Monday, September 01, 2014

Clearwater, Florida USA: Summer Camp and Family Beach Fun

There are trips that come about because of an interest in a certain culture. Other vacations start because of a picture or an article in a magazine. Others still, friends recommend. But for this past summer's holiday, our adventure began during a rainy day in Cannes, France three years ago.

My daughter (then six years old) and I had gone to the closest cinema to escape the weather. She chose a film based on a true story entitled L'incroyable Histoire de Winter, known in America as Dolphin Tale. I hadn't yet realized in that dim lit room, while watching this heart-warming story, that we were actually venturing on a new journey fuelled by the passion of a child (the best renewable energy that exists). My daughter walked out of the cinema with an empowerment, a love for dolphins, and a mission to save them.

From that moment on, in every book shop, she bought books on dolphins. At the school library, she checked out books about dolphins. And on the website of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium,, she checked up regularly on the famous dolphin Winter. But she also learned about other sea life throughout her research and about the other residents of the aquarium. Eventually, she adopted a dolphin named Hope for a year. Her older sister also got “hooked” (in a good way!) on the aquarium and adopted a sea turtle named Molly.
Not Molly because she was resting
(doctor's orders)

But the stuffed animals, adoption certificates, and monthly updates weren't enough. The whole family took an interest in the well-being of marine life. From the shores of Cornwall, UK to Mediterranean beaches, we searched and snorkelled for sea creatures. 

And finally, last month, we made the journey to Clearwater.

Not only did we visit the Clearwater Marine Aquarium every day for ten days straight (I don't think we left one inch unexplored), but both of my daughters attended the aquarium's morning day camps. My oldest daughter took part in the Junior Ecologist program while my youngest learned all about working at an aquarium during the Helping Hands program. One evening, we even had the enormous pleasure of witnessing and assisting in a sea turtle hatching on the beach. Above all, I appreciated the huge emphasis on the well-being, respect, and care of the sea life throughout the week.

The evening the turtles hatched.

Besides home to this fascinating aquarium, in 2013 Clearwater was voted the best Florida beach town in USA Today. I agree and for many reasons. To name a few: the whitest, softest sand leading into the warm water of the Gulf of Mexico. The fun atmosphere, delicious seafood, and breath-taking sunsets from numerous bars and restaurants, and along Pier 60. The friendly, accommodating, and generous people who offer boat tours, jet-ski tours, sailboat rentals, and any other activities a visitor would want to try.

So when my daughters now proclaim that they want to work at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium when they get older, I'm all for it. And, I'll be happy to join them in this family-friendly beach town. But while they work their way through elementary school first, we will continue to look out for Winter and her friends. And of course, Winter's newest film L'incroyable Histoire de Winter 2 (or Dolphin Tale 2) is already in our agenda – coming out in Europe on September 24, 2014 (September 12 in America).

My recommendations:
Rooftop views from our rental

Accommodation: VRBO

Restaurants: It seems every other place is called Frenchy's, we enjoyed (twice) Frenchy's Rockaway Grill right on the beach. But most of the eateries along the beach are fun with good food, drink, and live music.

Boat tours, parasailing, scuba diving, etc.: Just walk along the marina where all these services are literally lined up along the pier. Otherwise, we met Finn at the end of our street who took us jet-skiing and also offers paddle boarding.

Tip: While booking the children into camp, I went ahead and bought a family membership to the aquarium. Although we are too far away to visit regularly, the membership gave us a discount on the camp, in the gift shop, and the flexibility to come and go as we pleased (without a long line) every day during our vacation. It was well worth it!