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"Exploring the Wonders of Clearwater Marine Aquarium: An Unforgettable Experience for All Ages"

Family playing with a dolphin

Looking for something different to do in Florida? Let's talk about the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) in Clearwater, FL. This spot is around 90 miles from Disney and is right by the beach as well to make a nice relaxing trip out of it!

Now, if the name Clearwater Marine Aquarium doesn't ring a bell, let me jog your memory. Remember Winter the Dolphin from the heartwarming movie Dolphin Tale? Well, CMA is where Winter resided, and let me tell you, this place is not just an aquarium – it's a sanctuary with a mission. As someone who grew up inspired by Winter, my passion for marine life has a special place in my heart, and I've passed on that love to my kids. At its core, CMA focuses on rescue, rehabilitation, and release. Their ultimate goal is to return animals to the wild, but sometimes, due to the nature of injuries, that's not always possible. Yet, CMA provides a loving home for these creatures, allowing them to live a life they wouldn't have had in the wild. CMA holds certifications from the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums, International Marine Animal Trainers' Association, and Florida Attractions Association – because supporting places properly certified is a big deal for me.

Now, let's talk about the stars of the show – the marine life. Dolphins, pelicans, sea turtles, otters, nurse sharks, stingrays – you name it, they've got it. While Winter may have swum off to dolphin paradise, her presence is still felt through a touching memorial. CMA is home to bottlenose and rough-toothed dolphins, each with a unique story that brought them here. Hope, one of the stars from Dolphin Tale 2, is happily living alongside Izzy and Nicholas. And guess what? Rudy and Rosie, the rough-toothed dolphins, recently joined the gang, adding a new layer of oceanic magic to the place. The dolphin complex is a gem – different areas, different tanks, different angles, and even a deck for a topside view. Pelicans, including the star Ricky (aka Rufus), otters, a nurse shark, a stingray touch pool, and a sea turtle area – you'll find a bustling community of marine life. Every visit is a different experience, with animals to discover and admire.

CMA isn't just an aquarium; it's an active rescue center. You can peek into the vet's area, maybe witness checkups or procedures, and learn about turtle rehab while viewing their tanks. The focus on education is evident, reminding us all of our role in securing a future for these incredible beings. Special tours and experiences to get up close with resident animals are also on offer and trust me, they're on my bucket list!

Sea Turtle in the procedure room

During specific times of the year, CMA does offer special ticketed events. We have been lucky enough to attend two Lights By The Bay events. These events are always so fun and they have adult-only and family-friendly events throughout the year! More on these events can be found here. While this is an extra cost, all proceeds go directly back to CMA to help support their mission. Not only do they offer special ticketed events, but seasonal events during the year. Depending on the event, it may still be an additional cost, but not always. I recommend taking a look at their daily schedule to see. For example, Amazing Animals often works with them and they do free presentations throughout the day!

Feeling the call of the sea? CMA's got you covered with their Eco-Boat Tours, offering sea life safaris, dolphin & wildlife adventures, and seasonal sunset tours. It's a fantastic way to blend entertainment and relaxation with education, and knowing CMA's track record, you're in for a treat. Looking for day camps? They have you covered there too, not only for kids but families as well!

One thing as an Autism mom, I appreciate that they have partnered with Kulture City to provide sensory-friendly bags to rent out for anyone who needs one. You just have to visit guest services and leave your ID, and you will receive a backpack with goodies inside for the person to use. Jace loved having this. It came with headphones, a lanyard, sensory toys and a how am I feeling chart for anyone who is nonverbal. They also have quiet places to help unwind and they are labeled - or just ask! There is a social story here for anyone who would like to see it or want more information.

Kultur City Sensory Bag

Exciting news on the horizon – CMA is expanding with its Raising Tides project! A new manatee rehab area is set to open in Spring 2024, along with other fresh exhibits and sections. Check out more on this thrilling development!

Tickets are available here, and if you're planning frequent visits, memberships are up for grabs. Can't make it in person? No worries – you can still contribute by donating or providing supplies. And if you're a local, explore their volunteer opportunities – speaking from experience, they treat their volunteers amazingly (I can attest, as I am one of them)!. So, if your travels ever bring you to the area, make sure to add CMA to your itinerary. It's not just an aquarium – it's a journey into the beauty of marine life and a chance to be part of something truly special!

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