Labor Day weekend may mark the unofficial end of summer, but it’s certainly not the end of summer enjoyment here in Tampa Bay, home of the country’s top-rated beaches.
A coastal weekend getaway is sure to be fun for the whole family, but it can also be educational and philanthropic. A quick trip to make memories while making a difference? Centered around the most well-known dolphin in the world? Don’t miss out! Here’s a must-see, must-do guide to make the most of living where other families vacation.
Where to go
Just a short drive over the Courtney Campbell Causeway from Tampa and about 30 minutes from other bustling Pinellas-based hotspots, Clearwater Beach is home to Tampa Bay’s stunning white sandy beaches, inviting Gulf waters and a busy marine ecosystem. From Pier 60 and Sand Key Park to playful dolphins and nesting sea turtles, this Florida coastal community has it all when it comes to places to play and wonders to experience.
Who to see
It all begins with Winter, the bottlenose dolphin that swims with a prosthetic tail after a terrible crab-trap incident left her permanently injured. As she also calls Clearwater Beach home, her inspiring story has attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) through her starring role in the movies “Dolphin Tale” and “Dolphin Tale 2.” Other residents include rescued and rehabilitated Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, rough-toothed dolphins Rex and Rudy, sea turtles (including the famous Mavis), pelicans (like Rufus), otters, stingrays and sharks.
What to do
A rescue, rehabilitation, and release facility with a 501(c)(3) designation, CMA is unlike many others you may have visited before, with an array of exhibits, experiences, tours, programming and presentations for guests of all ages. From the resident dolphins and the revolving educational exhibits to the offsite boat tours and visibility of patients in the working animal hospital, a visit to CMA promises a half-day of family fun. While you’re there, don’t forget to meet a mermaid in Mermaid Grotto, feed a cownose stingray at Stingray Beach and eat at Shark Bites Cafe for lunch (we love the shrimp burger).
Where to stay
It should be no surprise that two local beachside hotels are also big fans of Winter the dolphin.
Winter the Dolphin’s Beach Club was developed as the first eco-friendly hotel on Clearwater Beach. With a mission for conservation that honors the spirit of rescued marine life, each night’s hotel booking benefits the animal care, education, and research conducted by CMA. We appreciate how images of Winter are everywhere and love details like no plastic on premises and turtle-safe exterior lighting and window treatments. Our kids’ favorite spot is Winter’s Eco-Ranger Clubhouse filled with educational activities and games. They really enjoyed the complimentary CMA presentations at the pool gazebo (complete with surprise marine life visitors) on Saturdays and Sundays.
Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach offers a “Winter & Friends Package” that includes a stay in the Mavis the Sea Turtle Bunk Gulf View room or Winter the Dolphin Bunk Gulf View room, two general admission tickets to CMA, and a toy plushie of Mavis or Winter. A portion of the package price is donated back to Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
Why make a difference
As you take away family memories and a greater awareness of local efforts to protect coastal life, your time and money makes a difference in many ways:
- Increasing hospital space to accommodate busy sea turtle rehabilitation seasons
- Expanding research into saving the lives of more marine animals and protecting our environment
- Meeting the needs of the tens of thousands of children and wounded soldiers who have bonded with Winter and other rescued animals through their own adversity
- Educating the next generation on marine and environmental conservation
- Providing compelling, educational experiences for families *mission.cmaquarium.org/get-involved/ways-to-give/support-our-expansion/
Now is a great time to plan for a Clearwater Beach staycation. Sea turtle nesting season in Florida lasts through the end of October, and you can make a difference by picking up trash on a beach walk and filling holes in the sand that would affect a sea turtle hatchling’s trek to the water. You can also have a positive impact on our local marine life from home. Learn more by visiting cmaquarium.org.
*Originally published in our September 2021 Issue