Let me start by saying that my daughter loves the Dolphin Tale movies. LOVES them. So when we found ourselves in the Tampa/Clearwater area, there was no way to avoid a visit to this place, since she could see her favorite movie stars in person. I was skeptical, worried that it be a total sellout to the movie or that the two featured dolphins would be so closed away that glimpses of them would be restricted to signage and images on gift shop t-shirts. I was totally wrong and I am happy that I was.
The facility is small for a tourist-attraction, but it isn’t trying to be anything other than what is was created to be many years before the movies: an animal hospital for injured aquatic creatures with an emphasis on rehabilitation and release. Unfortunately for the permanent residents, release was not an option, but they are instead given a safe and comfortable home and each visitor’s dollars spent there make that home and the extensive care and upkeep required a reality. From the moment you purchase your admission tickets and are thanked for “helping to support our cause”, you are aware that this space exists not to entertain the masses, but to help animals in need. It isn’t fancy and it doesn’t need to be and that is just perfect.
Much of the movie footage was shot on location and sure enough, Hope and Winter are right there, swimming in their tank on the second floor. It reminded me of when you get off the subway in Rome at the Colosseum: there it is towering before you, no fanfare, just a eons-old structure that is featured in every history book. Ok, so maybe not that dramatic, but there they are, just doing their dolphin stuff, which is a bit surreal considering one of them is missing a tail.
Admission is nominal, but there are add-ons galore, from photo ops to trainer experiences. We did not partake in anything extra and still had a really wonderful time, without making the visit a full-day outing.