When I say “Florida,” what is the first thing that comes to mind?
A naked man laying on a stranger’s couch?
Alligators in the pool?
Zombies walking the streets eating peoples’ faces?
Born and raised in Florida, I’ve heard all the “crazy Florida man” stories.
Contrary to popular belief, we typically don’t have gators wondering the streets and everyone in the state doesn’t end up in the “crazy Florida arrests” database. In fact, I could go into depth about why you hear of so many “Florida man” stories but that’s neither here nor there really.
The truth is we have the best beaches in the country, amusement parks and entertainment for days; friendly locals, and incredible food from a variety of cultures. Plus we can wear sandals 98% of the year so there’s that!
My family and I live in a very small town situated 1 1/2-2 hours away from some of the most beautiful, lively cities in the state and we make it a point to venture out as often as possible. Recently my husband brought it to my attention that we’ve been to more beaches, theme parks, and educational centers than you could even imagine and I’ve never taken to the blog to share those experiences. How rude of me, amirite?
So this is it. I’m going to start taking you all along. These posts are inspired by our trips to the beach. We’ve been to them all (at least it feels like it) and we have decided our favorites based off of a number of criteria such as the type of sand, temperature of the water, surrounding activities, etc. I want to help give Florida travelers the best experience possible, so I’m going to break it all down for you, place by place.
But for now! We start, not at a beach, but here:
Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium
*Disclaimer: In our excitement I forgot to take a photo of the entrance so this one was pulled from google.
A little background on why we made the trip. The kids are home from school for summer break and I want to fill their time up with fun enrichment camps and activities. One of the things on the list was an aquarium.
Here’s the thing though; you all know how much I adore animals. All of them. I struggle with visiting places that hold them captive for the sake of human enjoyment. I understand both sides of the argument so I can see the benefit of it from an educational standpoint, but I still have a difficult time paying to see animals that are kept for our consumption. I’m never going to do right by all people, but I did keep this in mind when picking the establishment we would be visiting.
Ultimately I chose Mote because it came highly recommended by a friend who studied Marine Science in school and now works in the field. Upon further research I learned that Mote is so much more than an aquarium.
Via the Mote website
We are an independent, nonprofit marine research institution comprised of world-class marine scientists committed to the belief that the conservation and sustainable use of our oceans begins with research and education.
Not only have they created an incredible aquarium for families, the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium also houses a dolphin and whale hospital, a sea turtle hospital, and labs where they conduct tests and research to better understand marine life.
Some of the key elements I enjoyed about Mote:
- The animals are not forced to train. If they would rather twirl through the water than spend a second training, the staff doesn’t push it.
- Every exhibit had at least two staff members available to closely monitor each exhibit to ensure the animals were safe and felt as such.
- The training sessions were packed full of information regarding how the animals are trained and why. Rather than throw a ball in the otter pit and call it a day, the animals are lead through trainings that focus on enrichment, both physically and spiritually, encouraging natural behaviors. Theses sessions also allow for their health and well being to be assessed regularly.
- Everyone on staff seemed to enjoy their work. This may seem silly to mention, but even the interns taking their lunch break at the on site diner were laughing and talking amongst themselves about their work; it was refreshing and made my heart happy to see how happy others are doing what they love, and knowing the animals are loved in return.
- The diner used “ocean friendly” components. My words, not theirs. No straws, the use of paper cups without lids, boxed water…
- The Gift Shop offered a number of ways to support the research center and other companies dedicated to helping clean up our oceans and rehabilitate our sea life. I’ll admit, I’m typically pretty cheap when it comes to anything extra at the places we go. Entry and food alone can put you out quite a bit so I typically steer the kids away from gift shops. At Mote I had no qualms about allowing the children to pick a plushy because 1. their choices represent their favorite part of the trip, and 2. each purchase helps to support the establishment and the work they do.
Some things you can experience include: touching sting rays and sharks; view training sessions with the animals, visually appealing tanks and displays; interactive games to test your knowledge of what you’ve learned, and more!
Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 7 days a week, 365 days a year, including all holidays. Admission prices are as follows:
Adults (13 & older): $24
Youth (age 3-12): $18
Children (age 0-2): Free
Mote Members: Free admittance.
Military discounts: All active-duty U.S. Military personnel receive free Aquarium admission. A current ID must be presented to qualify.
Veteran’s Day: Mote Aquarium extends free admission to all veterans and their dependents with valid ID’s on November 11 (Veteran’s Day) each year.
I cannot say enough good things about Mote and I encourage you to visit their website to learn about all of the work they do. Plans are currently underway to create a new, larger, more advanced Science Education Aquarium and YOU can help! Visit THIS page to learn how.
We will definitely be back! If you’ve been, please share your favorite experience in the comment section. We loved the otters!