This post is in partnership with Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters and The Florida Keys and Key West who hosted our visit. All opinions are my own. You can read my full Disclosure Policy here.
My family loves animals, and a highlight of our travels is getting to learn more about the local creatures. Even better? When we get to interact with them! While in the Florida Keys, we visited Aquarium Encounters in Marathon and had the most amazing experience in their coral reef tank!
Aquarium Encounters Marathon Florida
Aquarium Encounters is easy to spot – just look for this big blue sign when driving through Marathon. Be sure to check their website before you visit for hours. You’ll want to give yourself a few hours here, especially if you add on one of the popular Encounters like we did.
Ticketing and the gift shop area are on the porch of this cool building. I love that fish above the stairs!
Things To Do in Marathon
All types of ticketing are described on the board at the counter, and General Admission includes a lot of interactive experiences. So if you are traveling with really young kids, or don’t have the time or budget to devote to an Encounter experience, there’s still plenty of opportunity to get hands-on with the animals. More on those touch-tanks below!
The Add-On Encounters are an extra fee, and we had the opportunity to participate in the Coral Reef Encounter, which was AMAZING. We did so many cool things in the Florida Keys, but over and over again the kids (and adults!) all said that this was the highlight of the trip. You’ll see why in the photos below.
There’s a perfect combination of education and entertainment the Aquarium. Each exhibit provides a close-up view of the animals, and information on each species.
We spent a lot of our time near and in these two tanks for our Coral Reef Experience!
Coral Reef Tank Experience
There are two huge tanks that are adjacent to each other. This photo above is the coral reef tank, a simulated recreation of a Florida coral reef. There are beautiful tropical fish, spiny lobsters, and rays (I can’t remember what kind of ray and don’t see it on their website but they are SO cool).
See the plexiglass windows in the tank in the upper left corner of the photo above? That connects to the predator tank you see in the photo below.
The predator reef tank includes several varieties of shark, including nurse and sandbar sharks, plus predatory fish like grouper, snapper, and jacks. This is also the home to Mrs. Puff, the puffer fish (any Sponge Bob fans out there?), who we were told not to feed because she eats too much. Poor Mrs. Puff. How embarrassing for her. ha!
The Coral Reef Tank Snorkeling Encounter is about an hour in length. There is a regulator, or scuba, encounter if that’s up your alley, too. That hour includes time to watch a quick educational video, and shower and get changed into your wet suit.
The instructor helped us each find a suit that would fit, and the changing rooms and showers are all behind locked doors. IMPORTANT TIP: You’ll wear your bathing suit under the wet suit, so arrive with that on. I would recommend packing a plastic bag (like a grocery bag or the hotel laundry bag) with you to throw your clothing in while you’re in the tank. Then when you put your dry clothing back on, throw your wet bathing suits in that plastic bag.
Here we are ready to jump in! All snorkeling gear is provided including masks and flippers. The wet suit will make you float, so we didn’t need life jackets either. And the water was a bit cool but it was HOT in Florida, so we were happy to cool off!
We spent some time just exploring the coral reef tank and checking out all the beautiful fish. They are not afraid and will swim right next to you! The guide also gave us some food to feed the rays which was incredible. They suck it right out of your hands! Check out a little footage of that in the video I included near the top of the post.
The most exciting part was heading over to that plexiglass wall and coming face to face with the sharks. Our guide showed us how to feed them by pushing a fish through the hole in the wall at the right time.
Those other fish will try to come and steal it and we each lost a fish or two before we were able to get the push-and-pull of shark feeding.
This guy was READY. Aren’t these photos amazing? This is a package you can purchase from Aquarium Encounters, and I’d recommend doing it. I don’t know when we’re ever going to feed sharks like this again and we’ve really loved going back and reliving this experience.
Pretty exciting! After we fed the sharks, we made our way over to the dock, removed our flippers and masks, and climbed out. We went back to the showers to change and when we were done, we had the opportunity to ask our guide any questions. I’m pretty sure I asked him about three times what the rays were called, and I still forget. Imagine that.
He was a great guide, and gave my kids a bunch of shark teeth that he collected from the tank. They loved that. The staff here is awesome and makes the experience so much fun, and so educational.
These tanks, the coral reef and predator tanks, are both situated in a way that you can view them from above, and from below like the kids are in the photo above. So there’s lots of opportunity to enjoy watching the fish swim.
After we got done with our Coral Reef Encounter, our guide had to feed the fish before the day ended, so he dove down and they crowded around him to eat. Even the spiny lobsters crawled right up into his hands. I want that job when I grow up. (Look for some of that in the video near the top of the post!)
Best Things to Do in Florida Keys
We really didn’t allow ourselves enough time to explore the rest of the Aquarium because our Coral Reef Encounter was pretty late in the afternoon and they closed at 5pm. So lesson learned: check the hours before you plan your visit here. We quickly made our way through the three touch tanks and got to see starfish, horseshoe crabs, and rays.
I think these rays even like to be touched! They swam right up to my daughter for a little love.
Aquarium Encounters is definitely one of the best things to do in the Florida Keys, particularly for families. There’s a variety of ways you can enjoy a visit here, so check out their well-organized website for a full view of their offerings, and be sure to follow on social media, too: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
The Florida Keys and Key West are the perfect place for a family vacation. Visit their website, and check out their social profiles for tons of ideas to help plan your adventure: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
HOW TO PLAN A FLORIDA KEYS FAMILY VACATION:
WHERE TO STAY IN THE FLORIDA KEYS
BEST PLACES TO EAT IN THE FLORIDA KEYS
- Marker 88 Restaurant in Islamorada
- Angler & Ale Restaurant, Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key
- Morada Bay Beach Cafe, Islamorada
- Robbie’s of Islamorada: The Hungry Tarpon + Feed the Tarpon
- Turtle Kraals Restaurant in Key West
- First Flight Restaurant & Brewery: USA’s Southernmost Microbrewery
- 11 Best Places for Key Lime Pie in The Florida Keys
THINGS TO WITH KIDS IN THE FLORIDA KEYS
- The Turtle Hospital, Marathon Key
- Dolphin Research Center, Marathon Key
- Robbie’s of Islamorada: The Hungry Tarpon + Feed the Tarpon
- Aquarium Encounters in Marathon FL: Coral Reef Encounter
- Bahia Honda State Park – Best Florida Keys Beaches
- Key West Butterfly Conservatory
- The Cats of the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West, Florida
- 15 Things to Do With Kids in Key West