on tightly!
I remember when you could see the beach... now you have to drive through hotels and restaurants to find it. Some of the roads looked like dead end streets. Watch for signs that direct you to the beach. We scored a parking meter spot close to a beach access.
The kids loved the crowded beach. They wanted to stay after dark. I hear there are lots of things to do in Clearwater Beach at night, but the grandparents were over it. They wanted to head back to their quiet, little town and find an inexpensive place to eat. We would have enjoyed eating somewhere along the beach, but we had headed to Clearwater without eating lunch. We thought we'd grab a bite at a McDonalds (no luck) or maybe at the Marine Aquarium, but the aqaurium's concession stand was closed. Instead, we found a nice, little sandwich cafe across the street from the museum.
Don't get me started about the museum's cafe! We waited for the boat, but there is no place to sit, so we sat at the concession stand tables. A museum employee (or volunteer) came around and chained all the chairs to the tables. She didn't ask us to move, but the museum was at least an hour from close.
I come from a event venue background. May I suggest letting your paying museum customers enjoy the seating (even though the concession stand is closed) until the whole museum actually closes... or keep the concession stand open until close.
I don't know. We felt kind of lost during the whole experience. Don't get me wrong, there were plenty of volunteers around. We asked a lot of questions. Every answer seemed vague. Maybe it was just us. Maybe we were tired. Still... the kids didn't like it - they wanted to leave right after they caught a glimpse of Winter and Hope.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium needs a Visitor Experience Manager. They need to drive up, get directed to a parking spot, find their way to the ticket booth, squeeze through the gift shop to find your way to the exhibits, interact with volunteers, hope to see the dolphins up close, wait in line for the boats as suggested... yep, they should do all that while they are hungry.
Things to do in Tampa: Lowry Park Zoo.
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Touch a manta-ray in Tarpon Springs Aquarium.
National Geographic Kids Everything Dolphins: Dolphin Facts, Photos, and Fun that Will Make You Flip*
Look for a Manatee at Apollo Beach.
Hope for Winter: The True Story of A Remarkable Dolphin Friendship*