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Family Fun Destination: Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Thank you Clearwater Marine Aquarium for hosting our visit!

If you’ve watched the Dolphin Tale movies, you know what Clearwater Marine Aquarium is. Our kids love Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2. They’ve probably watched each one over a dozen times! They are heartwarming movies based on the true story of Winter, and later Hope, who are two lovable bottlenose dolphins that were rescued and sent to the great folks at Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) for rehabilitation.

Dolphin Tale 2Dolphin TaleThe story of Winter is extra special, because of the trauma that was inflicted upon her when she was very young. In the wild she became entangled in a rope from a crab trap, which cut off circulation to her tail. The damage to her tail was too severe and eventually she lost it; the loss of circulation literally caused her tail to disintegrate. As you can imagine, swimming without a tail is difficult as she has to move side-to-side instead of up-and-down.

A team of experts spent many months designing and building a prosthetic tail to help her swim normally. Winter became a beacon of perseverance, hope and inspiration that eventually attracted the attention of Hollywood, and thus Dolphin Tale the movie was born. Later, Hope was rescued and sent to CMA, which inspired a Dolphin Tale sequel… in fact it is the first ever sequel to a true story.

At the end of Dolphin Tale, there’s a caption that says Winter can be seen at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida. From the first time we saw that, we have wanted to visit her! Well, finally the opportunity came recently for us to vacation in Florida, and visiting Winter and Hope was among the top to-do’s on our list.

There are actually two facilities that you can visit; one is the Clearwater Marine Aquarium that houses Winter, Hope and other marine animals… the other is Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure. This facility takes you inside the Dolphin Tale movies! It is packed full of large movie images, rebuilt scenes, and actual props from the movies that were donated by the production company. There’s also fun play areas for the kids, a large theater area with seating, and a gift shop full of Winter must-haves. Probably the most touching exhibit is Winter’s Gallery of Hope, which is shown at the top of this article. As you can see, it displays dozens of letters, pictures and testimonials from people all over the world who have been inspired by Winter.

Dolphin Tale
Just one of the many exhibits at Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure.

The CMA and Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure are in two different buildings that are about 1/2 a mile apart. What was recommended to us by CMA is to park at Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure, then hop on a ferry or trolley on over to CMA. Either means of transportation is complimentary! Parking is also free. Plus, admission to Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure is free with your paid admission to CMA! It’s a fantastic deal if you ask me.

Here’s what our little Dolphin Tale experience comprised of, to which I enthusiastically recommend to anyone:

1. Watch both movies and any documentaries first! I couldn’t imagine visiting Winter, Hope and their friends without knowing their backstories. Hollywood added its own fun twist to the story, so be sure to watch the documentaries! SeeWinter.com and the official Clearwater Marine Aquarium channel on Youtube are the best places to learn the complete story.

2. Visit Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure first. Park there, enjoy the exhibit, then take the ferry over to CMA. Both the ferry and the trolley travel back and forth between the two places several times a day. The friendly staff will give direction when it comes time for transportation.

3. Visit the Clearwater Marine Aquarium! This is where it all started. Now that you have watched the movies and documentaries and experienced the Adventure exhibit, your visit to CMA should feel enhanced and perhaps surreal.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium
One of several Clearwater Marine Aquarium ferries.

My experience at CMA was as good as I hoped it would be. It was very evident to me that these folks care deeply about these animals. Winter and Hope receive constant personal attention and companionship. I watched with delight as one of the caregivers gave Hope a very loud cheer of encouragement. I also saw Ricky (You know him as Roofus in the Dolphin Tale movies) being cradled tenderly for quite a while by another caregiver. Throughout the visit, I witnessed an amazing interaction between human and animal that I’ve never seen before.

Below are videos I took of therapy/training sessions with Winter.

But Winter and Hope are not the only residents. CMA is a very active rescue center with a mission of rescue-rehab-release. Winter and Hope will never be released back into the wild; Winter’s reason is obvious… her injury prevents her from any hope of survival in the wild. Hope was rescued when she was extremely young, and therefore didn’t receive from her mother the essential life skills necessary for survival. But other animals such as sea turtles and otters receive the same life-saving care, with the ultimate goal of a release back into the wild.

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium and Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure are family fun destinations that your family will love. We were there for several hours yet didn’t come close to taking in everything there was to experience. We definitely plan to visit again! Head on over to our Facebook page to look at an album that contains some of the pictures we took of our visit!

Here are some essential links:

Official Clearwater Marine Aquarium website

Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure

The official Clearwater Marine Aquarium channel on Youtube

I am a husband and father of four wonderful kids. I love the outdoors, home projects, and doing fun things with my family! The DIY Daddy blog is DIY living from a dad perspective.