My kids love animals so when we planned our family trip to the Florida Keys we decided to make a stop at the Theater of the Sea in Islamorada. In our travels we have been to many aquariums and parks where we’ve had the opportunity to see countless animal shows so I was not expecting anything special this time around. What we found was a real gem: beautiful landscaping, a small park with a really personal feel to it, fun, engaging and well organized animal shows in small sized outdoor theaters where every single seat was gave you a great view of the the animals and so many opportunities to get up close and personal to sea creatures from sea lions and dolphins to sea turtles and even nurse sharks.
From the moment we walked in I just fell in love with the landscaping: lush vegetation filled with bright colored orchids lines the walkways. It almost feels like you are strolling along some wild tropical jungle, discovering exotic flowers and natural looking fountains and ponds along the way.
The Theater of the Sea is smaller than most aquariums or theme parks we’ve been to which not only gives it a very personal feel but also lets you walk through the park without getting tired and you can see everything there is to see in 3 or 4 hours. The experience is so different to going to one of those large and modern theme parks where everything seems impersonal and the animals are placed in concrete and glass enclosures. At Theater of the Sea the enclosures really feel like they are part of the the landscape. You stroll along the turtle lagoon where the sea turtles swim just feet away from you without any visual or physical barriers and past bright colored parrots on their perches surrounded by the exuberant vegetation .
The dolphins enclosure looks like a natural lagoon and the 30 minute dolphin show is truly fantastic. Sitting in the front row you feel like you can could almost reach out and touch the beautiful sea mammals as they spring up into the air. Both the trainers and the dolphins look like they are really having fun and you can see that the staff truly loves what they do. There are a couple of moments during the show where the whole audience gasps and cheers as the dolphins and the trainers fly up into the air. There are no fancy constumes or props so you can really focus on what the dolphins are doing and see their bond with the trainer and I found this to be so much more exciting and beautiful than some productions we’ve seen where the theatricals steal the show from the animals. At Theater of the Sea the light shines on the dolphins.
Besides the dolphin show there is also a sea lion show and a parrot show. During both he dolphin show and the sea lion show members of the audience are chosen to interact with the animals and since the theaters are small and quite a few get chosen the chances of getting picked are really high. Both of my kids got to shake hands, or rather flippers, with the sea lion and they where thrilled!
All the shows run continuously so you just go to the show that is starting when you arrive and from that it’s an easy flow to the rest of the shows that all happen back to back. That means that you can see all of the shows, go on the guided marine life tour and on the bottomless boat ride & natura walk in less than 4 hours, no matter why time of the day you arrive. I thought that this was an awesome idea as we just went from one show to the next, all of them close by.
There are so many animal interaction programs at Theater of the Sea that it’s hard to choose just one: you can swim, meet or paint with dolphins or sea lions, meet the sea turtle or swim with rays or sharks. My son loves sharks so we decided to do a shark encounter program; Theater of the Sea is the first place we have been to that provides the opportunity to interact with sharks. My son got to swim with a group of nurse sharks; these animals are completely safe, eating only dead fish and other dead critters from the bottom of the ocean and they are harmless to humans. He had an amazing time, learned so much about his favorite animal and got a renewed appreciation for those interesting fish. I have never seen my son so excited and after the experience he declared it had been the best day of his life! How can you top that?!
One of my favorite experiences at Theater of the Sea was swimming and feeding the parrot fish. Most of the animal encounter programs have an additional fee, but you can swim in a lagoon filled with huge and colorful parrot fish and if you really want to get up close and personal you can get food from a nearby machine for only a quarter and feed them.
We spent four days island hopping in the Florida Keys and the day we spent at Theater of the Sea was the highlight of our trip. I know that my son will never forget the day he swam with sharks, as a matter of fact he has not stopped taking about it and it has been a couple of weeks since our trip. If you are headed to the Florida Keys with kids, or without, a stop at the Theater of the Sea is a must!
If you go: Theater of the Sea is located in Islamorada on MM 84.5. Admission is $21.95 for ages 3-10 and $31.95 for ages 11 and over and animal encounters (except for swimming with the parrot fish) have an additional fee that ranges from $65 for swimming with the rays up to $195 for the swimming with the dolphins. For more information and to find out about discounted tickets, including free tickets for active military, visit the Theater of the Sea website and like the Theater of the Sea’s Facebook page to stay up to date with special events and discounts.
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