Along Florida’s Emerald Coast on Okaloosa Island is an attraction that’s been entertaining and educating visitors and locals alike for almost 60 years.
Tourists enjoying a dolphin show at Gulfarium, 1956
The Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park in Fort Walton Beach still has that Old Florida feel, the kind of classic roadside attraction you remember as a kid. But much has changed over the years, and once you step inside you realize there's much more than nostalgia to the park. After spending the day with my family at the Gulfarium, located next to the Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier, I've come up with 5 great reasons, old and new, why you should visit:
The Dolphins - The Gulfarium has had a dolphin show for many years, but now, instead of the ago-old tricks one would typically see at a marine park, the audience is treated to demonstrations that educate the public to these magnificent creatures of the sea. One of the trainers spoke to the crowd about the behaviors of the dolphins and showcased those behaviors throughout the show. The trainers continued to work with the dolphins even after the show; you could sense how deeply they care about the animals they work with on a daily basis.
Sea Lions - If one marine mammal was ever voted class clown by its peers, the lovable sea lion would have to win, flippers down. While the trainers had great fun showing off all of the tricks and comedic talents of the sea lions, they also took time to explain different techniques they use with the sea lions. It's a fact - a dancing sea lion never gets old.
Nothing but net
It’s Not Just Marine Animals - While the Gulfarium has just about everything you can think of from the sea, they also have several, non-marine animals for visitors to enjoy. There are plenty of alligators, turtles, tortoises and birds to see along the park's Expedition Trail. My son enjoyed seeing the baby alligators, not knowing at first that they were baby alligators.
Baby alligators at the Gulfarium
Kid-Friendly - You would think a kid-friendly park would be something of a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised by the little things they've thought of. For instance, picking up a child to see every animal along the way can get tiresome. At the Gulfarium, no problem: most of the enclosures are at the perfect height so my sons could see the animals -- without me having to contort my back.
Watching the dolphins play at the Gulfarium
With kids come the inevitable questions: “Daddy, what does that otter eat?” or “Daddy, why can’t we pet the sharks?”
Instead of having to make up an answer, there are plenty of knowledgeable staff members around to answer every questions. It's part of the staff's dedication to educating the guests about all the park's creatures. The Gulfarium also has a really great touch tank for the kids, but Tyler wasn’t sure about touching a star fish.
"Yea, I’m not touching that, Daddy”
The Gift Shop - I know what you’re thinking; how can a gift shop be a reason to visit a place? First, it was a really cool gift shop with everything from Gulfarium shirts to classic roadside trinkets. What the kids really enjoyed was a back room that had wall-to-wall stuffed animals. With all of that stuffing in such a small area, the room was seemingly soundproofed. We relaxed for a bit and let the kids hug each and every stuffed shark, whale, and pirate seal.
"ARRRRR we going to take him home?”
Plus, after venturing around the outside exhibits for a while, the ice-cold air conditioning and stuffed animal heaven was a welcoming ending to our day at the Gulfarium. We spent quite a long time exploring, but will have to return; the Gulfarium offers many other great opportinties to see the animals up close, including swimming with stingrays and painting with dolphins.
Dali who? I just watched a dolphin paint a picture!
With so many ways to learn from and engage with these amazing animals, the Gulfarium has plenty of reasons to keep coming back for visits.
If You Go
What: Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park
Where: 1010 Miracle Strip Parkway SE - Fort Walton Beach, FL 32548
Phone: 850-243-9046, 850-247-8575