In Florida, water abounds, but we can't always see what lives beneath the surface. Luckily, the Sunshine State is home to amazing aquariums where all things marine are on show. Whether you get your kicks watching animals in a near-natural state, or putting on a live show (with music), you'll find it all here. We've also found a few great discounts, and some insider tips.
The Florida Aquarium
701 Channelside Drive, Tampa
So the adrenaline rush of driving on I-75 isn't enough for you anymore, what do you do now? Why not dive with sharks? The Dive with the Sharks program seeks to stop discrimination against the misunderstood creatures. Certified divers can enter the tank for a 90-minute experience they will never forget.
If diving with sharks isn't your speed, maybe you would like to learn about the diverse water habitats of Florida. The Aquarium covers the water from wetlands to the sea, showcasing the diverse plants and animals that call Florida home. You can visit the Everglades, without hosing down with a can of OFF, or go out to sea without Dramamine.
SeaWorld Drive (off of I-4, exit 71) Orlando
Have you ever thought of camping out with a Polar Bear? It's not exactly what you think of when you are planning a trip to an aquarium, but SeaWorld, is a little different.
It's an adventure park, so you won't just look at the fish in tanks, you will touch them, feed them, even camp out with them if you want (they offer sleepovers in different areas of the park).
SeaWorld may be the only place where you need to pack your bathing suit and your earmuffs. It actually snows in the Penguin Encounter where more than 200 of the black and white birds waddle through the ice.
There are also the shows, dolphins dance and whales spin, while visitors get soaked, but have a great time watching the animals and their trainers.
There is so much to do, that it would be wise to check online before you go and plan out your adventure. At www.seaworld.com visitors can go far beyond purchasing tickets. Check out deals for seniors and Florida residents plan every step with an interactive map, and even choose where you want to eat. Through Dec. 31, Florida residents can "pay for a day, come back all year."
Mote Marine Aquarium
1600 Ken Thompson Parkway Sarasota
Sure most aquariums are dedicated to teaching, but at Mote, they are obsessed with it. To them SEA means science, education and aquarium. The research organization began with a focus on sharks and has grown into a leader in marine science. They stress the importance of bringing sea science to the general public. This led to their aquarium as well as many other programs such as Mote Mobile — a "to go" aquarium experience that is taken to special events.
At the aquarium, visitors are able to touch rays, and dip their hands into pools of sea stars, urchins and crabs. Others may choose to stare in wonder at Molly the Mollusk, a 27-foot-long preserved giant squid — the only of her kind on display in the United States.
Visit a coral reef, listen to a scientific lecture, or take a gander at a Goliath grouper. Whatever you choose to do at Mote, you will walk away with a better understanding of the Marine world.
4400 Rickenbacker Causeway Key Biscayne
Most of us have seen dolphins swimming in the wake of a boat, or just off a dock, but few have ever been able to get close to them. At Miami Seaquarium visitors can get into the water in the Swim with Our Dolphins program. During the 2-hour program, participants not only learn about the behavior, physiology and history of the lovable, intelligent, mammals, but also touch and interact with them. At the end they grab a fin and allow the dolphin to pull them around the tank. Participant fee is $149, unless you have an annual pass, then it is $124.
You can still enjoy the dolphins even if you don't want to slip into their habitat by watching The Flipper Dolphin Show or the Killer Whale and Dolphin show.
If you crave color then check out the 27 tanks of tropical fish, corals and anemones or visit the Tropical Wings which features rainforest birds and reptiles.
The Seaquarium has been closed in the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma, but reopened Feb. 11 with a new look and new shows. Through the end of February, they are offering a free annual pass to those who purchase a full-price, regular admission ($26.95).
Other Florida Aquariums
• Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Clearwater; www.cmaquarium.org
• Marine Land, St. Augustine; www.marineland.net
• Key West Aquarium, Key West; www.keywestaquarium.com
• Florida's Gulfarium, Fort Walton Beach; www.gulfarium.com
• Dolphin's Plus, Key Largo; www.dolphinsplus.com