Dolphin Encounters at the Gulfarium (Near Destin FL)

dolphins at Gulfarium in Destin

If you’re planning a beach vacation to the Destin, FL area, you may be looking for places to swim with dolphins. My family and I had a blast when we visited the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park on our most recent trip to the Florida panhandle. The Gulfarium in Fort Walton Beach, FL features animal shows, encounters, and exhibits that are all really informative and entertaining for any age group.

This post describes the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park in more detail including photos and tips from my family’s most recent visit! We also discuss the unique opportunities to interact with dolphins at this family friendly attraction.

Gulfarium Info.

Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park is located on Okaloosa Island between Pensacola and Destin. If you are familiar with the Emerald Coast of Florida, you know that there is a main highway that runs parallel to the coastline. The Gulfarium is located right on this main road and is surrounded by multiple shops and restaurants.

If you have never visited this area of Florida on a family vacation, I cannot recommend it enough! The ocean water is completely clear, and the sand is super soft and white. The Gulfarium is open daily from 9:00 in the morning until 4:30 in the afternoon.

Gulfarium Marine Adventure park photo op chairs

In fact, the only days the Gulfarium is closed are Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. The animal shows and encounters all follow specific schedules depending on the season. I suggest checking the schedule before your visit, so you can plan your itinerary around the available animals.

The Gulfarium sometimes offers special group rates or other discounts for school groups. At the time of this article, groups of 15 or more can receive a 10% discount while groups of 50 or more receive 20% off. The Gulfarium does offer a military discount of and a Florida resident discount as well.

printable beach planner

Another great way to save money at the Gulfarium is to purchase a membership package. They offer several different annual pass packages for individuals and families. If you hold an annual pass, you also receive discounts on merchandise, dining, and some special events.

Throughout the year, the Gulfarium hosts themed activities. In addition to these, you can rent the Gulfarium for special events. You can even celebrate your child’s next birthday at the Gulfarium by purchasing their special birthday package. This package includes things such as:

  • party room
  • lunch
  • cake
  • goody bags
  • character meet and greet
  • decorations

Double check their official website for more information on booking your birthday party! In addition to birthday parties, you can also schedule other events at the Gulfarium. They have experience hosting weddings, proposals, and basically any private party you needing to host.

Animal Encounters

You will enter the Gulfarium through the gift shop, which sells all sorts of fun beach and aquarium themed items for adults and kids. This is where you can purchase your admission tickets and sign up for one of the many animal encounters. The Gulfarium offers many different types of animal encounters, which I will highlight below!

Dolphin Experiences

Visitors have several different options for interacting with dolphins at the Gulfarium. You can choose from the Dolphin Star, Discover Dolphins, or Dolphin Doodle. The Dolphin Star experience allows you to participate in the live show; the Discover Dolphins encounter lets guests feed and pet the animals from a platform; and the Dolphin Doodle allows you to hold a canvas as the dolphin “paints” a picture. Note that you will need to book the dolphin encounters over the phone prior to your visit.

Seals and Sea Lions

In addition to dolphin encounters, guests at the Gulfarium also have the option to interact with seals and sea lions. Those visitors aged 8 and older can schedule special encounters where they can feed, pet, and play with either seals or sea lions.


The Gulfarium offers many different types of reptiles with which you can interact as well. Choose from turtles, snakes, alligators, or lizards for a really unique experience!


Some of our favorite animals at the Gulfarium are the penguins! You can feed and pet these adorable animals by signing up for the Discover Penguins encouner. Please note that children must be at least 8 years old in order to book this encounter.

Exhibits and Shows

The Gulfarium in Fort Walton Beach offers many different animal exhibits and some really entertaining shows. Some of the shows and animals we were able to enjoy on our visit include the following:

Dolphin Show – The dolphin show takes place in an outdoor pavilion. They open the doors to the viewing area 15 minutes before show time. You can sit on the benches pictured below or you can stand against the railing around the tank.

dolphins at Gulfarium in Destin
You can interact and swim with the dolphins!
dolphin show seating
dolphin trainers

My five year old wanted to stand by the railing, which is considered the splash zone. We were sprinkled with water a couple times, but we didn’t get soaked or anything. The show lasted about 20 minutes and was really informative! My older daughter loved watching the dolphins jump and flip. My toddler seemed to enjoy herself too.

Penguins – As we walked by the penguin exhibit, one of the animal caretakers was holding an adorable little penguin. She had it against her shoulder like a baby, and it looked like it was hugging her. They were super cute!


Sharks and Reptiles – Near the tank holding the sharks, you will find the area that houses the alligators and turtles. This section of the Gulfarium also offers areas to view birds, lizards, and snakes.

Sea Lion Show – The sea lions perform in a small outdoor auditorium. This show lasted about 15 minutes and was really informative and funny. The employees at the Gulfarium really do a great job of teaching the audience about the animals.

sea lion

Indoor Aquarium – The indoor aquarium at the Gulfarium displayed a lot of different types of fish in these tanks. This Red Lionfish grabbed all of our attention because we had never seen anything like it!

Lion Fish


I always like to know the available food options before I visit places with my family. My husband has dietary restrictions, and both of my kids are really picky eaters. It’s nice to know our options for food before we visit so that we can plan accordingly.

Food menu at Gulfarium

The food options at the Gulfarium’s restaurant window included:

  • hamburgers
  • cheeseburgers
  • hotdogs
  • chicken tenders
  • nachos
  • wraps
  • sandwiches
  • popcorn
  • chips
  • cookies

The Gulfarium had several picnic tables set up near the dining station so that visitors had a place to sit and enjoy their food.


Is the Gulfarium open?

The Gulfarium is currently opening daily for its regular hours. As this is subject to change, make sure you check their schedule for the specific date you are wanting to visit. Also note that they are closed each year on Thanksgiving Day and on Christmas Day.

Is the Gulfarium indoors?

The Gulfarium does offer some indoor exhibits. The aquarium viewing area that houses many types of fish is completely indoors. Although most of the remaining areas of the Gulfarium are outdoors, many of them are covered and offer plenty of shade. These covered areas also help make the Gulfarium a great place to visit on a rainy day!

Is the Gulfarium in Destin?

Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park is located in Fort Walton Beach, FL. Depending on traffic and on which side of Destin from which you are traveling, this area is about a 20-30 minute drive down Highway 98 toward Pensacola.

Final Thoughts on the Gulfarium near Destin

My family has experienced many of the Destin area activities I listed above, but the Gulfarium is one of our absolute favorites! Sometimes it’s hard to find kid-friendly activities that meet the needs of various age groups. The Gulfarium is a great attraction for families because the shows and animals entertain kids of all ages.

printable beach travel planner

Overall, we spent about two hours at the Gulfarium. Both of my kids loved seeing all the different animals. Plus, it’s located right on the beach and an easy drive from the Destin area.

Whether you are looking to interact with dolphins or pet a penguin, the Gulfarium in Fort Walton Beach is a great place to visit. Have you visited Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park to interact with dolphins or see animals? Comment below to tell me about it!

sea lions with text overlay Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park Desin, FL

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