One of the world’s largest saltwater aquariums, it’s 27 feet deep, 203 feet across, holds 5.7 million gallons, and you can spend as long as you like watching the swimming creatures from two levels. About a third of the tank is reserved for dolphins and sea turtles, while reef fish, rays, and sharks dominate the rest. When the pavilion opened in 1986 as The Living Seas, sharks were the big draw and scientists answered questions everywhere; today, because of “Finding Nemo,” kids ask to see the clown fish and there’s nary an interpreter in sight. A visit begins with a 5-minute, slow-moving ride in OmniMover “clamobiles” through a simulated undersea world. Half the point of the ride is, of course, to find Nemo, who’s lost again; the other characters incessantly shout his name, which soon grates on adult nerves. The ride climaxes to the tune of “In the Big Blue World” (from the Nemo musical at Animal Kingdom) with a peek into the real aquarium as Nemo and his friends are projected into the windows, cleverly uniting the fictional world with the real animal universe, “Seabase,” with which you will now be acquainted. A few times a day, the giant tube dominating the hall is occupied by a diver—an unforgettable sight—to demonstrate how SCUBA works. On the second floor, which is quieter than the kiddie-clogged first floor, don’t miss the observation platform that extends into the mighty tank. The daily roster sign apprises you of the day’s dolphin talks and fish feedings (the schedule is busiest between 10am and 4pm), when there will be someone on hand to explain what you’re seeing. The dolphins live separately in the first space on the left. If human divers are swimming, they’ll communicate with guests by way of magnetized writing tablets. Also, check out the manatees, the sweet-natured “sea cows” that are threatened in Florida. Strategy: If the pavilion’s entry line is horrific, bypass the ride by entering through the exit, at the far left.
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