The “winter season” in Florida is drawing to a close and many “snow birds” are packing up and leaving the state. The weather has been wonderful with sunny days that usually produced daytime highs in the 70s or 80s. We said goodbye to our spot in the Florida Escapees campground in Wauchula and have started to head north. Before we left though, we wanted to make another trip to Tampa to see our daughter, to celebrate David’s birthday, and to visit a few more fun places in the Tampa / St. Petersburg area.
Since we arrived in Florida last October, we have wanted to go to the Florida Aquarium in downtown Tampa. We have been to other aquariums throughout the country (Baltimore, MD; Atlanta, GA; Monterrey, CA) and really enjoyed the experience each time.
The Florida Aquarium is one of the top ten aquariums in the U.S. The 250,000 square foot facility houses more than 7,000 plants and animals not only from Florida but from all over the world too. In this multi-level building, there are numerous exhibits to explore.
There is a Wetlands area featuring fresh-water alligators, otters, pelicans, gar, roseate spoonbills, etc. and a Bays and Beaches area with turtles, eels, lobsters, etc.
The Dragons Down Under and the Coral Reef exhibits showcase seahorses, stingrays, barracudas, sharks, and more.
You can also see sea stars, sea urchins, anemones, moon jellies, octopus, shrimp and others in the No Bones and Waves of Wonder sections of the aquarium. Another interesting exhibit features animals and fish from Madagascar. We particularly liked the lemurs and the geckos.
The Florida Aquarium is a multi-sensory experience. On the upper level, you can watch, hear, and smell the animals as they move around freely in a large glass atrium that simulates the Florida wetlands. On the lower level, there is a large viewing area where you can watch the sea life moving around in their enormous tanks. In addition, there are several shallow pools where you can touch stingrays and other marine life.
We also were able to touch the tail of a small alligator. We expected it to be hard and scaly but it was actually very smooth. That was a unique experience.
There were many families and lots of children there that day. It was exciting to watch their reactions to seeing all the animals. The Aquarium has many “kid friendly” activities including a “Splash Pad” where you can don your bathing suit and play in the water features. That area was very popular with the children.
If you decide to go to the aquarium, we suggest that you purchase your tickets online prior to arriving to avoid the long lines.
We had a great time at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa and relaxed afterwards at the nearby waterfront Sparkman Wharf. This area of restaurants, bars, and shops was teeming with locals enjoying the warm weather. The playoff-bound Tampa Bay Lighting hockey team was playing that evening and the wharf was full of fans with their “Bolts” gear, before going to the Amalie Arena.
The Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida was another fascinating place that we visited. This Museum has the largest collection of Salvador Dalí’s artwork outside of Europe. Salvador Dalí, a 20th century Spanish artist, is perhaps best known for his painting called “The Persistence of Memory.”
Reynolds and Eleanor Morse began collecting Dalí’s paintings in 1943. For forty years, they were his patrons and amassed a large collection of his artistic production. Originally, the Morse family displayed these works in a museum that they opened in Ohio. After some years, they decided that the collection needed a permanent home. They decided to move the collection to St. Petersburg and opened the a museum there in 1982. In 2011, the Dalí Museum was installed in a new storm-secure building on the waterfront. This new building is a beautiful structure that was designed by Yann Weymouth. It has a large glass entryway called “The Enigma.” It is 75 feet tall and contains a spiral staircase. The Museum’s architectural features are very modern and complement the Dalí Museum’s art collection.
The exhibits of Salvador Dalí’s art are extraordinary. The Museum’s collection includes over 100 watercolors, 96 oil paintings, 1,300 graphics as well as photographs and sculptures. The Museum is not able to display all of these so the artwork is rotated periodically. When we were there, there was a temporary exhibit that compared and contrasted the paintings of René Magritte and Salvador Dalí, who were contemporaries. Both of these surrealist painters challenged reality through their own alternative views of the world.
A tour guide led us through some of the permanent exhibit of Salvador Dalí’s work. We found the tour to be very educational. The Museum has 7 of the 18 of Dali’s “masterwork” paintings. To be a “masterwork,” the painting must measure at least five feet and have taken the artist at least one year to paint. We got to view several of them: “The Discover of America by Christopher Columbus,” The Hallocinogenic Toreador,” “Old Age, Adolescence, Infancy (The Three Ages),” and “Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea which at 20 Meters becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln – Homage to Rothko” along with many others. The size, scale, and artistry of these “masterwork” paintings were amazing.
After seeing the exhibits, we enjoyed some coffee at the Café Gala that serves Spanish food. There is a Museum store on the lower level as well.
The Dalí Museum is awesome and a “must see” in St. Petersburg.
The Tampa Bay area is a vibrant, active, and diverse community that is enhanced by its great winter weather, outside dining, strolls along the bay, and beautiful sunsets. It is easy to see why so many people migrate this way each snow bird season.