Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Florida 2013, Part 3: Clearwater Marine Aquarium

After watching the movie “Dolphin Tale,” we were adamant to visit Winter. This meant a 3-ish hour drive across Florida to the west coast and the town of Clearwater which is located on the outskirts of Tampa. The big plan was to hit the aquarium and then go to a pre-season football game, but our budget didn’t agree with this. What a pisser. Instead, we went to the aquarium only. But, you know what? It was totally worth it! The stuff they do at the aquarium is amazing. The rehab and the education – outstanding. Good job to that group. I hope that they never run out of funding.

First off, it’s actually two different locations: the actual aquarium and the site where they have all of the movie stuff. Both are included in the price of admission as well as either a ferry or bus to and from. We started at the aquarium. As in the movie, one of the first animals that you get to see is “Rufus” the Pelican. Unlike the movie, “Rufus” is not loose and snapping at your behind, but I can imagine that once upon a time, he was. There are different educational “shows” throughout the day where the trainers talk about Winter as well as the other animals there. We got to see a bit of it topside, but there were no seats close up. The thing about this place is that it is a marine rehab center first and foremost, and a tourist attraction secondarily. Therefore, there isn’t a lot of seating like what you would find at a place like SeaWorld. So, we couldn’t really see much of the show. Disappointed, we decided to make the best of it.

The place was crowded, so we took the ferry to the movie building. How much fun can we cram into one trip? A free ferry? And it was fast – well, as far as ferries go, and the boys wouldn’t know the difference anyway! Fun! Along the way, we got to see some houseboats that were bigger and nicer than our landlocked home as well as a pirate ship that can be rented out for frat parties or corporate events or family reunions. We just told the boys that there were real pirates aboard and hoped that they didn’t attack our “ship.”

The movie building was a big hit. Not only did they show the actual movie in a little theater, but they also showed a documentary of the real rescue/rehab, had face painting, kids games (fishing, bean bags, etc.), movie props, a hurricane room which simulated an actual hurricane (pretty crazy), and a place where you can write a letter to Winter. (In the hurricane picture below - they are truly scared. I happened to take the picture at the exact time that the "set" produced some REALLY loud thunder. Perfect timing.)

Afterwards, we took the bus ride back. Fun ride, but no AC – we were all baking. Upon our return to the marine center, we had ourselves a little picnic on a dock. Nothing like peanut butter and the salty air of the sea! There were loads of fish swimming around, and it’s safe to assume that they got more of the boys’ sandwiches than the boys did. We also saw the houseboat from the movie (but couldn’t go in).

The next show was already in process, so we knew that we wouldn’t get any seats topside. Instead, we decided to go downstairs to check out some of the other exhibits. Imagine our surprise when we got window seats to the show in process! This was WAY better than being upstairs, and the dolphins often swam over to check us out. Plus, it wasn’t very crowded since everyone was up above! Score!

Finally, we watched a presentation about some rehabbing sea turtles. This one will never be re-released because she cannot submerge! She was somehow injured on her back, and now has a permanent air bubble in her back that acts as a constant buoy! See? Her bum is sticking up in the air.

At the end of a big day, we still needed to get back to eat dinner and get back to Orlando. Did I mention that there was an NFL football game? Yeah. Traffic was hell thanks to road construction EVERYWHERE.

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