Storms had moved through the Key Largo area around 4 AM and left behind a gusty wind that was literally howling through the trees and our condo glass doors. It never ceases to amaze me how resilient the palm trees are. They bend and bow but except for losing some of the drier fronds they bounce right back up again.
Still the day did not promise to get any calmer and our fishing, kayaking and other water sports we had planned with our visiting grandson were out of the question. On the internet I found a spot I thought might be fun and we'd never seen before. It was about a 45 minute drive south from us but we didn't have anything else to do.
The Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters turned out to be much more than we ever expected. We arrived around 10:30 in the morning and paid our entry fee. Our grandson got a discount for being a Florida resident but even so, the $20/adult was not a bad price and as the day went on we felt it was a bargain.
We just missed the tortoise feeding but there were lots more opportunities on the list we were given at the entrance to watch other groups of animals receive their nourishment. We decided to just walk around first and scope things out. A guided tour of the park was also included in the admission ticket.
The huge tank of coral reef fish and its neighboring predator tank were beautiful and mesmerizing. You can view them online on their live webcam. A small tank of lion fish showed the predator that is infesting many of the Caribbean waters and scavaging a lot of the small tropical fish in the reefs.
Lots of turtles and tortoises in various exhibits were still munching their early morning breakfast. Around the corner from the large tanks was a display of small alligators. It's Florida. Gotta have alligators.
Wandering over to the lagoon area, we saw large tarpons and bought some food to feed them. Between the two sections of lagoon is an area with lots of rays of all kinds. You can also feed them and touch them. They have a neat way of feeding them with wands that hold the food so you don't have to worry about your hand getting too near those grating plates in their mouth.
A shark tank offered the opportunity for you to feed the sharks if you desired. Again the food was on the end of a wand and the attendant even lifted a shark up a bit so one of the kids could touch it. By the way, you can train sharks. They responded to a paddle set in the water and each had their own pattern to recognize. So much for those dive operations who claim they are not changing the habits of sharks when they set a chumsicle in the water for divers to watch a shark feeding. Those guys are pretty smart and know when to show up for food.
While you could see some huge groupers in a couple of tanks, the lagoon also held one called a goliath grouper that was said to be over 200 pounds. Unfortunately he knew how to hide well and we never did catch a glimpse of him.
Of course in addition to touching the rays, our grandson loved the tidal pool where he could examine horseshoe crabs, urchin, starfish and mollusks including a conch.
One of the ray tanks had a nursery set up. The night before, we were told, one of the smaller ray varieties had given birth. I learned a new fact. Rays have live births. The attendant described it as looking like "little burritos" when they were born.
Another fellow had a pail full of fish and invited us onto a small floating dock set into the bay area where pelicans were fishing in the tide that was rushing out to sea. He was about to feed the nurse sharks that live under the mangrove trees on the shore. He wasn't sure they would show up because of the storm having stirred up the water so much but eventually they came. It would have been great to see them if the water had been clearer.
I have to say, every attendant in the park was extremely informative, patient and willing to answer any and all questions. A great learning environment!
The morning passed quickly and we decided to linger and have lunch. Prices at the cafe were not bad either and the panini Bob had was really great.
While it spritzed rain off and on, there was enough cover overhead that it didn't bother us at all. The same could be said if the sun was out and hot. There would be plenty of shade.
We let our grandson wander and revisit the exhibits he wanted to see again. There was always something new to discover in the tanks and we thoroughly fell in love with the spotted eagle rays in the large tanks.
All in all it was worth the drive and the price of admission. It certainly made what could have been a miserable day a memorable one.