It is a little confusing to find where to park at the Florida Aquarium, and when you do find parking, it costs $8 and you have to park 0.5 miles away from the entrance. So we parked and made the trek. Right before we exited the car, I asked my wife if she had the tickets. Of course she said yes and of course she did not…so after making the 0.5 mile (not exaggerating) trek, I had to run back and get the tickets. 0.5 + 0.5 + 0.5 = 1.5 miles of jogging to get the darned tickets. By then I was a sweaty mess.
So after we got in, my eyes had trouble adjusting, since the aquarium is quite dark; pitch black in some places. In my confusion, two twenty-somethings grabbed us and strong-armed us into a camera pose, snapped our pictures and then tried to strong-arm us into buying our “family photos.” I did not appreciate this one bit, and I will be contacting management of the Aquarium to let them know how unacceptable that was. They do this crap at Disney too, and I hate it there as well.
The Aquarium is on two floors, plus a super secret, hidden third floor. The first floor is a series of displays and encounters, themed along certain aquatic lines. It is very dark in the first part, and they add a dry ice flow to make things seem creepy and deep. Most displays are back-lit, and there is a huge tank that contains various sea fish, sharks and rays. As you move along, you can stop at each exhibit and take photos, minus the flash. If you take photos with a flash, you will be politely warned to turn off the flash, as it can damage the sea creatures.
Along the entrance, there is an area where you can safely “pet” the sting rays. The rays really seem to crave the attention, and the kids love this part. You soon find yourself in an outside nature habitat of mostly freshwater aquatic life, including birds. This area has a lot to see, but it is difficult to photograph anything since most of the glass has a glare from the sun, and it is also quite crowded. Composing a shot is not impossible, just difficult given the conditions and the pickiness of my digital camera. The entrance to this area gives you the feel that you have entered the Florida aquifer; a limestone cave of sorts that empties into a lagoon area. To complete the feel, you actually walk under a glass ceiling that houses freshwater marine life. This area is well thought out and was impeccably clean. Somewhere along this area there is a set of stairs that takes you to a super-secret third level of the aquarium where you can see individual aquariums in various themed layouts. This level empties out into another area of the second level.
Most of the second level is indoors, and some of the best displays are in this area. There is an array of colorful sea horses, sea dragons and a lot of larger tanks containing schools of colorful fish. The area is themed to be the deep sea level, so you really get the sense of being in the deep sea based on the lighting, color schemes used and the colder ambient temperature. My favorite sea creature was the yellow sea dragon. The second level empties out onto an observation deck where you can see the Tampa Port Authority. There is also a museum next door where you can visit the S.S. American Victory liberty ship. After seeing all that can be seen on the second level, you are basically done with the aquarium. I would say, conservatively, that it takes around 2 hours of casual walking to see and do all there is to see in this place. Is is worth it? I think so, because where else can you see this array of aquatic life? Is it as big as I envisioned? Not at all. I was expecting something much, much larger in terms of the scope and size of the fish…but I guess I would need to visit some other large aquariums in the Nation to see that type of thing. I am still quite pleased with this choice of things to do.
Here are some parting shots.