I spent a gorgeous Sunday afternoon at Marineland. Did you know that Marineland (now called Marineland Dolphin Adventure) is the oldest marine attraction in the U.S.? In addition, one of the park's residents - Nellie - is the oldest dolphin in the world born in human care. She celebrated her 58th birthday in February.
I spent about 2 hours at the park and really enjoyed talking to the volunteers. There were 3 volunteers "on deck" while I was there. Two retirees and a college student. Their job was to answer questions about the dolphins and work with the visitors who were there for one of the "dolphin experiences," including a swim with the dolphins program and a touch and feed program. These folks loved their "job" and they agreed with me that Marineland is one of Florida's best kept secrets. And that's a shame.
I have a soft spot in my heart for Marineland since I visited so many times as a kid. It was the only "theme park" for miles back then, and even if it hadn't been, it would have been my favorite. This Florida girl was raised right - brought up to love and appreciate the dolphin (and seaturtle, too).
What makes Marineland a good alternative to the big Sea World park, in my opinion, is that it is an intimate, quiet park right on the ocean. You can stand on the deck under the shade of an umbrella and watch the dolphins swim, then turn around and watch the waves wash onto the beach. You can't do that at Seaworld. And if you want a chance to see (and touch) a dolphin up close, this is the place. Their classes are very small - no more than 12 people - and you get a lot of one-on-one time with the trainers and the 12 dolphins in residence. Plus, when it comes to education, conservation and research, Marineland leads the way. They've been the home of the University of Florida Whitney Lab for Marine Bioscience since the mid 1970s and were recently purchased by the Georgia Aquarium, which should ensure their viability for decades.
I'm hoping you will help me share this secret. Marineland, located on AIA between St. Augustine and Flagler Beach, is open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each day. You can register for several of the different dolphin encounter programs, however, you can also just visit and see the dolphins and enjoy the afternoon (like I did) for only $8.50 adults and $4 children.
Visit them online at Marineland.net.