Scuba diving and snorkeling are a great way to get up close to the marine life in the Florida Keys but that type of adventure may not be for everyone. You and the kids can still enjoy marine animal encounters without getting soaked on a day trip to Islamorada in the Florida Keys.
Forget roller coasters and bumper cars to entertain the kids. Theatre of the Sea offers a different type of family entertainment in the form of marine life interactions. The park itself isn’t very big but they do a great job hiding that fact. The pathways weave in and around the water pools and show spaces, flanked by plants and trees.
Although you can wander around the park on your own, Theatre of the See does offer a guided tour of the various marine life plus they have a few shows that run on a rotating schedule, which you are given when you enter the park. We caught a dolphin show and followed that with a sea line show, both were very enjoyable. Some guests even had the opportunity to interact with the animals directly.
Instead of attending the animal guided tour the kids opted that we the venture out on our own. We lingered around the ponds, mesmerized by the sea turtles and various fish. Although we probably could have watched these creatures all day, we walked further to the back of the park to find stingrays, alligators, lizards, and even parrots. Theatre of the Sea also offers a glass bottom boat tours around their lagoon, giving you a different way to view the marine life.
Of course if you’re looking to get a little closer to the animals you can venture to the far end of the park where you’ll find a pathway to the lagoon beach. This shallow sandy bottom beach is teaming with fish and I’m not talking about small schools of fish. You’ll find large parrot fish swimming in this lagoon and you can swim in there too. There’s no additional fee for this and there are even seats and umbrellas on the beach should mom and dad wish to stay dry.
Theatre of the Sea also offers small group opportunities to swim, feed, or even just wade with animals like the sea lions, string rays and dolphins for an additional fee.
After a morning touring Turtle of the Sea, you can grab a fresh made sandwich at the Midway Café and Coffee Bar, which is less than a ten-minute drive away. Coffee aficionados will love the fact that the café also roasts its own coffee beans and offers an extensive coffee menu.
When visiting Theatre of the Sea we discovered some of their sea turtles came from the Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys, a destination we passed on our way to the park. The Turtle Hospital serves the Florida Keys area though they have taken in overflow from other nearby hospitals like Tampa. You can’t miss the tropical mint green facility that was once a motel and nightclub. You can still see the motel façade but the rooms that once handled surgeries in the hospital’s early days now house staff that are on duty at the facility.
The Turtle Hospital runs guided tours every hour for a fee, educational in an interesting way not like a boring history class. Plus the kids will love getting up close to and feeding the sea turtles housed in the hospital.
The hospital has a large board in the main entrance that keeps track of all the turtles admitted, their treatment, and their planned released dates. The on-site surgery located at the back of the building has taken care of turtles suffering from a variety of conditions, including treatable tumors (believed to be caused by polluted water), fishing line entanglement, embedded hooks, ingested debris floating in the water (fishing line, plastic bags, balloons, and other garbage), not to mention shell damage cased by boaters. Most of the equipment in the facility has been donated and the surgeon himself has volunteered his time at the Turtle Hospital for the last fourteen years.
Out back in the area of the motel’s old swimming pool by the dock is where the recovering turtles are housed. Each turtle has its own recovery pool where they spend their time and receive medication and physical therapy if needed. Most of the turtles in the tanks were older and larger turtles recovering from injuries but on our visit we did get to see some baby turtles that were hatched from abandoned eggs. Extreme cuteness.
The Turtle Hospital works to repair and rehabilitate the sea turtles so they can be released back into the water. Unfortunately not all turtles admitted to the Turtle Hospital are able to return to the wild. Some are given new homes, like the ones we encountered at the Theatre of the Sea while others are permanent residents, helping with education and awareness. These permanent residents live the in the larger converted swimming pool versus the smaller recovery tubs.
Seeing all the turtles and hearing about the Turtle Hospital’s amazing work was a great experience for the whole family but the best part had to be feeding the turtles at the end of our tour.
From the Theatre of the Sea to the Turtle Hospital, the whole family will enjoy a close encounter with the marine animals in the Florida Keys, developing a greater understand and respect for them while on vacation.
Islamorada offers families a full day trip of activity but if you are looking to extend your stay a little longer you’ll find the nautical feeling Postcard Inn close by. Although we didn’t stay this time around, we have enjoyed the large Tiki Bar on the beach on past visits.
If you’re looking at planning your own day trip to Islamorada or any of the Florida Keys, you can find more ideas on their site http://www.fla-keys.com/
Thanks to the Florida Keys Tourism for their assistance during our visit.