Anyone who knows our family, knows that we don't vacation like most people vacation. We don't usually have an itinerary planned out weeks in advance, in fact, we typically don't even know we're going out of town until a week or two before we're on the road. I don't know if it's the fact that we love the adventure of the unknown, or (more likely) we're a family of major procrastinators. Either way, we've come to really enjoy this haphazard style of travel because it's allowed us to discover some fun places we would've likely not planned for, otherwise.
Our most recent discovery was a place called Marineland Dolphin Adventure in St. Augustine, Florida. We were staying in Daytona and 4 days into our trip the kids were already “bored” of the beach.
So, I got on my phone and started searching for places nearby that all three of my children (ages 16, 13 & 6) would enjoy. This is NOT an easy task these days because of the difference in ages. As a homeschooling family, we're always looking to sneak in an educational opportunity when we can. I pulled up the Marineland website and knew immediately that this was where we needed to go!
Marineland Dolphin Adventure was founded to foster the preservation and protection of marine life. Our mission is to utilize interactive education, enhanced by on-site research, to inspire visitors to value and respect marine mammals and their environment. Our Encounter programs offer a unique way for people to interact with our incredible bottlenose dolphins, and form a connection that will last a lifetime.
Marineland offers several different packages, with varying price points, to help you find the right experience for your interest and budget. We opted to not get in the tank and swim with the dolphins on our visit, but that is definitely something we would like to go back to do. We chose the Touch & Feed program, as well as the Behind the Seas Tour for our visit and we were not disappointed!
When you first arrive to Marineland you'll enter the gift shop and registration counter. The gift shop is filled with all the usual suspects – stuffed animals, toys, t-shirts and other trinkets. The staff were all very friendly and got us ready for our first program in under 5 minutes. With our wristbands on, we took a short walk along the beautiful shoreline to get to the dolphin tanks. After a quick hand wash for the dolphin's safety, we were lead through the gates to the first dolphin tank. There was a family there having an absolute blast with the Dolphin Designs program.
This interactive program combines your passion for dolphins with your passion for art! Participants will choose up to three colors for the dolphin to paint on a canvas that the participant holds over the water. Once the painting is complete, you'll have the opportunity to interact with the dolphin artist. Getting this close to the aquatic artists means there's a chance you might get wet, so swimwear is advised! Advance reservations are highly recommended. Due to demand, spaces may not be available on a walk-in basis.
As we walked through, our program guide was very knowledgeable and friendly. She took lots of time answering questions that people had and she was excellent with the children in our group. Once all the questions had been asked and we had been briefed on what to do, each family in our group got to have their own personal time with the dolphins. We walked to the edge of the tank, knelt down and to our absolute delight the dolphins swam right up to us and gave us a little hello squeal! The look on my 6 year old daughter's face was enough to make me melt, but what really did it? What was the moment I knew we had made the right decision to visit Marineland? Looking over and seeing my 16 and 13 year old boys' faces filled with the same excitement and glee as my 6 year old's! If you have teenagers…you'll know what a big deal this is.
We were each given a fish to feed to the dolphins, which they gobbled right up. Then the trainer had one of the dolphins roll on it's side so we could pet it, and let us hold it's tail. At the end of our program, we were asked if we wanted the wet goodbye or the dry goodbye. Of course we picked the wet goodbye! We were told which motion to do with our hands, which was a signal to the dolphin to “wave” goodbye to us. The wave made lots of real waves in the water, and we all had a big laugh as the dolphin splashed us with his fins. It was adorable!
The next thing we did was the Behind the Seas Tour. During this tour we got to go inside the main building where they have a walk-through museum set up as well as several tanks for quarantining new marine animals that have been brought into the facility. Our tour guide gave us lots of information on the history of Marineland, which was really fascinating! We had no idea that they first opened in 1938 as Marine Studios, a place for filmmakers to shoot underwater footage of marine life in a controlled environment. Learning about how the facility evolved over the decades, making the decision to focus their attention on marine research and education, was really interesting. The best part of the tour for our kids was the fact that they got to see the dolphins swimming underwater thanks to windows built into the tanks that you can look through from the museum!
Included with your program purchase is access to Neptune Park. In this area you can see a huge sea turtle, sand tiger sharks and more! We were so excited about seeing the dolphins that we almost missed this area entirely! I was thankful we saw it before we left so we could look around. The sea turtle was beautiful!
If you're planning a trip to Northeast Florida, be sure to make Marineland part of your visit. Don't be like me and wait until the last minute to finalize your plans! We went in early April, well before the busy summer season. It's not uncommon for Marineland to get pretty booked up during the summer, so you might not want to chance it and find there's no availability on the day you arrive.
Tips for your visit:
- You're going to be in Florida, in the summertime, which means it is going to be HOT! The program tanks are all outside, and there is no shade. Be sure to put on sunscreen before arriving!
- If you're doing any of the hands-on programs, you will be asked to remove any jewelry. They do have free lockers for you to stow away your things before your program starts.
- Cameras and phones are not permitted during your dolphin encounter. This is to ensure the safety of the dolphins, because of the risk of something falling into the tanks. Your program guide will direct you to the lockers to hold your items until your program is over.
- There are photographers on-site that take photos of you and your family during your Marineland experience. These photos are available for purchase in the gift shop after your program. I almost never buy photos like this, but I totally did this time because the photo came out awesome! It's going in a frame!
- If a member of your group has special needs, they ask that you call ahead of time so they can work with you on the best way to accommodate your group. They strive for everyone to have a fun experience!
Family Fun Facts
Visit their website: www.marineland.net
Address: 9600 Oceanshore Blvd., St. Augustine, FL 32080 (Map)
Phone: (904) 471-1111
Hours of Operation: Open 365 days a year! Hours can vary by day due to weather conditions, etc.
Admission: Prices vary by program selection. See website for more info.
Ages: Best for ages 3+