Sea Turtle in water at aquarium

Last Updated on January 22, 2024 by Dr. Shannon Barrett

As a veterinarian, I’ve dedicated my life to helping animals in need.

So, when visiting Florida’s Gulf Coast, I was drawn to Clearwater Aquarium – a one-of-a-kind rescue and rehabilitation facility that provides a second chance for imperiled marine life.

Stepping through the doors of this coastal rescue sanctuary, I was moved by Clearwater’s inspirational mission to save and care for animals that would otherwise perish.

During my visit, I discovered injured sea turtles on the mend, orphaned dolphins learning to thrive, and sharks recovering from life-threatening illnesses.

With a behind-the-scenes look at the groundbreaking work of Clearwater’s animal experts, I saw firsthand how this remarkable aquarium gives new hope to species in crisis.

Join me for a tour of this exceptional Florida attraction that will change how you view aquariums.

Key Takeaways

  • Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida is a place to learn about and get close to marine life. It rescues sick and hurt animals.
  • You can do fun things at the aquarium, like feeding turtles or stingrays, and even get up close with a shark.
  • The staff at Clearwater are friendly and love what they do. They work hard to ensure visitors have a fantastic time while learning how to help protect marine life.
  • New things are always happening at the aquarium, like new sea animals joining their family or special events for kids who want to learn more about working with marine animals one day.

About Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Exterior sign for Clearwater Aquarium

Clearwater Marine Aquarium, situated in Clearwater, Florida, is a wondrous marine life oasis.

As a working marine animal hospital and non-profit organization, it is indispensable in rescuing endangered species nationwide.

Their mission is unique – dedicated to rescuing ill or injured marine animals while focusing primarily on rehabilitation to release them back into their natural habitat.

The aquarium attracts thousands of visitors worldwide due to its impressive collection of rescued residents, including dolphins, sea turtles, otters, and sharks. These creatures serve as ambassadors for their species in the wild.

Winter – an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin who starred in “Dolphin Tale,” was one such resident at this aquarium that gripped people’s hearts worldwide with her tale of survival against all odds.

Visitor Information

Visiting Clearwater Marine Aquarium is an unforgettable experience for any traveler. A critical aspect of planning your trip to clearwater area, is understanding the hours of operation and admission details.

Hours and admission

Customer service desk with large screens
The Customer Service Desk can help with any questions

Clearwater Aquarium is open daily from 10:00 am – 6:00 pm; however, they are closed on certain holidays.

Opening hours: Clearwater Marine Aquarium is usually open from 10 am but has extended hours on select dates up until 7 pm. Always check for updated hours on their official website before your visit.

Last Entry: The last entry permitted into the aquarium is 30 minutes prior to the closing time. This ensures you have ample time to enjoy all the exhibits.

Average Visit Duration: Most visitors spend about 2 1/2 to 3 hours at the aquarium, soaking in the exhibits and participating in the interactive experiences.

General Admission: Purchasing a general admission ticket includes entry into Clearwater Marine Aquarium. These tickets are available from trusted ticket sellers and also at the entrance.

Admission with a tour: If you’re interested in a more comprehensive experience, consider booking a tour. Your admission is included with the tour at the Clearwater Aquarium, allowing you to explore the wonders of marine life with an experienced guide.

Planning your visit to Clearwater Marine Aquarium according to these hours and admission details will ensure your trip is well-organized and enjoyable.

Start your day at Clearwater Marine Aquarium with a look at diverse exhibits featuring captivating sea creatures. Engage with the friendly staff who share eye-opening insights about marine life.

Exhibits and shows

Dolphin swimming in indoor pool
You can watch the Dolphins in training

At Clearwater Marine Aquarium, I had the chance to check out numerous exhibits and shows that left me in awe of the world of marine life. Here’s a rundown of my extraordinary experiences:

  • Immersive exhibits: I was captivated by the various exhibits that highlighted rescued dolphins, sea turtles, and other marine animals. The Atlantic bottlenose dolphins were one of my favorites.
  • In the heart of Clearwater Aquarium lies the Stone Dolphin Complex. The complex honors Winter, a dolphin with a prosthetic tail who sadly passed away but left an inspiring legacy.
  • Interactive shows: I attended several educational shows about dolphins and otters and how they connect to their environment.
  • Learning about rescue efforts: Exhibits highlight how this non-profit rescues, rehabilitates and releases marine life. From hearing tests to health assessments in dolphins, their dedication is evident.

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Friendly staff

At Clearwater Marine Aquarium, you’re not just a visitor – you become part of the mission. The friendly and knowledgeable staff brings their passion for marine life to every interaction.

There are staff members around every corner. They are all knowledgeable and willing to answer your questions or show you to a nearby exhibit.

Special exhibits like “Dolphintopia,” brought alive by these amiable faces during the summer, truly add sparkle to your visit.

Onsite facilities

Clearwater Marine Aquarium offers a variety of onsite facilities and attractions to make your visit more enjoyable and convenient.

indoor large dining room with chairs
Indoor Cafe

  1. fully stocked gift shop carries a wide array of souvenirs, including marine life-themed merchandise.
  2. A full-service restaurant and cafe cater to different taste buds with options ranging from light refreshments to full meals. I recommend the cheeseburger and onion rings.
  3. Wheelchair accessibility is prioritized throughout the aquarium for visitors with mobility needs.
  4. Several restrooms are strategically located within the aquarium for your convenience.
  5. Free WiFi allows you to share your experiences in real-time or find additional information during your visit.
  6. First-aid services are ready for any unexpected incidents or emergencies.
  7. Outdoor tables provide a relaxing place to enjoy a meal with amazing views.

Parking

Parking at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is hassle-free, thanks to a connected garage where guests can pull in and park on the 3rd level. CMA members enjoy this convenience with added discounted rates.

Pay for parking conveniently as you exit the garage; no need to worry about misplaced tickets or scrambling for change while enjoying your visit to Tampa Bay’s marine life sanctuary.

From March 1st through April 30th, beachgoers are accommodated with free trolley rides from a dedicated lot to the beautiful surrounding beaches.

Those planning ahead can pre-pay their $12-$15 onsite parking fee when they purchase aquarium admission tickets online.

Animal Care Experiences

At Clearwater Marine Aquarium, you can have hands-on experiences under expert guidance.

Get an opportunity to build a salad for a sea turtle or feed a stingray. Immerse yourself in the shark care experience, where you learn about their diet, habitat, and conservation efforts.

It’s not your your typical aquarium; it offers interactive sessions of direct involvement with marine life, making each visit memorable and educational.

Build a Salad for a Sea Turtle

Sea turtle breaching the water at aquarium
Learn about Sea Turtle rehab

Feeding a sea turtle is just as exciting as it sounds. At Clearwater Marine Aquarium, you can participate in building a tasty salad for one of their resident green sea turtles.

This educational experience involves using fresh greens from their hydroponic farm and adding select vegetables to create a nutritious meal.

Not only will you learn about the dietary needs of these fascinating creatures, but you will also get the chance to take home a photo with a smiling sea turtle enjoying your carefully crafted salad.

Feed a Stingray

Man feeding a stingray in an indoor pool
My husband feeding Stingrays

As part of your visit to Clearwater Aquarium, you should take advantage of the chance to feed a stingray. This was one of our favorite interactive experiences.

It occurs at Stingray Beach, where you get up close with our resident cownose stingrays.

You can pick from several feedings daily, but I recommend booking online because the feeding times sell out. During the feeding, the aquarium supplies the shrimp for the stingrays, and they teach you how to feed them.

Witnessing these graceful marine animals swoop and glide toward their favorite snack in crystal clear water was an unforgettable memory.

Shark Care Experience

If you’ve ever dreamed about caring for a shark, Clearwater Marine Aquarium offers visitors the thrilling Shark Care Experience. As part of this encounter, visitors meet Thelma, the resident nurse shark.

New Additions and Upcoming Events

manatee mammal underwater-387195jpg

At Clearwater Aquarium, there are always new arrivals to meet. They have been busy preparing the facility to accept manatees and expect their first rescue manatees in 2024.

Keep an eye out for the Middle School Career Exploration days. The aquarium also offers kids a Junior Career Quest program designed specifically for younger visitors.

Plus, there’s always a fun sea-sonal event planned for the whole family. You can find out about upcoming events at the aquarium here.

More marine animals

Dolphins playing in water behind glass
Watch the Dolphins Play

Clearwater Marine Aquarium has expanded its marine life visitors. Newly rescued dolphins have joined the aquarium family, making it a haven for Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. But that’s not all. You can also see Maine lobsters and triggerfish swimming in their habitats.

The array of marine animals doesn’t stop with those found in Florida’s oceans – Clearwater isn’t just an ordinary aquarium but a working marine animal hospital dedicated to rescue, rehabilitation, and release.

Visiting here is more than entertainment – it’s about understanding the lives of these incredible creatures and learning how we can contribute to their conservation.

Legacy of Winter

Board describing Winter the Dolphins life

No trip to Clearwater Aquarium is complete without learning about its most famous resident – Winter, the dolphin.

Winter was rescued in 2005 after becoming entangled in a crab trap that caused the loss of her tail.

The Clearwater team fitted her with a prosthetic tail to regain her mobility.

Prosthetic Tail used by Winter the Dolphin
Prosthetic Tail used by Winter the Dolphin

Despite the odds, Winter thrived under expert care and became known for her inspirational recovery story.

Winter delighted aquarium visitors for over a decade with her spunky personality and joyful spirit before passing away in 2021 at 16 years old.

Winter’s story lives on today through the Dolphin Tale movies, books, and the memorial display at Clearwater, where her prosthetic dorsal fin tail is now on exhibit.

Winter opened people’s eyes to the plight of animals in need and the heroic efforts of her caregivers. Her remarkable life legacy continues to inspire aquarium guests from around the world.

Things to Do at CMA

At CMA, you can explore different marine life through tour boats, participate in educational programs to grasp a deeper understanding of our ocean’s inhabitants, or make a direct impact by participating in their turtle projects.

Sea Life Safari Tours

Take the Sea Life Safari Tour at Clearwater Aquarium for an unforgettable family marine adventure.

This exciting cruise on the aquarium’s custom boat takes you into the waters of Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico to spot wild dolphins, seabirds, fish, and other wildlife.

An experienced naturalist guide narrates the tour, providing fascinating insights into the region’s diverse ecosystems as you pass by mangrove islands, grass flats, and snorkeling reefs.

Keep your eyes peeled for dolphin fins breaking the surface as pods swim alongside the boat.

The indoor cabin and outdoor deck offer prime viewing spots to take in the breathtaking scenery and capture photos. The Sea Life Safari provides an incredible voyage into the natural beauty of Florida’s marine environments.

The boat tours offer enjoyment and are part of Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s mission to inspire and educate visitors about marine life.

Each trip provides unique learning opportunities for kids and adults alike, with trained guides ready to share fascinating insights into Florida’s flora and fauna.

Dolphin and Wildlife Boat Tour

animals dolphin sea-402288jpg

For a thrilling on-the-water dolphin experience, embark on the Dolphin and Wildlife Boat Tour at Clearwater Aquarium.

This catamaran zips into the Gulf of Mexico in search of wild dolphins and other marine life.

An onboard naturalist educates passengers about the different species found in the region as the boat travels to prime dolphin spots.

When a pod is spotted, the captain slows down, allowing you to observe natural dolphin behaviors like jumping, playing, and feeding.

The tour often encounters endangered manatees as well as a variety of coastal birds.

With plenty of opportunities to capture photographs, this action-packed cruise lets you view dolphins and Gulf wildlife in their natural seascape habitat.

It’s an exhilarating adventure for animal lovers of all ages.

Dining Options

Cheesburger and fries on a blue table
The Cafe has Delicious Food

The aquarium has an extensive menu in their Shark Bites Café.

You’ll find more than just cheeseburgers and flatbreads. Freshly tossed salads and other healthy options are readily available, satisfying multiple dietary preferences.

  • They even cater to little ones with special kid’s meals.
  • The variety of seating options makes dining at the aquarium an experience. Choose between air-conditioned indoor dining or enjoying your meal outdoors on the Dolphin Terrace while enjoying the picturesque views of Clearwater Bay.
  • I think their outdoor dining area is one of the best places to eat in Clearwater Beach. The views are spectacular, and you get to watch the dolphins play at the same time. 
  • The aquarium is committed to sustainability. Many choices offered at their dining facilities are eco-friendly and sustainable, aligning with their mission to preserve oceanic life.
Outdoor tables that are brightly colored
You can eat and watch the dolphins play

Nearby attractions

Right around the corner from Clearwater Marine Aquarium, you’ll find many interesting and exciting attractions. Here are some top favorites:

  1. Spas: After a day of touring, unwind at one of the numerous local spas.
  2. Restaurants Experience Clearwater’s foodie scene — just steps away.
  3. Gift and Specialty Shops: Shop for unique souvenirs to remember your trip.
  4. Boat Tours and Fishing Charters: Explore Clearwater Bay on these thrilling guided tours.
  5. Clearwater Beach: It’s not just about marine life! Spend a day soaking up the sun on this beautiful beach with a small-town atmosphere.

Contact information

Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s contact details should be on your quick dial list when planning a trip!

Location: 249 Windward Passage, Clearwater, FL 33767

Phone:  727-441-1790

Email inquiries about schedules, events, or other information can be sent to visitorsinfo@cmaquarium.org

Photos of CMA

Woman with camera and green screen
Have your picture taken upon arrival

A visit to CMA is not complete without capturing a few photos. They offer unique photo opportunities with their marine creatures that make for some fantastic memories.

When you enter the aquarium, they take your picture against a sea-themed backdrop, which you can view anytime during your visit. They offer them for sale next to the gift shop.  

You are allowed to take photos during your visit, but certain items are not permitted for the safety of the animals. You can see a list of prohibited items here

Final Thoughts

I can’t recommend the Clearwater Aquarium enough.

It was one of the highlights of our stay in Clearwater Beach. As a veterinarian, I gravitate towards animal-related attractions. However, finding one that benefits animals can be challenging.

Clearwater Aquarium is a special place where care and compassion shine through. It’s a beacon of light worth celebrating.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How does the Clearwater Aquarium help animals?

Clearwater Aquarium’s animal care staff are experts in rescue and rehabilitation. Some rescued creatures, like non-releasable dolphins, get lifetime care at this location, which also has a well-equipped water treatment plant for optimum habitat conditions.

Can all rehabilitated animals be released back into the wild?

Not always. Thirty percent of rescued marine mammals, such as dolphins with injuries to dorsal or pectoral fins, may be deemed non-releasable after thorough research but receive lifelong care at the aquarium.

Besides rescuing animals, what else does The ClearWater aquarium contribute to?

Besides rescuing marine life from Gulf of Mexico or elsewhere, they are committed to enhancing scientific understanding about these creatures through continuous study and research, making them an active contributor to our ecosystem.

Dr. Shannon Barrett

Dr. Shannon Barrett

Veterinarian/Travel Writer/Digital Nomad

Dr. Shannon Barrett is a veterinarian and digital nomad. She owned a housecall practice, Island Veterinary Care, for over a decade and now travels full time. She lives in different beach towns and then writes travel guides based on her time there. If you’re looking for resources on travel destinations or how to become a digital nomad, then you’ve come to the right place! Love to bring your pets with you? Even better!

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