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I’ve been to the Florida Aquarium a few times before but I never really appreciated it until this year. I recently found out that the Florida Aquarium offered a penguin encounter tour and I knew I had to go back to experience this when Candy was back in town visiting. As I was researching the encounter, I also found that the aquarium offers a behind the scenes tour which I thought would be great to do as well so that we could get the full experience of the aquarium.
You can’t book the Penguin encounter in advance so it’s highly recommended that you buy the tickets right when they open at 9:30 AM; especially on a weekend. I actually tried to go before with some of my friends and when we showed up at 11:30 AM, they were already sold out of the penguin encounter tickets so it’s a popular tour. I definitely wasn’t going to make that mistake again so when Candy was in town, we were at the ticketing booth right when their doors opened on a Saturday.
If you plan to purchase your tickets online, the prices vary. Ticket prices fluctuate based on several factors including weather, day of the week, holidays, local events and attendance patterns. If you want to use any discount codes (we used our AAA discount), you will have to purchase tickets on-site at the ticket office.
We purchased our tickets on-site and our grand total per person was $71.65 (this total reflects the AAA discount).
Pricing Varies by Date
This includes access to all Aquarium exhibits and the outdoor plaza with the Splash Pad and 4-D Theater. Children two and under are free.
Combination Tickets - “Behind the Scenes Tour”
Pricing Varies by Date
When purchasing combination tickets online there are a few available options for purchase: Wild Dolphin Cruise, Behind The Scenes Tour, and Close-Up Critters Tour.
PENGUINS: Backstage Pass
Adult $30 , Child $30, Aquarium Members $25
Tickets for the Penguins Backstage Pass can only be purchased on-site at the ticket office. The backstage pass occurs daily and lasts about 30 minutes and there is a maximum of 14 people per session, so spots are pretty limited.
General Admission Ticket
We’ve been to a handful of aquariums around the world and they are all somewhat similar, so we’ll list the exhibits that we enjoyed the most and that are unique to this particular aquarium.
Panoramic Viewing Window
If you want to get a great shot in front of the large panoramic viewing window, it’s located on the second floor between the Coral Reef and Waves of Wonder exhibit. This area is especially nice when it’s just you and a few other people. You can sit down and really take in the views as it’s mesmerizing and relaxing. You’ll want to get here right when the doors open if you want to soak in the views without anyone standing in your way. We were able to get about 10 minutes alone in here before the wave of people started to make their way in.
We have to say that one of the exhibits we really enjoyed that we haven’t experienced at any other aquarium was the Wetlands Trail. As soon as you walk in, you immediately feel as if you stepped into the middle of Florida’s wildlife. The mangrove forest is spectacular and you get to explore this beautiful habitat both above and below the water. You can even get an up close view of lemurs, geckos, chameleons and beautiful birds. This is also a great way to experience the wetlands with zero humidity and be mosquito-free. When we took the behind-the-scenes private tour, we learned that this amazing exhibit was accomplished by one man and his amazing team. Without this man’s expertise and dedication, this exhibit would not be possible.
We don’t have children but when we saw the Splash Pad, we were pretty amazed that this aquarium had one. It’s essentially a water park for children in the aquarium’s outdoor space that is colorfully laid out. Adults can sit in shaded areas and enjoy some food and drinks while toddlers play. If you are bringing young ones, it might be a good idea to pack some extra clothes and swimwear.
As we were walking around outside, we ran into a staff member, Devan, who was super friendly and showed us the TECO deck that overlooked the city. The deck was shaded with fans and had plenty of tables and chairs. It would have been nice to enjoy our lunch out here on the deck, but it just happened to be closed later that day for a private event. He also told us to check out the rooftop to get even more great views of the city and we did just that.
Penguins: Backstage Pass
This is a special experience and the main reason why we made the visit to this aquarium. It’s a fun and educational 30-minute behind-the-scenes interaction with the cutest African penguins. The tour is quite intimate and is capped at 14 people per session.
Our biologist, Lindsay, explained that the aquarium’s penguins are African penguins so there was no need to blast the air conditioning in their suite. We tend to picture penguins in the snow and in freezing temperatures, but African penguins are birds that live in temperate environments.
There are a total of five penguins at The Florida Aquarium and we got a chance to interact with Pebbles and Cliff. We met Cliff first, who showed off his swimming skills in his little kiddy pool. It was adorable watching him swim in his little pool and we were even allowed to pet Cliff while he was floating around, but a lot of us preferred to just watch Cliff instead.
When it was time to interact with Pebbles, we were quite surprised that we were able to sit next to Pebbles and actually be able to touch her. Lindsay told us that Pebbles is right-handed so that’s why she went closer to Candy on the right side when we took our photo with her. Pebbles is one of their friendliest penguins and if she likes you, she starts to poke you with her beak. It was completely harmless and super cute.
The penguin encounter went by so fast and before we knew it, our time was up. Lindsay was entertaining and answered any questions we had. We wanted to get another shot with Pebbles and Lindsay was kind enough to let us capture one more photo with Pebbles before we exited the room.
Behind The Scenes Tour
Since we’ve been to several aquariums, we thought it would be interesting to see what goes on behind the scenes. Our tour guide told us that usually only 2-4 people sign up for the tour, but but for some reason on the day we went there were about 10 of us.
We learned that The Florida Aquarium is proud to be accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), which apparently is a huge deal as not all zoos and aquariums hold this accreditation. Having this recognition is extremely valuable and obtaining it isn’t easy either. The AZA standards of animal care are held to the highest standards and to prove your commitment the accreditation process must be taken every five years to stay current with the constant changes.
The majority of the tour is outside with portions of it inside. Since we went in May, the outside portion of the tour was pretty brutal as it was in the high 90s (plus humidity). Summer in Florida can start as early as mid-April, so if you take this tour, we suggest avoiding the summer months.
We observed how the water is kept clean and how the staff manage and care for the plants and animals. But the most interesting part on this tour was learning and seeing what the animals get fed. We were taken to the food preparation room and we got to observe and learn how the food was made and portioned each day. It’s crazy how much preparation goes into each of the animals here.
We saw a variety of frozen dead animals like rats, chickens and rabbits. It was crazy to see an entire frozen rabbit even though in our heads we know that this is how these animals would eat in the wild. The rabbits are fed to the pythons and it will usually last them a couple of weeks so they don’t get fed daily. If you don’t like seeing frozen animals, you definitely want to close your eyes and ears for this part. Our guide did warn us and inquired beforehand to make sure none of us had an issue with it.
One thing we were all shocked to learn was that the most expensive animal to feed in the aquarium are seahorses. They don’t eat anything frozen and are very particular about what they eat and will only eat live shrimp. This means buying frozen shrimp and then thawing them out is not an option for these divas. We will never look at a seahorse the same again.
The most shocking thing we learned on this tour was that otters are the meanest animals at the aquarium since they are apex predators. The employees are more scared of them than alligators! In fact, the otters’ biologist won’t even go in the same habitat as them and will feed them through a barrier. Whereas, with alligators, they are fine being in the same habitat. I love otters so this made me a little sad.
We were expecting our visit to last a few hours, but we ended up spending half the day here because there was so much to see and learn. Of course, the penguins were our favorite part but we’re so glad we did the behind-the-scenes tour as well because it made us appreciate the aquarium for all its hard work and dedication.
If we could have come at another time, we definitely would have picked a cooler season. The behind-the-scenes tour was especially hot when we were outdoors and it also would have been nice to eat our lunch outdoors and enjoy the views, but the humidity and heat was a bit too much for us. Other than the heat, the aquarium exhibits and the tours were fantastic.
Pack some extra clothes and swimwear if you plan on playing in the Splash Pad.
The Behind the Scenes tour is mainly outdoors, so it’s best to avoid this tour in the summer.
Arrive early to purchase the Penguin Backstage Pass tickets. They cannot be purchased online.
There is a cafe, but if you want to save some money you can bring your own drinks and snacks.