One of the joys of parenthood is being able to share your interests with your children. (It's not too difficult to persuade them to go to the Orlando theme parks with me!) But perhaps even more wonderful is being introduced to your children's passions and having the chance to learn from them and their interests.
Three years ago, my then-seven-year-old daughter and I saw "Dolphin Tale" at the movie theater. Like so many other children, she fell in love with its star, Winter, and dolphins in general. Before that film, I didn't have much more than an average knowledge of dolphins, though I certainly appreciated their gentle nature and beauty.
Since then, we both have learned together about marine life as we visited Clearwater Marine Aquarium where Winter lives; became pass members at SeaWorld Orlando, where my daughter has participated in dolphin feedings, taken up-close tours and talked with trainers; spent a day at Discovery Cove where we swam with a dolphin; witnessed a rehabilitated manatee release at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge; and watched an endangered sea turtle make a nest and lay its eggs on a Brevard County beach under the watchful eyes of a state-licensed guide.
These experiences have been fascinating, fun and probably not something my husband or I would have explored had it not been for my daughter's passion. You see, she wants to be a marine biologist and a dolphin trainer. Fortunately, we live in Orlando -- and not Indiana, where I grew up! I'm not naive enough to believe that her interests might not change before she goes to college in eight years, but I am supportive of what inspires and motivates her now.
The sequel to "Dolphin Tale" debuted in theaters over the weekend, and I'm certain it will move a new audience to become interested in dolphins, sea turtles, pelicans and other marine life. Although some aspects of the story have been changed for the big screen, of course, "Dolphin Tale 2" is based on a true story -- one of rescuing yet another young dolphin, named Hope. (Fun fact: Hope arrived at Clearwater Marine Aquarium on the day film crews wrapped shooting for the original film.) This family friendly movie does offer its audience some life lessons, though perhaps not as dramatic as the original movie. Ultimately, "Dolphin Tale 2" takes viewers on a journey to a feel-good ending.
The young stars of the movie -- Nathan Gamble (Sawyer) and Cozi Zuehlsdorff (Hazel) -- have visited the aquarium to meet with fans and to promote "Dolphin Tale 2" in the months leading up to the sequel's release. My daughter was fortunate to be able to meet them and Austin Highsmith (Pheobe) over the summer. You can watch their question & answer session with Clearwater Marine Aquarium CEO David Yates that we attended here. (Fun fact: Yates appears in "Dolphin Tale 2"; see if you can spot him.)
"Dolphin Tale 2" also brings back veteran actors Harry Connick Jr. (Dr. Clay Haskett), Kris Kristofferson (Reed Haskett), Morgan Feeman (Dr. Cameron McCarthy) and Ashley Judd (Lorraine Nelson) to reprise their roles. One notable cameo is that of surfer Bethany Hamilton, whose arm was bitten off by a shark. Her appearance reminds us of the many children (and adults) who have been inspired by Winter. The bottlenose dolphin was nursed back to health after the loss of her fluke and was successfully fitted with the first prosthetic tail fin.
If, like my daughter, you just can't get enough of Winter and her friends, you, too, can visit Clearwater Marine Aquarium and see them for yourself. The facility is just a 90-minute drive from Orlando. It's not a planned tourist attraction, so don't expect elaborate displays, shows and rides. What you will find at the working hospital is amazing in its own right -- volunteers and staff working to save animals, and you can visit the creatures and talk with the trainers. Plus, if you've seen "Dolphin Tale" and "Dolphin Tale 2," it's fun to recognize and walk through the places featured in the movie.
Included in your ticket to Clearwater Marine Aquarium is transportation and admission to Winter's Dolphin Tale Adventure in downtown Clearwater. This location shows images, re-creations and actual props from the movie. For a bottlenose to fluke explanation of what you can do at the two locations, see my post from last year.