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The 5 Best Aquariums in Tampa, Orlando, + Central Florida

Aquarium Near You

Here in Florida we are surrounded by water and a huge variety of animals that live in the ocean. Dolphins, sharks, sea stars, rays, fish, lobster, jellyfish, crustaceans – you could spend days learning about all of the marine life native to Florida!

Central Florida is home to multiple aquariums and animal rescue hospitals where you can spend your day watching sea life and maybe even learn a thing or two. Plus many of them have exhibits with species that are not native to Florida so you can see animals from around the world.

If you’re looking to have a truly unique aquarium experience or maybe want to celebrate a birthday or special occasion, aquariums offer unique add-on experiences we’ve highlighted below – behind-the-scenes tours, dolphin encounters, animal feeding, boat tours, and more.

Each of these aquariums has something unique to offer. We polled local moms and here are the results:
Biggest Aquarium: The Florida Aquarium
Best Rescue and Rehab Center: Clearwater Marine Aquarium
Best aquarium in Florida to pair with a beach day: Mote Aquarium or CMA
Best option to see ocean animals in the wild: Manatee Viewing Center {or on a Clear Kayak Tour}
Aquarium with other attractions nearby: Sea Life Orlando

If you prefer your animals on dry land, we also have info on Safaris and Zoos in Central Florida, and Central Florida Petting Zoos and Farms.

Florida Aquarium  

Get up close and personal with many of Florida’s aquatic animals at the Florida Aquarium. A visit to this Tampa Aquarium takes you on a journey starting with a drop of water from one of Florida’s many freshwater springs, all the way out to the open waters of the Florida Keys. The Florida Aquarium is the biggest {and often called the best} aquarium in Central Florida.

As you explore a variety of habitats, you’ll see wetlands, coral reefs, bays and beaches, and marine life including sharks, sting rays, jellyfish, starfish, eels, lobster, nurse sharks, salt water fish, fresh water fish, and more. The Journey to Madagascar includes lemurs, chameleons, geckos and a colorful Indian Ocean reef. Don’t miss the opportunity to touch the slippery wing tip of a cownose ray Stingray Beach, and take a towel so you can play at the splash pad.
🐠 Included with Admission: Huge variety of marine life and animal habitat displays, Sensory Touch Exhibits (moon jellies, sting rays, no bone zone), Outdoor Splash Pad, Multi-sensory 4D Theater
🐠 Unique Add-On Experiences: Wild Dolphin Boat Cruise
🐠 Travel Tips: The Florida Aquarium is almost entirely indoors except the splash pad. Located in Downtown Tampa, nearby activities include shops and restaurants at Sparkman Wharf, and the Tampa Bay History Center and Tampa Riverwalk are a short walk away.
🐠 Florida Aquarium Website | 701 Channelside Drive, Tampa, FL 33602

Clearwater Aquarium      

Rescue, rehabilitation and release is the focus at Clearwater Marine Aquarium, and you can see dolphins, turtles, sea otters, pelicans, sharks, stingrays, and other marine animals who are being rehabilitated or are unable to safely return to the wild. Make a day of it and sign up for a Boat Tour or hands-on Animal Encounters.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium was made famous by the movie Dolphin’s Tale starring Winter the Dolphin. Although Winter passed away in November 2021, her legacy will continue to inspire guests at CMA.
🐠 Included with Admission: Live marine life exhibits including underwater and above deck viewing areas; Educational Presentations throughout the day on turtles, sharks, dolphins, otters, and more; Stingray Feeding presentations; Rescue Town play area; Dolphin Tale Movie Exhibits
🐠 Unique Add-On Experiences: Virtual Reality Experience, VIP Poolside Dolphin Experience, Dolphin and Wildlife Boat Guided Tour, Sea Life Safari Boat Tour, Behind the Scenes Aquarium Tour
🐠 Travel Tips: CMA is all indoors or in covered pavilions. CMA is located just 1 mile from Clearwater Beach, which means traffic can sometimes be backed up on gorgeous beach days and weekends. You can also find other fun things to do in Clearwater and make a day of it!
🐠 Clearwater Marine Aquarium Website | 249 Windward Passage, Clearwater, FL 33767

Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium           

Enjoy a window into the ocean at Mote Aquarium, featuring more than 100 species of marine animals. At Mote you can see working laboratories where real scientific research happens in a marine science center. Exhibits at Mote include a 135,000-gallon shark habitat with underwater viewing windows (be sure to go up the stairs to see it from the top), resident manatees and sea turtles, and exhibits with live marine life including diverse fish, jellyfish, crustaceans, horseshoe crabs, coral reefs, and more.

Mote’s exhibits are located in two separate buildings – the main Mote Aquarium (sharks, fish, touch tank) and the Marine Mammal Research and Rehabilitation Center (sea turtles, mammals, special exhibits).  
🐠 Included with Admission: All exhibits in the Mote Aquarium and Marine Mammal Research and Rehabilitation Center.
🐠 Unique Add-On Experiences: Fossil Creek Shark Tooth Mining, Eco Boat Tours, Choose Your Adventure Behind the Scenes Tours, special events including Dip Netting, Kayaking, Camps, and Breakfast with the Sharks.
🐠 Travel Tips: Mote has both indoor and outdoor exhibits. Make a day of it and walk across the street for lunch at the Old Salty Dog (famous for their beer batter fried hot dog), stroll around the shops at nearby St. Armond’s Circle, or hit the beach at Lido Key.
🐠 Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium Website | 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, FL 34236

SeaLife Orlando Aquarium

SeaLife Aquarium offers you the chance to get an up close view of sharks, stingrays, sea turtles and more. Your kids can pet a starfish or anemone in the Coastal Rockpool at SeaLife Orlando. Catch an interactive dive show, sea talk, or feeding time. Walk through the 360° Ocean Tunnel and be surrounded by sea life on all sides. SeaLife is more of a “tourist” aquarium and is 100% indoors, but it has great exhibits and is right on I-Drive with other fun things to do in Orlando.
🐠 Included with Admission: All exhibits, Touchpool, 360° Ocean Tunnel, Educational Talks & Feeding Demonstrations
🐠 Unique Add-On Experiences: Virtual Reality Theater, Behind the Scenes Tour
🐠 Travel Tips: Located at ICON Park on International Drive, you can also visit Madame Tussaud’s or ride the giant wheel at ICON Park. All of SeaLife Aquarium is indoors, much of it is dark.
🐠 SeaLife Orlando Website | 8449 International Drive, Orlando, FL 32819

Manatee Viewing Center 

Between November – April, you can see Florida Manatees at the Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach. When Tampa Bay reaches 68 degrees or colder, the mammals seek out the warm water discharge from the Big Bend Power Station, and you can get a close up view from the Tidal Walk 900-foot, ADA-compliant walkway. While at the Manatee Viewing Center you can also enjoy a 1 mile stroll through butterfly gardens and Florida-friendly landscaping, plus a great view from the top of the observation tower.

Inside the center you’ll find displays, interactive exhibits and more to learn about the life cycle of the manatee and the challenges it faces. Don’t miss the Sea Turtle Rescue Center, and the rays touch tank, which is the off-season home of the actual mascots of Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays!
🐠 Included with Admission: Admission and parking are free to all who visit
🐠 Travel Tips: These are manatees living in the wild and thus you may or may not see manatees when you visit, especially in March/April once the waters of Tampa Bay start warming up.
🐠 Learn More: The MVC is open seasonally from November – April, check the website for updates. Located at 6990 Dickman Rd., Apollo Beach, FL 33572

Tarpon Springs Aquarium

The Tarpon Springs Aquarium is family-owned and operated, and offers a hands-on experience with Florida wildlife and marine animals. You can see gators, tarpon, turtles, snakes, and even pet rays and sharks. Shows include a reptile encounter, alligator show, and scuba diver show. A local mom told us the aquarium is smaller than others but has a lot of opportunities to touch and feed animals.

🐠 Included with Admission: All shows, exhibits, and opportunities to pet and feed animals
🐠 Tarpon Springs Aquarium | 1722 North Pinellas Ave., Tarpon Springs, FL 34689

Other Aquariums in Florida

One of the best places to see marine life, dolphin shows, aquariums, African penguins, and all things sea life is Sea World Florida!

There are also other amazing aquariums in Florida that are too far for a day trip from Lakeland, but definitely worthy of a spot on your vacation list:

Another great way to learn about marine life and see ocean animals in their natural habitat is through a guided canoe or kayak tour, or for a truly unique experience book a tour in a completely clear kayak.

Map – Find an Aquarium Near Me

Travel + Day Trips

Check out our Travel + Day Trips Guide for more articles on travel with kids, day trip ideas, places to go in Central Florida, and more.