During our stay at The Island in Fort Walton Beach, the Director of Sales provided us with tickets to the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park. Conveniently located in Fort Walton Beach, the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park is dedicated to educating, entertaining, and inspiring our guests to respect and preserve wildlife by providing unique and memorable experiences for visitors of all ages to connect with marine life. It is a popular attraction for visitors in Fort Walton Beach, Destin and the surrounding areas, and for good reason! I did not feel our trip would be complete without experiencing the outdoor aquarium, so we arrived 54 minutes before opening and secured an excellent parking spot.
The aquarium opens at 9 am, but the doors to the Dolphin Pavilion open about 30 minutes prior so you can watch the dolphins swim and play in their large tank. The staff were very friendly and let us in about 15 minutes early. We had passes, so it was an easy check in process. We were through the gates in no time and off to check out the sea life.
My first thought was WOW! The Gulfarium is situated right on the beach, and from almost all of the exhibits you have a beautiful view of the white sandy beaches and beautiful blue water of the Gulf.
Our first stop was Seal Harbor, where my small daughter could see the sea lions through a glass tank right at her eye level. While we were watching the sea lions we could see the edge of the beach, with sand buckets and shovels for the children visiting the Gulfarium. My daughter did not waste a minute in kicking off her shoes and running to play in the sand. After a few minutes of sand play we were off to see the rest of the exhibits.
Our next stop was the Penguin Preserve. I was surprised to find them is the open air considering how warm it was. When I read the exhibit information placard I learned that these particular penguins could tolerate a warm climate. Good to know!
Next we were off to the Shark Moat, where the sharks are housed in an open air aquarium with a safe view of the swimming sharks. My daughter was fascinated–she had never seen a shark this close up before! We stopped at the Otter Den two watch two of the otters playing together on their dock. We were just in time to watch “OtterTalk” a discussion of the behavior and habitat of the otter. While the talk was very interesting, my restless toddler was ready to move on. So off we went to the Tide Pool.
The Tide Pool gives children with inquisitive minds the opportunity to get their hands wet and touch the many different creatures that inhabit tide pools. My daughter was able to hold a variety of sea creatures, including hermit crabs, starfish and sea urchins. The starfish were by far her favorite. When we were on Jeckyll Island we learned the hard way that hermit crabs do have pinchers and are not afraid to use them. My daughter was insistent on picking up all types of shells without knowing what was in them. We pick up a few that even made me jump. Then we saw the largest hermit crab I had ever seen–it was bigger than my fist! I was definitely not picking that up!
It took some convincing to get my daughter to move on from the Tide Pool, but the dolphin show did the trick. We walked up the stairs to the Dolphin Pavilion, where we watched the dolphins swim and jump in the air to do flips. Another child about my daughter’s age was chosen to go with the trainer to interact with one of the dolphins. We had a great view of the show and my daughter was mesmerized by the tricks they were performing.
After the dolphin show it was time to head down the stairs to the gift shop for a small memento of our visit, then off for one last trip to the beach for a swim and some sand fun.
Photo credit: EMERALD COAST CONVENTION & VISITORS BUREAU