Most families head to Florida to escape winter, but in recent years, increasing numbers have been flocking to Clearwater to experience winter. Or rather, Winter—with a capital “W”—the aquatic star of Dolphin Tale, the surprise hit of the fall movie season.
UPDATE: A new attraction featuring Winter, star of the popular family film “Dolphin Tale,” opens today, December 14, in Clearwater, Florida’s downtown Cleveland Street District in the Harborview Center. “Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure” features a behind-the-scenes exploration of the motion picture, timed to coincide with the movie’s DVD release on December 21. Read the full story here.
Over the last five years, Winter the dolphin has helped boost attendance at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and, subsequently, brought more visitors in general to the Clearwater area. For those not familiar with Winter’s tale (spoiler alert!), she was found washed up on a nearby beach, caught in a crab trap that cut her tail so badly it had to be amputated by the staff at the aquarium. She was fitted with a series of prosthetic tails that she ultimately rejected and shook off, but the feisty dolphin and dedicated humans persevered until…well, the folks at the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention & Visitors Bureau would like your clients to witness the happy ending in person.
Winter’s story has been a tourism boon almost from the day of her arrival at the aquarium, and the movie has helped push attendance even higher.
“The global release of Dolphin Tale has thrust Clearwater Marine Aquarium and the Clearwater Beach area onto the world scene,” says David Yates, CEO of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. “Tens of thousands of people have already traveled from around the world to experience the real-life magic of what they saw in Dolphin Tale. The fact that the real star, Winter, can be seen up close is becoming one of the great tourism draws of all time.”
Indeed, the attraction has witnessed steady growth over the past five years. This past July, shortly after ground was broken on a $12 million expansion, 32,453 guests visited the aquarium—a 39 percent increase from last year. Total visitors to Pinellas County were up more than 2 percent the first half of 2011 compared to 2010.
More Family Fun
After the family has seen Winter and the other wonders at the aquarium, there is still much more to see and do.
|After the renovation of the Pinellas Trail, the city’s network of trails and paths has further expanded.|
For nearly 40 years, Captain Memo’s The Original Pirate Cruise has entertained kids of all ages with treasure hunts, face painting, water-gun games, storytelling and dancing. Be sure to tell your family clients about one-hour birthday cruises.
Landlubbers who want to mix a bit of nautical adventure with the family fun of miniature golf can visit Captain Blighs Landing Miniature Golf. With 18 holes (plus a bonus hole) winding through a galleon and cavernous enclaves that are surrounded by waterfalls and ponds, Captain Blighs is a favorite stop for many visitors.
If mom or dad wants to sneak out for a round or two of the real thing, the area has plenty of championship-caliber golf courses to choose from.
A novel way for young and old to get around is provided by Fun Ride Rentals, where clients can rent surrey bikes, scooters, Segways and fun gliders, which are similar to Segways but easier for kids.
When it’s time to take a break from all the activities, the families can relax on Clearwater Beach, with its white sand, sparkling waters, playground, showers and full-time lifeguards. If the sea air puts the families in the mood for fishing, they can cast their lines 24/7 at Pier 60. For disabled visitors, Surf Wheelchairs, which are easier to use on the sand and float in the water, are available free of charge.
“Sunsets at Pier 60,” a Clearwater Beach tradition, has a variety of crafts and entertainment from 6-9 p.m. every night, including live music, local artists, jugglers, magicians and other entertainers. Parents will also be glad to know that a well-equipped playground provides hours of enjoyment for little ones.
Active travelers should note that earlier this year Clearwater completed its renovation of the Pinellas Trail, further expanding the city’s network of trails and paths.
“The city is constantly looking for ways to enhance the experience for visitors and residents. The Pinellas Trail’s new route will provide a safe, convenient and accessible place for people to enjoy their favorite outdoor fitness activities,” says Joelle Castelli, Clearwater’s communications director.
In addition to the Pinellas Trail, the pedestrian-friendly Beach Walk promenade is a winding path that is ideal for a short run, bike ride, hike or even for just a leisurely sunset stroll.
Caladesi Island State Park’s three-mile long trail in the shade of tangling mangroves provides a glimpse of Florida’s natural rustic beauty and is easily accessible either by ferry or by walking during low tide.
The Gulf of Mexico’s clear, calm and temperate waters on the coast of the city are home to a number of reefs as well as a plethora of sea life for snorkelers and scuba divers to explore. And Clearwater’s mild year-round weather means there’s never a bad time to visit.
For families on a budget, especially in today’s economic climate, suggest one of the many hotels and condominiums equipped with a full kitchen to save on meal expenses. Money saved on breakfast and lunch can be put toward a nice dinner at one of Clearwater’s numerous kid-friendly restaurants. Three such properties are Candlewood Suites, Hyatt Regency Beach Resort Clearwater and Pelican Pointe Hotel and Resort. These and many other accommodations also feature a swimming pool and other amenities essential for keeping young ones entertained.
|Winter, the dolphin, is the star power at Clearwater Marine Aquarium.|
The beachfront Sheraton Sand Key Resort offers the SPG Kids Pass program. For a flat daily rate, children (ages 12 and younger) of Starwood Preferred Guest members can enjoy all-inclusive access to a variety of dining options, including children’s menus, buffets (when available) and beverages.
Kids ages 12 and under eat free at Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Clearwater and 4- to-12-year-olds can enjoy KidSuites, a “room within a room” where they can play and sleep, with themed decor (jungle, circus or pirate motif), board games, electronic games, videos and more.
The Hyatt Regency and Sheraton Sand Key are among the hotels offering “Dolphin Tale” packages that feature two tickets to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Others include Beachview Inn, Hilton Clearwater Beach Resort, Magnuson Hotel Resort and Sandpearl Resort. The Hyatt and Sandpearl packages also include a copy of the book Winter’s Tale. Each property provides a portion of the proceeds from your clients’ stay to the aquarium to help build Winter’s new home.
Suggest to your clients that they book their Clearwater vacations ASAP. With the release of Dolphin Tale on DVD scheduled for December 20—just in time for holiday gift giving—there could be another bump up in the demand to see Winter the dolphin and the aquarium and city she calls home.
For queries, contact the chambers of commerce for Clearwater (Bob Clifford, 727-461-0011) and Clearwater Beach (Darlene Kole, 888-799-3199, 727-447-7600).