In my previous post , I discussed the programs offered at Dolphin Cove  and Dolphins Plus  in Key Largo. Well, happily, those aren't the only marine mammal attractions you'll find in the Upper Florida Keys.
Around mile marker 84.5, you'll be hard-pressed to miss the enormous sign for Theater of the Sea  (84721 Overseas Hwy., 305/664-2431, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, $27 adults, $20 children 3-10), the second oldest marine mammal facility in the world. Established in 1946, this lush 17-acre marine animal park features entertaining dolphin, sea lion, and parrot shows every day of the year. Such shows integrate lessons about anatomy, physiology, husbandry, natural history, and conservation in an informative, interactive, and often hilarious presentation. In addition to watching the varied shows, you can stroll amid habitats containing enormous sea turtles, alligators, tropical birds, reptiles, and other marine creatures – and perhaps catch a glimpse of a free-roaming iguana.
Some visitors even choose to take a guided bottomless boat ride or board a four-hour adventure and snorkeling cruise to an offshore coral reef. Of course, many visitors come to interact with the animals themselves. Here, you can watch dolphins and sea lions paint colorful, abstract pictures, learn the hand signals for natural behaviors like waving and kissing, and even swim with the resident dolphins, sea lions, and stingrays in the on-site lagoon. Although my husband and I didn't have time to swim with the animals during our recent visit, we were able to watch Wilbur, a 400-pound sea lion, paint an abstract painting that we luckily got to keep. In addition, we watched an enthralling dolphin show that featured the antics of two brothers, Sherman and Twister, who even demonstrated blowhole sounds that mimicked seaplane propellers, crying kids, laughter, human farting, even a Geiger counter. Afterward, we were able to observe a sea lion show, during which Mimi pretended to faint, imitated a wriggling seal, and did her impression of a shark. I even got the chance to shake Mimi's flipper, a moment I'll never forget.
The cost of admission includes access to the lagoon-side beach, the guided marinelife tour, the bottomless boat ride, snorkel gear, and the dolphin, sea lion, and parrot shows. Additional charges apply for special programs, such as swimming with the rays ($55), meeting a sea lion or dolphin ($75), swimming with a sea lion ($135), wading with a dolphin ($165), swimming with a dolphin ($175), and the adventure cruise ($69 adults, $45 children 3-12). Reservations may be required for certain programs, and restrictions such as age and physical fitness may apply, so be sure to call ahead. Be aware, too, that the shows run continuously, so you can simply join the one in progress as soon as you arrive. Allow 2.5 hours to experience everything, save for the optional adventure cruise.
For information about other attractions in the Islamorada area, consult the Islamorada Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center  (MM 83.2 BS U.S. 1, 305/664-4503 or 800/322-5397, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat., 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sun.) – and enjoy your next visit to the Florida Keys !
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.
Photo © 2010 Daniel Martone / Text © 2010 Laura Martone