Are you looking for fun things to do around Fort Walton Beach? Maybe you are looking for places to swim with dolphins near Destin, FL.
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!
- Gulfarium Location
- Hours and Admission
- Special Events
- Animal Encounters
- Exhibits and Shows
- Dining at the Gulfarium
- Things to Do Near Fort Walton Beach
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, I cannot recommend it enough! The ocean water is completely clear, and the sand is super soft and white.
Hours and Admission
The Gulfarium is open daily from 9:00 in the morning until 4:30 in the afternoon. 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 this schedule before your visit, so you can plan your itinerary around the available animals.
Vouchers and Coupons
The Gulfarium sometimes offers special group rates or other discounts for school groups. At the time of this article, they are not accepting groups of more than 15 people due to the pandemic.
The Gulfarium does offer a military discount of 10% off admission for those with military ID and their immediate family members if you qualify for this.
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 celebrate your child’s next birthday at the Gulfarium by purchasing their special birthday package.
This package includes things such as:
- party room
- goody bags
- character meet and greet
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.
My kids loved it from the second they walked in the building.
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!
Visitors have several different options for interacting with dolphins at the Gulfarium. You can choose from the Dolphin Star, Discover Dolphins, or Dolphin Splash Encounter.
If you are visiting the Destin or Fort Walton Beach area and looking to swim with dolphins, the Dolphin Splash Encounter is a great option! It allows adults and kids (age 8 and up) to actually get in the water and “play” with the animals.
We wanted to do the Dolphin Star interaction with our five year old on our most recent trip, but it was sold out.
**Tip** I suggest booking these animal encounters ONLINE ahead of time if you can because the encounters looked like a lot of fun!
Seals and Sea Lions
In addition to swimming with dolphins, 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!
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. 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 one year old seemed to enjoy herself too.
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.
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!
Near the indoor aquarium, visitors will find the stingrays and seals.
Dining at the Gulfarium
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.
The food options at the Gulfarium’s restaurant window included:
- chicken tenders
The Gulfarium had several picnic tables set up near the dining station so that visitors had a place to sit and enjoy their food.
You can find more kid-friendly dining options near Fort Walton Beach here!
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.
Things to Do Near Fort Walton Beach
The towns along the Emerald Coast are all really geared toward families. Many of the restaurants are kid-friendly and even include live entertainment.
In addition to the Gulfarium, the Florida panhandle offers so many options for active families including:
- boat rentals
- water parks
- Wild Willy’s Adventure Zone
- go carts
- dolphin cruises
- Emerald Coast Zoo
- splash pads
- Gulf Breeze Zoo
- visit 30A
And those are just a few of the options available. Plus you have the most beautiful beach to play on!
Final Thoughts on the Gulfarium in Fort Walton Beach
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 was a great attraction for our family because the shows and animals entertain both toddlers and kids!
Overall, we spent about two hours at the Gulfarium. Both of my kids (aged 5 and 1) loved seeing all the different animals.
The Gulfarium is located right on the beach, and it’s a super easy drive from the Destin area! Whether you are looking to swim 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 swim with dolphins or see animals?
Comment below to tell me about it!