Old and new collide in a spectacular celebration of nature
It’s relaxing in the sun, swimming with dolphins, participating in conservation projects, kayaking through the canals and estuaries, attending scientific lectures or walking in the steps of the Timucuan Indians. This is Marineland, Florida, off I-95, north of Daytona and about 18 miles south of St. Augustine, along the iconic Highway A1A.
Guests lucky enough to happen upon this slice of paradise will soon learn the center point of the Marineland experience is Marineland Dolphin Adventure, the ocean-side facility founded as Marine Studios more than 75 years ago. The world’s first oceanarium and, at the time of its founding, the world’s largest aquarium, was built as an underwater filming studio providing guests and audiences with a window to the ocean. Marine Studios allowed filmmakers to create a new way of filming by showcasing marine animals in a naturalistic habitat. Over the years, Marine Studios served as the set to numerous films such as “Revenge of the Creature” (1955) and “Zaat”(1971). Marine Studios also served as the set for an episode of ABC’s “Benji Takes a Dive” (1981), which memorably featured the first SCUBA diving dog.
Marineland was home to the world’s first trained dolphin, Flippy, who contributed to the park’s rise in popularity, and its becoming internationally known for having the first-ever dolphin shows and exhibits showcasing various forms of marine life. By the mid-1970s, Marineland was welcoming more than 300,000 guests each year and continued to add new attractions including a 3D theater, penguin bar, gift shop, fudge factory and the famous Moby Dick lounge, a local watering hole frequented by Ernest Hemingway.
Marineland was the first facility to successfully breed and train bottlenose dolphins, and it was Marineland’s early scientists who discovered such well-known and documented phenomena as dolphin echolocation, social behavior and communication methods. Researchers from around the world were especially interested in studying marine life at such a close and accessible proximity. As a result, studies in marine science, animal training and water chemistry were pioneered at the facility. Being the first of it’s kind, Marineland served as the model on which many other aquariums, oceanariums and marine parks based their own development and design. On January 1, 2011, Georgia Aquarium purchased the park and renamed it Marineland Dolphin Adventure.
The modernized 1.3 million-gallon facility has been redesigned with the behavioral needs of the animal, the viewing capabilities of the guest and researcher, and the logistical needs of the trainer in mind. Named on the National Register of Historic Places, Marineland Dolphin Adventure is specifically designed for interactive dolphin encounters and continues to offer a variety of interactive adventures, educating guests to gain a better understanding of marine mammals and inspiring conservation efforts on their behalf. The park continues to work alongside its sister facilities, the nearby Georgia Aquarium Conservation Field Station and Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, as they collaborate with world-renowned specialists in the field of marine mammal research and conservation efforts in the Southeast.
Today guests can participate in interactive and in-water programs, making physical and emotional connections with the animals. Behind the Seas, the behind-the-scenes and below-the-decks tour of Marineland Dolphin Adventure, offers an inside look at the facility and new animal exhibits, providing a fantastic way to learn more about Marineland’s pioneering work in aquatic animal research and the advancement of life support systems for aquatic environments. Guests get up close with exhibits featuring live animals of the Southeast region of the United States, absorbing information on the importance of the Gulf Stream, ecosystems, conservation and invasive species like lion fish, green moray eels, jellyfish, lobsters and other species wreaking havoc on native populations along the eastern seaboard. Nearby, Marineland’s GTM Research Reserve protects 73,352 acres that provide habitat for a wide variety of fish and wildlife. A species list recently compiled for Guana River Marsh Aquatic Preserve indicated the presence of at least 44 mammal, 358 bird, 41 reptile, 21 amphibian, 303 fish and 580 plant species.
Say “I do”
Put a spin on the traditional beach-side vows and say “I do” at Marineland Dolphin Adventure, a destination for weddings and events for years, now with a renovated patio area. A lush landscape surrounds a tented patio with tables and chairs to accommodate up to 125 guests. The pristine, serene Atlantic coastline serves as a natural backdrop for the ceremony. The unexpected twist? Guests will squeal with delight as Atlantic bottlenose dolphins dance through the air at the celebrated first kiss as man and wife – or even during the vows. The bride and groom work with a wedding planner to time the jumps for the perfect moment. Nearby, the Hammock Beach Resort offers first-class accommodations for out of town guests and easy access to the pristine beach and manicured golf course. Nearby, relish the extensive wine and cheese selection at The Hammock Wine and Cheese Shoppe where live music Fridays and Saturdays sets the scene for catching up with friends and family. For celebratory dinners, Atlantic Grille Oceanfront Restaurant at Hammock Beach Resort serves up mouth-watering temptations like pan-seared grouper and seafood tortellini.
Educational and ecology centered, possibly the highlights of anyone’s visit to the town of Marineland, are the natural jewels which set the destination apart from others. With miles of biking trails, dolphins to swim with, kayaking canals, walking paths and pristine beaches, the outdoor enthusiast will have something new to experience every day. Spanning both sides of highway A1A, the 90-acre River to Sea Preserve protects a rapidly disappearing maritime scrub environment and offers walking trails, nature vistas and ecological education opportunities, as well as public access to the beach and waterways. Bring your own equipment or gear up at one of the local professional outfitters.
Marineland is home to the Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience, a University of Florida marine research center, which is known for cutting-edge marine research and education. The center will open a brand new sea turtle hospital in October.
Ripple Effect Ecotours, also based at the adjacent Marineland Marina, guides incredible natural interpretation of the 77,000 acres that make up the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM-NERR) from the low-impact, unique perspective of a kayak. Another option for exploring? Board the Ripple Effect 1, a vegetable-oil powered boat providing a one-of-a-kind eco-friendly tour of the area’s coastal habitats, using a sustainable, renewable and recycled fuel source with a 50% reduction in carbon emissions. At Ripple Effect, you can also take Master Naturalist guided eco-educational kayak tours which provide a unique vantage point for traveling the GTM-NERR waterways that have been designated one of the most productive ecosystems on the planet. Additional paddling options: full moon, birding, fishing, astronomy and twilight tours keep the perspective original. Like Ripple Effect on Facebook and stay in the know about ongoing special events and tour information, including family kayaking excursions and sunset tours.
Located in the heart of Marineland, the Marina & Visitor’s Center has all the information guests need – from where to dock the boat to creating an outdoor itinerary and making reservations.