PSTA's Community Relations Manager Bob Lasher recently used the free shuttle service that the Jolley Trolley offers between the and the . Please enjoy the tale of his adventure:
Didn’t see the movie? Dolphin Tale Adventure is fun regardless!
A few months ago, my wife and ten-year-old daughter saw the movie Dolphin Tale. Now, every stuffed animal in our home that remotely resembles a dolphin, is named Winter. My daughter also developed a masterful knack of interjecting requests to visit the real Winter into any given conversation. Her latest attempt came on the morning of Super Bowl Sunday after my wife reminded me how “insiders” say that the best time to avoid crowds at theme parks and attractions is to go on Super Bowl Sunday. So, we packed up the Family Truckster and headed to Downtown Clearwater.
Luckily, there’s a new shuttle service between the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and the new Dolphin Tale Adventure exhibit at the Harborview Center in downtown Clearwater. The shuttle, run by the , is free and parking at the Harborview lot is way easier than at the CMA. In fact, there were so few cars in the Harborview Center lot when we pulled in that I thought I had become Clark Griswold pulling into Wally-World. (That’s from the movie Vacation, BTW.) Despite the empty lot, the Dolphin Tale Adventure was really hopping and we soon realized that most of the visitors had ridden over from the CMA on the Trolley.
Now, not having seen the movie myself, I figured that I would be a little bored with the Dolphin Tale Adventure, because it features sets, props, videos and photos from the film production. However, I’m very pleased to say that I was terribly wrong and I had a great time there! The displays are engaging and easy to read. (I don’t know about you, but I hate it when pictures and displays are accompanied by pages of tiny, microfilm-sized text.) At the Dolphin Tale Adventure, and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium for that matter, the text is easy to read and not overwhelmingly long, plus, it’s written so that kids can easily read it as well.
The movie sets are far more complete than I imagined, in fact the set for Sawyer’s home (he’s the boy featured in the film) is like being in an actual house. In fact, my wife wanted to make an offer on the kitchen cabinets. A few yards away from that set is a neat play area for the youngsters featuring many of the games used for the fundraiser scene in the film. Actually, all of the adults there were playing them as well - I was partial to the ring toss.
Make sure to check out the continually running documentary Winter's Inspiration, which details her story, and the real people involved in making her tail as well as interviews with the actors, producers and crew. It’s riveting, heartwarming and well worth the time – about 15 minutes. You’ll find it in a small theater by the souvenir store.
From there, we made our way through the gift shop and bought a shirt for my daughter while repeatedly telling her to put down every single stuffed animal that she walked by. I tried to talk her into one of the awesome, colorful tie-dye shirts, only to be rebuffed by a scrunched nose and something about it being for “old” people. **Sigh**
Feeling ever-so ancient, I hobbled out the front door to a waiting Jolley Trolley (they run every 15 to 20 minutes). Still smarting from the “old” comment, I asked my daughter if I needed to use the wheelchair lift to board the trolley because of my advanced age. I got another scrunched nose in reply. The trolley quickly whisked us over the scenic Memorial Bridge to the aquarium as my daughter continued disparaging my taste in shirt wear while foregoing the beautiful views to bury her head in some portable electronic device. I was thrown a bone, however, when she noticed that the aquarium parking lot was jammed and actually complimented me on making the right decision as to where to park our car (for those of you without kids, that’s akin to a “snowball in…” never mind).
Having not been to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in years, I was genuinely impressed with all of the improvements. Although it was crowded – so much for that Super Bowl Sunday theory – we could still move around easily and my daughter was always able to get a seat or place by the tanks where she could readily see the animals and shows.
As impressive as the indomitable Winter is, I feel a little guilty admitting that our favorite show actually featured Nicholas – a young male dolphin who was rescued after stranding while just a calf. Nicholas puts on one heck of a show - jumping, flipping and splashing the front rows of the bleachers. Because the seating area is so close to the tank, you can really get some awesome action photos.
Now, I don’t know if this will happen for everyone, but Nicholas blew us away when he actually posed for pictures after the show. I know it sounds nuts, but he was swimming around the outside of the tank and I walked over to the edge of it to get a close-up shot. Amazingly, when I lifted my camera, he stopped and posed by lifting his head out of the water. Really, I’m not kidding! He literally lifted his head out of the water and posed for about a dozen pictures! When I put the camera down, he dropped his head back in the water. Not believing what I just saw, I lifted my camera again… just to check and he popped his head back out of the water and continued to pose! In my daughter’s words, “that was seriously cool!”
It’s that kind of close up interaction that makes the aquarium one of my favorite venues anywhere. Visitors are free to hang out around the tanks as long as they like and are treated to endless fun by an array of marine life at every turn: rays, which the kids love to pet; turtles; sharks; otters (cute, but stinky!); and, of course, Winter and her friends. Oh, and don’t forget to visit the moray eel tank as well. It’s located on the bottom level below the Dolphin Deck area. There’s a big, cool looking eel in there – white with brown spots – who is pretty active and entertaining.
Lastly, I have to compliment the aquarium staff. They are the essence of friendly and helpful. Whoever assembled that crew really knows how to pick ‘em. Which reminds me - the Clearwater Marine Aquarium Chief Executive Officer, David Yates, was there the whole time as well! Dude… you’re the CEO and it’s Super Bowl Sunday, take a day off already.
After purchasing my DVD of Dolphin Tale (which I now love), we boarded the Jolley Trolley for the quick and easy ride back to our conveniently parked car.
What a great day!
Check it out for yourself: http://seewinter.com/
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