Last weekend was the perfect time to go see some old friends at the Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach. As hoped, the sea cows were in attendance, lazily rolling and cruising through the warm waters, courtesy of TECO. My favorite part is when the manatees poke their little snoots out of the water and slowly inhale a gulp of fresh sea air. Last year was a bit of a wash at the Viewing Center, but now they’re open and ready for a full season of tourists and locals. Our guests loved the new stingray tank, complete with viewing ports on the side for smaller visitors. One of the rays even posed and stared through the glass at our giggling niece. Also on the grounds, a chance to walk through thick mangroves while watching native fish swim by.

No need to wonder what type of fish they are, there are displays all along the walk, explaining what you’re seeing. Don’t be surprised if you see a shark or a snook jumping out of the water, either. Once we took in all of the natural attractions, we made our way toward the small restaurant, stopping to hop in the hurricane simulator and opting for a souvenir manatee statue made as we watched. After that, we grabbed a pop and continued to the gift shop.

Trust me when I say, the Manatee Viewing Center has EVERYTHING you could imagine when it comes to manatees and central Florida wildlife. There are shirts, earrings, tree ornaments, games and even socks with manatees on them. It’s difficult to leave without buying at least one thing. The best part? We’re now in prime manatee viewing season, with hundreds routinely showing up and basking in the warm waters off of Apollo Beach. See you there soon!

Hear more about the Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach (5:49) on the Experience Tampa Bay in 10 Minutes or Less podcast. You can also learn more about holiday events, like Winter Village at Curtis Hixon Park (:54) and explore the Florida Aquarium through a child’s eyes (3:22).

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