When looking for things to do in Tampa one of the things I came across was this Manatee Viewing Center. It's free to do and is pretty popular. There are signs on the interstate about it and everything. So we headed just south of Tampa to Apollo Beach to check it out and we loved it so much it made my Best Places to View Manatees in Florida list.
Manatee Viewing Center – Apollo Beach Florida
The Manatee Viewing Center is at the TECO plant (Tampa Electric). Please keep in mind the Manatees are wild animals and are only in the area during the colder months since the water is warm, from November to April. I want to point out this whole experience is free!
We were assured the ‘smoke' is water vapor being released… We drove into the parking lot, but it is a bit hard to find a spot when you go during peak time due to the small parking. They have added additional parking spaces to help with overflow.
As you walk up the main area from the parking area, there are solar panels and information on them.
We didn't know what to do first but since it clouded over making it harder to see the Manatees we decided to hit the other attractions first.
They have the Great Florida Birding Trail which is a long boardwalk.
Along the way the different plants are labeled which was fun for my kids to find.
From there we took in the stingrays.
The kids had a blast watching them swim around.
As soon as the kids went to try to touch one they started splashing like crazy. The staff said it was as dominance thing and they needed a time out from being touched.
After we washed our hands we headed to the main attraction.
As you can see it was still cloudy so I didn't have much hope for seeing too many Manatees. There is a ramp, making it wheelchair accessible. The walk to the viewing platform had lots of signs guiding you and lots of manatee statues as well!
This area is a state and federal manatee sanctuary and you are not allowed to feed the manatees. There are also no boats allowed or fishing which is perfect for the manatees.
As you head out to the boardwalks you can see an overhead view of the stingrays.
So there are 2 main viewing “areas” THe large one which you can see them come up to breathe but makes it very hard to get photos. Seriously this one of a tail is the best I got out of 200 pictures out there! This is also where most of the manatees will be.
Sometimes you get lucky and they swim right by the boardwalk. Remember you have about 3 seconds to grab a photo as they come up for air then head right back down! The better the sunlight out the more clear you can see them as well.
Then they have a more shallow one viewing area as well. Sometimes you get lucky and they will swim over into this area. It's much easier to see them when they do.
We got to see a momma and baby manatee. That made the kids day!
Everyone had a blast waiting to see which manatee would come up next.
As you exit the Manatee viewing boardwalk they have a little area with some food and picnic tables. Then watch for the door to the small museum. We almost missed it if someone hadn't come out of it!
There is a wall of pictures and a bunch of manatee info. Mostly for the adults. For the kid,s it's all hands on fun!
There were different puzzles for them to do and they had manatee sound playing in the room.
They had some hands-on science which my kids didn't care about they wanted to do the games which there was never a free spot for they were so popular!
On the way out they did some follow the baby through the tunnel.
There are several great picture spot all over the grounds. They have the face cutouts to statues like these! As you can see the sun finally came back out!
They also have a gift shop with everything Manatee and mermaid related. Also some great Florida home decor.
The kids had a blast and you can't beat it for free! We packed our own lunches and ate them in the car before going in which saved us some money.
Have you visited the Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach Florida? I'd love to hear your experience in the comments below.