Our Clearwater Vacation to See Winter and Hope (Part 2)

CMA Dolphin Statue If you haven’t read about the first part of our Clearwater, Florida vacation, you can do that here.  If you. have read through part 1, I know you’re ready to hear about our visit to Clearwater Marine Aquarium to visit Hope and Winter, the famous dolphins from Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2.  In addition to telling you about what we saw at Clearwater Marine Aquarium, I have some tips for you too!

Winter's Dolphin Tale AdventureWe started our Clearwater Marine adventure by sitting in traffic.  Seriously.  There was a lot of traffic.  Despite going to the aquarium on a Monday, it was packed.  So packed that we were turned away because of parking.  But wait!  There is another way… Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure… just a few miles away.  Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure is a separate, stand alone facility just a short ride away.  How did that help our aquarium parking problem?  There’s a free shuttle AND a free boat ride available between the two attractions.  Simple enough.

Doplhin Tale FerryIt was pretty warm and really, really humid in Florida, so the boat ride felt pretty amazing.  The kids loved being able to stand at the front of the boat and watch the birds and be on the lookout for wild dolphins.

Clearwater Bay BridgeI really enjoyed the sightseeing the boat ride offered.  Our Captains were quite knowledgeable and pointed out areas of interest, the names of the different bodies of water we crossed and even showed us a few great places to grab a bite.  And did I mention how amazing the breeze felt?

Clearwater Marine AquariumClearwater Marine Aquarium isn’t your typical aquarium.  You’re not walking around looking into tanks full of brightly colored fish.  The marine life here is here because they’ve been rescued.  Some are being rehabilitated and some will be permanent residents, as they would not be able to survive back in the wild on their own.

Turtle DataThe first spot we hit up was the Sea Turtle Rehab area.  We learned lot of interesting facts about the sea turtles and got to see several of the resident turtles swimming in their tanks.  We also got to see the marine life intake area, food prep area and treatment rooms for the marine life.

CMA StingraysStingrays and I are in love with each other.  Well, maybe the love is one-sided.  If you’ve never touched a stingray, find the closest aquarium to you that has a touch tank and go.  Go now.  You can finish reading later.  They have the most amazing velvety skin.  If you plan your trip far enough ahead, you can reserve a time to feed the stingrays.  (Tip – I you want to do any of the special reserved experiences the aquarium offers, you need to plan WAY ahead.  The experiences book fast and far in advance.)

Dolphin SkeletonTo really understand how any animal’s body works, you need to see “under the hood”.  Getting to not only look at, but actually touch the skeleton of a bottlenose dolphin was thrilling for the kids.  It was a great way for them to grasp just how big a dolphin really is and how powerful their bodies really are.

Clearwater Nicholas TrainingSpeaking of powerful, we were lucky enough to be able to watch Nicolas’ training session.  It wasn’t a show, and he wasn’t preforming.  He was learning.  The trainer set a goal for him, and he was training toward that goal.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium Dolphin TrainerAnd then there was Winter and Hope.  There was (no surprise) a HUGE crowd gathered to see Winter and Hope.  Despite the crowds, we have plenty of changes to watch Winter and Hope swim around (both up top and down in the underwater observation area) and play with their ball.

Dolphin Tale WinterAs we watched the dolphins swim and play, we got to see the most amazing thing… Winter without her prosthetic tail.

Winter Tale Off and HopeThe moment that we saw Winter’s nub come out of the water, I was breathless.  It was heartbreaking, awe inspiring, and absolutely stunning.  Winter’s story is one of true triumph, for both her and the people at Clearwater Marine Aquarium who were determined to save her.  If you haven’t watched Dolphin Tale, you should grab a copy on Amazon (it’s only $4.99 and free shipping for Prime Members).

All in all, we had an amazing time visiting Clearwater Marine Aquarium.  The biggest tips I can offer you for your visit are to 1) plan ahead (special programs book up fast and far in advance) 2) expect a crowd 3) plan to park at and travel over from Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure and 4) don’t expect your typical aquarium experience and 5) be read to learn.

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