If you’ve lived in the Central Florida area for any length of time you’re probably already familiar with SeaWorld. This marine zoological park and theme park is known for its aquatic animals. In recent years and after backlash due to the documentary “Blackfish”, SeaWorld made an overall shift to focus on the thrills and theme park part of their attraction. If you’re tired of SeaWorld or are looking for an alternative for animal welfare reasons, check out these other notable aquarium and sea life attractions in the Central Florida area.
SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium
SEA Life Orlando Aquarium is the major aquarium in the Orlando area if you don’t count SeaWorld, which is both a theme park and aquarium. SEA LIFE is nestled in the Wheelhouse on I-Drive. This means you’re going to encounter plenty of tourists on top of the usual families enjoying outings. For this reason, if you plan to really get the full experience SEA LIFE has to offer, you’ll want to plan a weekday trip. It won’t completely cut out the crowd, I-Drive is naturally a bit crowded every day of the week, but it will be a better experience than going on a Saturday or Sunday.
You’ll see sharks, turtles, octopuses, seahorses, stingrays, and a number of other unique and interesting species of fish. Guests will get an incredible view in the 360 ocean tunnel (the only one in Florida) and will get hands-on in the touch pool of anemone and sea stars.
This outing can be a brief walkthrough or you can get the full experience by slowly working your way through the exhibits and reading each plaque to absorb as much sea life trivia as possible.
Cost: $31.95 per person
Location: 8449 International Dr, Orlando, FL 32819
Clearwater Marine Aquarium
Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) is a non-profit organization that focuses its efforts on rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing wildlife all while educating and inspiring humans. CMA has released over 600 animals since 2010. While the volunteers and staff behind CMA work hard to help conservation efforts, guests at CMA can enjoy all the experiences and education programs in place.
Guests will be able to meet rescue animals like Winter, the famous bottlenose dolphin and star of Dolphin Tale. CMA is a working animal hospital, you will encounter animals undergoing rehabilitation at this hospital along with the animals who are permanent residents. Between the various hands-on experiences and the educational exhibits to the presentations and the animals you’ll meet, Clearwater Marine Aquarium has so much to offer.
CMA offers both on-water (boat and kayak) and walking tours, including their Behind the Scenes tour and From Farm to Turtle experience.
If you find you love visiting Clearwater Marine Aquarium and want to continue to support its efforts, you might consider purchasing a membership. Memberships are available for individuals through pods of 10. Membership includes VIP member entrance, discounts, access to the birthday club, and holiday gifts, among other benefits.
Cost: $32.95 per adult, $26.95 per child (age 13-12), $30.95 per senior (age 60+)
Teacher and active-duty military discounts available. Children ages two and under get in for free.
Location: 249 Windward Passage Clearwater, FL 33767
The Florida Aquarium
The Florida Aquarium has been in operation since 1995 and now houses roughly 9,000 animals. The aquarium tells you a story, leading guests through all areas of aquatic life. Exhibits include:
- Moon Bay
- Waves of Wonder
- Coral Reef
- No Bone Zone
- Pipes and Ponies
- Wetlands Trail
- Journey to Madagascar
- Bays and Beaches
Beyond the exhibits, guests may want to take the Wild Dolphin Cruise, book a Penguin Backstage Pass, or cool off at The Splash Pad.
The Florida Aquarium provides plenty of educational opportunities so both adults and children can learn how to better care for our planet. The Florida Aquarium is an active participant in coral, sea turtle, shark, and ray conservation with a program in place for each. The conservation priorities focus on animal health, habitat restoration, single-use plastic reduction, and sustainable business practices.
In addition to the regular tickets, passes and additional packages are available for purchase online.
Cost: $30 to $35 per person on average depending on the day you attend
Location: 701 Channelside Dr, Tampa, FL 33602