Sadly, I'm snorkel-impaired.
No matter how many times I try, I can't make a dive mask seal to my face. When the water pours inside, rushing into my eyes and nose, any thoughts of watching underwater creatures are immediately overwhelmed by an instinct to survive.
Oh, I have terrible eyesight, too, so if I were to come within reasonable distance of a grouper, it's likely that I might mistake it for a big rock. Yeah, I'm better on dry land.
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701 Channelside Drive, Tampa, FL 33602, USA
Fortunately, land-loving types can find themselves closer than they might ever imagine to the creatures of Florida's coral reefs at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa. It's a gem of an attraction that manages to combine education and fun, with a welcome emphasis on the latter.
Another confession: A prime motivation for my recent visit was a respite from the already far-too-hot Florida heat. The sidewalks were steaming in the Channelside district of downtown Tampa, making the passing trolleys and the prospect of window-shopping at nearby Channelside Bay Plaza less tempting.
The aquarium scores big points for climate-controlled exploration. The "Coral Reefs" exhibit is especially pleasant, with its dark, cavernous turns that lead to the Coral Reef Gallery, an observation area with a wall-sized picture window.
That underwater lobby hosts a variety of shows, including "Predators of the Reef" with narration from divers in the tank with sharks, eels and other creatures. I learned that I have a much better chance of winning the Powerball lottery than being attacked by a shark, but because I stay out of the water I wasn't too worried.
The aquarium also offers a cute, informative penguin show and an indoor "hike" (my favorite kind) on the Florida's Wetlands Trail, a showcase for gators, otters, pythons and free-flying birds. The latter aren't afraid to swoop within a few feet of your head, a genuine shocker the first time it happens.
I was prepared to linger and look at beautiful roseate spoonbills until I noticed a sign: "Birds poop every 15 minutes. How long have you been standing here?" Looking at dozens of white splotches on the ground, I decided to move on.
To cap the day, Precinct Pizza in Channelside Bay Plaza is a nice dining spot. And here's a deal: Free admission for dads (with one paid admission) on Father's Day weekend. Visit flaquarium.org for details.