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POSTCARDS FROM FLORIDA

Beating the summer heat at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa

Jim Abbott on Florida Travel

Postcards from Florida

May 9, 2010

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It's hot out there, huh?

That unmistakable Florida heat motivated me to pick out the refreshing picture that is the theme of this week's postcard: Ideas for cool fun (literally) in the Sunshine State.

Last week, on the shores of Flagler Beach, I had a fleeting, distant glimpse of a whale in the Atlantic — without air-conditioning.

For a closer look at aquatic creatures (and a climate-controlled one), the Florida Aquarium in Tampa provides a window into the eco-system of sharks, otters, coral reefs, birds, gators and other wetland inhabitants.

And here's a nice bonus: In celebration of the aquarium's 15th anniversary, the entrance admission has been knocked down to $15 through May 31, if you purchase online at flaquarium.org.

Even for the regular $19.95 admission, the 200,000-square-foot attraction has enough substance to occupy a day. There are daily penguin, otter, shark and coral-reef shows plus stingray feedings included in regular admission.

For additional costs, visitors can swim in the coral-reef tank or board a boat for a Tampa Bay eco-tour.

The aquarium is next door to Channelside Bay Plaza, home to shops, budget-friendly dining and a multiplex movie theater. Joffrey's Coffee Co., just outside the main entrance, serves breakfast all day, as well as Cuban sandwiches, all under $10.

And, yeah, it's air-conditioned.

Across the bridge in St. Petersburg, the Salvador Dali Museum hosts a compact but enlightening collection of the artist's work. On the way out, be sure to spend some time in the air-conditioned gift shop, where there are gift books and prints available. Where else can you find a "melting clock" clock?

General admission is $17, with discounts available for seniors, teachers, students and children. In addition, admission is only $5 from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursdays.

Making the road trip from Orlando? Hit the Ybor City historic district on the return for a cigar and a beer, or a tasty dinner at the Columbia Restaurant or the Acropolis Greek Taverna. Cool idea, huh?