|It’s interesting what you stumble upon sometimes. I had no idea we had an aquarium! My boys love animals and the water and we haven’t made it to one of the big aquariums yet, so I was really excited to try this out!
Founders and husband and wife duo, Shawn and Kathy Hiester, spent two years traveling the country touring other aquariums before building the St. Augustine Aquarium, Snorkel Adventure and Zipline, located on rt. 16, about one mile off exit 318. (The outlet exit! Shhh, don’t tell the husbands!) It has been open for around three years and is currently in its first phase, with plans for two additional phases! I had the pleasure of meeting Shawn and hearing of their adventures in building the aquarium. It’s a fascinating story and they’re a delightful couple!
The SAA is open 7 days a week 10am-5pm. Reservations are required and can be made via phone. Your entry fee includes a one-hour guided tour by a marine biologist. Adults are $10 and children 3-12 are $6. Additionally, you can purchase tickets for shark and stingray touch and feeding. PRO TIP: I was confused by this initially, but feeding and touching require two different tickets. For $5, you can touch or feed the sharks, or pay $10 to do both. Same pricing for stingrays. There is no discount for bundling so if you want to do it all, it’s $20 + entry fee.
The first important piece of info is the aquarium is OUTSIDE! Most of it is covered, except for the walkways. Despite going on a hot day in the early afternoon, we were all comfortable! When you arrive, you check in inside. PRO TIP: Bathrooms are located to the left of the ticket office. You will be greeted by your guide, (ours was friendly, enthusiastic, and patient!), and asked to sign a waiver prior to the tour. There are three stations/areas. The first included a touch/feel experience with several creatures, including a sea urchin and horseshoe crab. The kids LOVED this! Our guide did a perfect amount of talking for the adults to learn, while the children each got to hold or touch a new friend. (Let’s be honest, I asked to hold and touch them, too!) Second was the 80,000-gallon tank, where snorkeling is also offered! We got to see a family doing this and it looked awesome! Last is the shark and stingray tank. This was a huge hit, as we all were able to touch and feed the sharks and stingrays. My son had a huge smile and he probably asked our guide ten times if he could feed them again.
There is an outside snack shack with cold drinks, light food and ice cream, as well as a small gift shop with additional souvenirs and refreshments/snacks. There is also a zipline, but that was temporarily closed while we were there. They have a summer camp program and are a unique venue for birthday parties!
The St. Augustine Aquarium was a fun and educational experience for both adults and kids. We will definitely be back and are looking forward to seeing the next phase as they expand!