Yes, it’s small. And no, there aren’t as many animals as you’d find at bigger, newer attractions. But as one of the oldest marine animal parks in the world, the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park in Fort Walton Beach is a destination deserving of a visit during your time in the Destin area.
The Gulfarium has the distinction of doing a lot of things first. After opening in 1955, the Gulfarium was the first park to successfully raise a stranded baby bottle nose dolphin. Because of that experience, it was also the first place to formulate a synthetic milk for baby dolphins. The milk is still used by marine biologists when infant dolphins need to be hand fed.
Today, families with young children — say those under the age of 14 — will thoroughly enjoy the Gulfarium. It’s small enough so you can see everything in a couple of hours, which is well within the attention span of most kids. And, since most of the facility is covered with awnings, the Gulfarium makes a great rainy day activity when you can’t enjoy the sun and surf.
Admission is reasonably priced, but you can splurge and take part in one of several animal encounters. That means you’ll have an up close and personal encounter with an animal. You can snorkel with sting rays and sharks, feed penguins, hold an alligator or take part in a dolphin show. There are many experiences from which to chose at various price points, depending on the duration of the encounter.
If you don’t want to spring for an animal encounter, there are plenty of opportunities to learn more about the animals just by walking through the park and talking to staff members. They’ll fill you in on the park’s dolphins, turtles, sea lions, exotic birds, stingrays, otters and host of other terrestrial and aquatic animals. Don’t miss the albino alligator!
Kids can also get their hands wet in the tidal pool where they can touch a starfish and more. Shows featuring the acrobatic antics of dolphins and sea otters are held on a regular basis throughout the day, but get to the venue early so you have a place to sit.
Want to make a day of it? Enjoy lunch at the Dive-In Eatery and eat your meal while sitting at a picnic table right next to the harbor seals exhibit. Or go out for lunch and return to the Gulfarium to finish your day. As long as you have your admission ticket, you can come and go as you please. Also, veterans and active duty servicemen and women get 50 percent off admission on weekends.
Despite its small size, you’re sure to enjoy a few hours at the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park!
-The Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park is quite small so larger strollers don’t fit easily through the exhibit areas and gift shop. Consider leaving bigger strollers at home and using an umbrella stroller during your time at the park. And since it’s so small, little legs won’t get too tired if they choose to walk.