- Zoos and Aquariums Type
- Less than 1 hour Time to Spend
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Tampa is a city made for animal lovers willing to pay the price for cuddly, unique and cute. Science centers, zoos and aquariums that don't charge at least a little something for you to enter are few and far between. Which is why the Tampa Electric's Manatee Viewing Center is so special. Vacationers appreciate a little break in their itineraries to see manatees swimming through the Tampa Electric water plant, and they don't have to pay an arm and a leg for the privilege. In fact, you won't have to pay anything at all. At the Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach, manatees seek refuge in the power station's discharge panel, where clean, warm Tampa Bay saltwater flows. When the bay gets too chilly for the manatees, they retreat to this space for warmth. Keeping this in mind, it's best to visit the center from Nov. 1 to April 15, when you can actually spot the animals.
When your eyes aren't on the water, turn your attention to the center's other attractions, including a mangrove exhibit, a butterfly garden and a pretty impressive gift shop. You can also get a bird's-eye view of the area by climbing up the stairs to the 50-foot viewing tower, located halfway down the Manatee Viewing Center's habitat loop trail. Recent visitors provided generally favorable reviews for the center, but do note that it's a bit of a drive from downtown Tampa (about 25 miles south). Travelers also warned that it can get a bit chilly by the water, especially in the winter (the optimal viewing months), so dress warmly. You can visit from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. any day but Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. Visit the center's website for further details.