The Florida keys Aquarium offers a great selection of truly amazing and unique hands-on experiences for families to learn about and interact with marine life. We signed up for the Coral Reef Snorkel Encounter where we got to snorkel in the huge saltwater aquarium with all kinds of reef fish. In preparation for this encounter, we had gone to the beach the day before to test out and practice with our snorkel gear. I’m glad we did this because it made this day much smoother and our snorkel experience was more focused on the animals we got to see rather than the functional aspects of snorkeling.
We snorkeled across the tank to the opposite side where a rope was strung across the tank for us to hold onto. We each got to feed the resident stingrays with a piece of fish. Then we each got a big squeeze bottle full of a kind of fish soup that we squeezed out into the tank. Hundreds of fish swirled around us slurping up the bits of fish floating around.
At one point a large yellow fish I didn’t immediately recognize (though based on head shape I’m guessing it was in the Grunt family) got its whole mouth around the nozzle where the food came out and sucked on it like it was a baby with a bottle. Hilarious and so much fun!
Then we each got a turn pushing a piece of fish through a small hole in the tank divider to feed a shark.
The original plan was to start with a beach snorkel, then snorkel at the aquarium, and finally get out into the ocean on an actual snorkel trip out to the nearby coral reef. Unfortunately, the same waves and surge that caused our Coral Restoration dive to get cancelled also caused our snorkel trip to get cancelled.
So instead of spending time being disappointed, we immediately called the Aquarium and booked another encounter – this time, we got to snorkel with the giant stingrays!
These stingrays were enormous! They were trained to swim up onto our laps in order to take food from our hands. The bigs ones would sometimes even swim up to our feet and blow jets of water at us – almost like a kind of stingray hello! Meanwhile, the little cownose stingrays did laps around the pool and over our laps to get some snacks as well.
Maybe I anthropomorphize too much, but I am always struck by how charismatic these gentle sea creatures are; splashing us and swimming in little circles on our laps. This is definitely one of my favorite moments from the trip!
The aquarium had several other exhibits and enclosures – many of which allow you to feed the animals. Not only is this a fun way to interact with the animals, but purchasing the food cups supports the care and maintenance of these amazing animal ambassadors.