When my family and I visited the Clearwater Beach area in 2010 we took a day trip to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. While we were there, we learned about a dolphin named Winter. In 2010, the movie Dolphin Tale hadn’t come out yet.

Learning all about Winter was such a memorable experience for my kids. On our recent Florida vacation, after the movie had become a huge success, our visit to the Clearwater area warranted a return to see our beloved friend, Winter. Visiting Winter the Dolphin is something each family must do while vacationing in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.

Upon arriving at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, you can immediately spot locations from the movie. While some may feel that the aquarium has become too commercialized, I disagree. The kids had something to relate to after seeing the movie. To see the once dilapidated aquarium thriving was exciting and inspiring as well.

We chose the Behind the Scenes tour with our admission, so we were able to go where most visitors aren’t allowed. We saw the surgery suites and sea turtles being rehabilitated. The kids were inundated with all sorts of interesting facts and information about conservation and the rescues that occur.

After you finish your behind the scenes tour, be sure to head into the aquarium to visit with Winter the Dolphin. She is definitely the star of the show. You may purchase the chance to pose with her and have your photo taken, but looking at her is free of charge.

While Winter is definitely the star, don’t forget to check out the supporting cast of characters. There are several other rescued dolphins, otters, sharks, turtles and sting rays. My kids loved the sting rays; you can reach in and touch them as they swim past. There are also opportunities to feed the stingrays.

Another favorite part of our visit was seeing Rufus. Rufus is the pelican from the movies who is always causing trouble. Rufus is actually played by two pelicans named Ricky and Lucy and are part of the animal family at the aquarium.

Before you call it a day, be sure to take the trolley to Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure, which is included in your ticket. At the museum you will find re-built scenes and props from the museum which really bring the movie to life for you and your family.

There is also a hurricane exhibit that takes you inside a house during a hurricane. One of the favorites at the museum was an interactive kids’ area where you can mail a letter to Winter and touch live animals that have been featured in the movies.

One of the coolest part of visiting the aquarium is that once you leave, you are able to check out your favorite friends via the live web cams on the website. You can check on Winter the Dolphin whenever you want, long after you have left and enjoy the aquarium from afar.

Visiting Winter the Dolphin is a must do while vacationing in Clearwater. My kids have grown to love checking on Winter and ask to go back each year we head to Florida. Beyond the theatrics lies a wonderful aquarium that is doing great things for injured animals and raising awareness beyond the waters of sunny Florida.

This article was originally published by Hilton Mom Voyage.

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