Central Florida is known for its many attractions, but some of the greatest memories you share are when your family can get a little closer to the wonder of nature. The theme parks, aquariums and zoos around Orlando and surrounding areas offer some unique experiences you won't find anywhere else. From swimming with a dolphin to hanging out with an otter, there's no end to the fun you'll have. Here are the top 5 places to encounter sea life in Central Florida.
Some of the best experiences you can have with sea life in Orlando happen at Discovery Cove. This all-inclusive park not only features the magical opportunity to swim with a dolphin, but you can also snorkel with large gentle rays and thousands of fish, get up close to sharks and much more. One of the highlights of the park is the Freshwater Oasis. Here you can swim right up to animal exhibits where you can come face to face with playful otters and curious marmosets, all while staying in the water! Another great feature is the aviary, filled with colorful birds, that allows you to float right on through in the lazy river. It's a great way to connect with nature while also relaxing on vacation.
Sea Life Orlando Aquarium
Located at the ICON Orlando 360 entertainment complex, this unique aquarium features Florida's only 360 degree tunnel. You can watch fish, sharks, turtles and eels swim above, beneath and all around you! At the Coastal Rockpool, kids of all ages can actually touch and hold a variety of sea creatures including a sea anemone, starfish or crab. Sea Life Orlando also offers special behind-the-scenes tours, where you can learn how they care for their more than 5,000 creatures. You can help them prepare food for some of the animals, and even feed them yourself with the special Ocean Habitat Feeding experience.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium
This aquarium is the only place in the whole world where you can see Winter and Hope, the stars of the Dolphin Tale movies. The films were shot on location at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, and you can see real filming locations and sets that have been preserved since filming, in addition to meeting the dolphin stars of the films themselves. They specialize in rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing animals here, so you never know what sea life you may encounter during your visit. In addition to Winter and Hope, there are a few other permanent residents, including some playful pelicans, sea turtles and the most adorable bunch of sea otters you will ever see!
The largest marine park in Florida, SeaWorld Orlando allows you to not only see a wide variety of animals in massive exhibits, like sea lions and seals at Pacific Point Preserve, but also get close to, and even touch, various animals throughout the park. At Stingray Lagoon, you can reach your hand into the water and feel the velvety back of a stingray as it swims buy. Plus, you can purchase a basket of fish and feed these majestic creatures. Elsewhere in the park, you can encounter and feed sharks, seals and more! Special tour experiences allow you to get even closer to wildlife, including a penguin encounter where you can go behind the scenes and meet these aquatic birds yourself.
The Florida Aquarium
Experience impressive recreated ecosystems like a large simulated wetlands environment, and see animals how they would appear in nature. You can see sharks, eels, sea horses and sea dragons and even alligators in the many exhibits. If you're brave enough, they offer diving tours where you can snorkel with sharks, sea turtles and Florida native fish. Plus, not only can you get up close to aquatic animals, but The Florida Aquarium also includes exhibits featuring many land animals and dry ecosystems as well. Be sure to check out the ring-tailed lemurs of Madagascar – they’re always a big hit with kids!