The Florida Aquarium is a must-see if you’re visiting the Tampa Bay area! Whether you’re a parent or not, the aquarium has a lot to offer and is the perfect last minute summer stop. From tiny eels to massive sharks, get up close and personal with some of the coolest ocean life and learn about how you can help to conserve our amazing planet.
This article is meant to offer some helpful info as well as share the experience my family and I had there! Hopefully, it will give you a glimpse as to how fun The Florida Aquarium is and why you should definitely pay a visit!
The Florida Aquarium is open every day from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. We got there around noon on a Sunday and it wasn’t overly packed. We spent about three hours there this visit and didn’t even see or do everything!
There are three floors of diverse habitats to experience inside the aquarium. Some of these include coral reefs and mangroves. You’ll see touch tanks, live shows, laboratories and multiple views of the Tampa Bay including an overlook located at the top floor. Plus, you’ll have the opportunity to walk through sections like “Journey to Madagascar,” “No Bones Zone” and “Waves of Wonder”.
The boys loved seeing the lemurs jump around and were amazed at how big the fish were!
The aquarium also offers combo packages, dining options, gift shop and The Splash Pad water play area, which I will get into more below.
What To Bring
We made a spontaneous trip to the Florida Aquarium this weekend, so it’s not something you absolutely have to plan ahead for. We live about 40 minutes away and just randomly decided to go. We’ve been there before and had a really great time, so we thought, “what the heck?”
We knew about the water park area, so we made sure to pack the basics: bathing suits, sunscreen and towels. I wore my suit under my clothes and just changed the boys when we were ready to head to The Splash Pad.
The aquarium doesn’t allow food or drinks to be brought in from outside, but I had a handful of snacks in my bag and the woman who checked it didn’t make me throw them all away (shoutout to that lady). We didn’t even end up eating anything that I brought, but I felt at ease knowing I had something in case the kids needed a pick-me-up in the middle of walking the aquarium.
There are plenty of spots right outside the building where you can sit and eat your lunch before going in, if you did want to pack an actual meal.
The ticket prices for general admission to The Florida Aquarium change every day because of various reasons including the weather, day of the week, specific holidays and attendance patterns. We paid around $35 per adult and $29 per child (they also have senior prices) on a Sunday, but like I said, they are always subject to change. Children ages 2 and under are free. This price includes admission to The Splash Pad too. You do have to pay to park, which is $6. This price does not change.
If you wanted to plan ahead, you can check ticket prices for the day you’d like to go and you can even purchase your tickets on their website ahead of time.
I do know that the aquarium offers AAA and military discounts if you’re looking to save a little – if you’re anything like me, that’s a big ol’ DUH. You can also check Groupon to see if they have any specials going on. In order to get group rates, you have to sign up 48 hours before your visit. You can contact them for additional information on their chat support located at the bottom of their website.
We didn’t actually do any of these because you do have to plan ahead for them, but the aquarium also offers combo packages for some pretty cool add-ons. There’s the Wild Dolphin Cruise that takes you out on the water for a chance to see dolphins in their natural habitat. Then they have the Penguins: Backstage Pass that lets you interact with their penguins — and possibly even feed and touch them. There is also the Close Up Critters and Behind the Scenes Tour packages as well.
If you didn’t have time to bring your own food, the aquarium has a full-on buffet style restaurant where you can choose from several American dish favorites including burgers, hotdogs and chicken tenders, as well as different varieties of pizza and fresh seafood. There is seating both inside and outside — the outdoor tables are all shaded, so you can sit out there even in the Florida heat.
Fins tiki bar was a little bonus for us parents! Their drinks were incredibly yummy and they certainly helped me relax a bit after chasing the boys around the aquarium.
While I didn’t buy anything at The Florida Aquarium, they do have a very large gift shop full of punny shirts, cute bath toys and even beautiful jewelry. It’s nice to walk through on your way out and the kids can press a penny to take home as a special souvenir.
The Splash Pad
I could talk about The Splash Pad in it’s own post, because you could spend the entire day there and never see the actual aquarium. It’s a fun, less expensive way to enjoy a hot day than an amusement park or fancy resort.
The Splash Pad is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. weather permitting.
Kids of any age — yes, parents too — will have such a blast trying out all of the different areas of the water park. There are splash zones, spraying frogs, buckets of water that you can dump, flip and fill! There are poles shooting out water that you can twist and turn and a gigantic lily pad climbing structure! It’s so bright and colorful, you can’t help but have a good time.
The Splash Pad is covered in a sole-friendly surfacing that keeps your feet cool so you can walk barefoot around the area. It seemed to be very slip resistant, too.
Outside, you can also find a regular playground for those who don’t want to get wet, but honestly, all the kids with a bathing suit on were sliding and climbing on that as well, so it didn’t really make a difference.
You can take a break at any of the benches surrounding the entire splash pad or go for a stroll to the ice cream shack! Be sure to have one person on watch duty, though, because it is a very open area and with lots of people, you’ll be playing “I Spy Our Kids” the entire time.
Other Parenting Resources
The Florida Aquarium offers a lot of support for parents and families — this is one of the main reasons I really love coming here. The first time we went, I was breastfeeding my youngest. There is a small feeding/pumping room under the staircase for nursing mothers. Although it’s small, there was a rocking chair and I felt comfortable enough to feed my son in there.
Before going out to The Splash Pad, we stopped by the toddler play area on the first floor located near the restrooms. There are stacks of books, piles of stuffed animals and an amazing view of The Splash Pad in this spot. It was a quiet place to let them settle down and take a break. On the other side of that are some climbable shells that the boys really enjoyed, too.
The aquarium provides support for visitors with autism and related disabilities. They are wheelchair accessible and even have some available to rent. Their website contains more resources as well.
Have you been to The Florida Aquarium? What was your experience like? Any tips and tricks are always welcome! Hope you visit (again) soon!