Visitors to the Middle Keys can enjoy an immersive experience with reef fish, invertebrates, stingrays and even sharks — without entering the ocean — at Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters, a marine life attraction in Marathon.
The signature feature of the multimillion-dollar facility, located at the foot of the Vaca Cut Bridge, is a coral reef exhibit and shark habitat housed in a massive 200,000-gallon interconnected saltwater aquarium for viewing.
Following an instructional presentation, participants in the flagship 90-minute encounter immerse themselves in the tank to hover over a mock coral reef structure and interact with tropical reef fish, rays and other reef-dwelling marine species that are part of the in-tank ecosystem.
The encounter utilizes tethered diving technology, enabling individuals without any prior scuba experience to enjoy the in-water opportunity with supervision from trained professional dive instructors. A large fortified Plexiglas window divides the coral reef tank from a shark and predatory fish tank, and participants can hand-feed these creatures through underwater feeding ports in the wall.
Other interactive aquarium encounters include shallow touch tanks that feature starfish, conchs and horseshoe crabs, and allow feeding de-barbed stingrays and docile baby nurse sharks. At each encounter, a staff marine biologist provides educational introduction and guidance.
Visitors also can snorkel in a shallow protected lagoon, enjoy refreshments from an on-site concession café, and browse the open-air gift shop. Interactive in-water experiences are priced from $25 to $150 depending on the age and number of people in a group.
Follow up the aquarium experience with some dessert at Sweet Savannah’s, located a half mile south on U.S.1. The bakery and ice cream shop has a full array of temptations ranging from milkshakes and sundaes made with homemade ice cream to cookies, pies and cake. We recommend piling on the saltwater experience with a sweet ‘n’ salty chocolate cupcake.