They say you should do something once a year that scares you and boy have I completed the task for this year! I was so scared before booking my bucket list shark dive at the Florida Aquarium that I almost didn’t do it. Luckily, it turned out to be one of the coolest things I’ve ever done and one of my favorite activities I did in Florida, besides swimming with manatees!

Ever since I’ve been scuba certified, I’ve always wanted to dive with sharks. Something about being an advanced certified diver makes you always want to chase after the next biggest fish. So, when I found out I could go shark diving in Tampa at the Florida Aquarium, I knew I had to book it.

shark

My Experience at the Florida Aquarium Diving with Sharks

I went on my Florida Aquarium shark dive with my friend, Jenn from Coleman Concierge. She had just gone “wild shark diving” in Cozumel, Mexico and I was looking to her to calm my nerves. Thanks Jenn! Let’s just say she was a good person for me to have around. When we arrived at the aquarium in the morning I was super freaked out. It almost felt like the same feeling I had when I woke up the morning I had agreed to go sky diving for the first time. Just knowing I’d be super close to sharks in less than an hour had me questioning my decisions in life.

What to wear in Florida in the winter

SHARK DIVE PREPARATION

Upon arriving inside the aquarium, we were first taken to the back entrance where only the employees are allowed. It was super interesting to see the back of the aquarium. I’d seen one once before at the Indianapolis zoo, but knowing I was actually going to be inside this one made it feel a lot more intense! We climbed the stairs of the aquarium tank and began our dive briefing session right above the shark tank.

shark
shark dive

DIVE BRIEFING

The aquarium experts started out by describing what types of fish we would be seeing in the coral reef tank. They told us there was one nurse shark and two tiger sharks in the tank, but the main thing to watch out for was the turtle! Apparently, the turtle, Flip, controls the tank and you need to keep your distance or he will come at you. We also learned that divers go in the tank multiple times a day, so the sharks are very used to people. This calmed my nerves a bit!

Next, we were introduced to our dive masters (we each got our own) and they took copies of our dive cards to prove we were actually divers. We were then taken to our lockers. Both of us started to feel like royalty when we saw that each locker had our name on it and perfectly sized wetsuits and diving booties inside. We even got shirts that said we were certified shark divers and a certificate of completion!

Once we were suited up, they escorted us down and into the actual aquarium where the visitors come in. The doors hadn’t opened quite yet so no one was there and we were able to look in and see the sharks and fish we would soon be swimming with!

shark swim
behind the scenes at florida aquarium

ENTERING THE AQUARIUM SHARK TANK

Once we’d seen from the outside in, it was time to enter the sharks den! Our dive masters set up all of our gear (again it felt like royal treatment). They helped us put on our BCD’s and fins and we were off to the races. To enter into the water, you slide into a metal cage. No stride or backflip entry which made it super easy! Once you’re in the cage you lower down your BCD and there you are in the tank.

I could NOT believe my eyes when I was finally in the water. This was literally like what they say when you go on a wonderful ocean dive and someone says, “that was like diving in an aquarium”. We were quite literally diving in an aquarium and everything was so vivid and colorful! It reminded me of Finding Nemo with beautiful fish at every turn. On top of that, the entire experience was one of the most peaceful I’ve had.

entering
(via Jenn @ColemanConcierge)
entering shark tank
(via Jenn @ColemanConcierge)

INSIDE THE FLORIDA AQUARIUM

BEGINNING OF THE DIVE

Nothing is like actually being inside of an aquarium like that. Like I said before, it’s a complete calming and magical experience. At this moment, the sharks were in the distance. We started out swimming to the bottom of the tank and over to the sandy bottom where we knelt to view everything around us. Here, I had a fish friend who loved getting close to me and I, of course, loved it too.

This is also where we came in contact with the master of the tank, Flip the turtle! Fun fact: the dive masters carry long sticks just in case the turtle, or shark comes too close, but it’s mostly for the turtle! Who knew?

When we were at the sandy bottom I could start seeing visitors starting to come in to the aquarium. It was wild being on the inside of the tank looking out!

inside the aquarium
(via Jenn @ColemanConcierge)

MIDDLE OF THE DIVE

After leaving the sandy bottom, it was time to go up a bit to the middle of the reef. Along the way there we had to pass next to two eels. These were the biggest eels I had ever seen in my life and reminded me of the eels that Ursula had in the Little Mermaid. I was afraid of kicking one or having one grab my fin, so I tried to keep my distance. These might even have been more scary than the sharks!

We finally reached the coral reef where I was instructed to hold on to the coral. As a trained diver it almost felt sac religious to be holding onto coral. That was until we realized it was fake and plastic. In the end I was VERY grateful to these holds because right as we got to this section of the dive I saw a shark coming right at me. My dive master seemed to have timed our swim and stop at the coral perfectly with the sharks making their rounds.

shark dive
shark coming at me
(via Jenn @ColemanConcierge)
shark dive
eel in florida aquarium
(via Jenn @ColemanConcierge)

All of a sudden I looked up and there was a shark coming straight above me! My heart started pounding and I was freaked out into stillness! Then within moments the shark peacefully passed by me and all was well. About a second later though, the next one came along. This time I realized I was going to be fine and started to observe the shark more closely. The teeth, the fins, the shark’s “private parts” were all so fascinating to see close up.

Then, the most terrifying part happened!!  The dive master moved me to the side of the coral which was right in the sharks pathway. The shark kept coming towards me and kept on coming straight towards my face. I felt like I was 2 small inches away from him until he FINALLY turned around. I knew everything would be fine based on being briefed above water, but man it sure still did give me a thrill.

Here’s what it looked like from my perspective!

shark dive
shark diving
shark dive
shark diving

END OF THE DIVE

After spending time at the bottom and middle of the tanks, we ended our dive at the top of the tank. Here I had sharks swimming over my head, next to me and right in front of me. The manta ray came super close to me too. I just love manta rays and this one was huge! This was a great point to see the entire aquarium as a whole. I could have stayed down there forever!

shark dive

Then at one point I had a tiger shark coming towards me and learned there was a nurse shark behind me! I didn’t even know this shark was in the tank because it likes to hang out in the dark and underneath the walking plank (usually where the feed the fish). As we made our way over towards him, he swam right out and I got to see his whole body which was pretty incredible!

To get out of the tank, we swam back over to the cage and got brought right back out. We were helped out of our gear and I felt like a giddy school girl thinking about what I had just done. What a fun experience it was!

shark diving
shark dive
shark diving gear

TOURING THE AQUARIUM

After our dive was done, we had the chance to go around the Florida Aquarium to check out all of the exhibits. It was a wonderful aquarium, probably one of the best ones I’ve seen and I would highly recommend it for adults and children. The craziest part was going to the large coral reef tank we were just in and seeing  all of the visitors looking in and knowing we were JUST in there!

florida aquarium

The aquarium does a nice job laying out the different ecosystems of Florida. They have a section for Florida wetlands, beaches, bays and of course the coral reef that we went diving in. They also had a special Madagascar exhibit where we saw lemurs and I got to see the Finding Nemo turtle mascot!

At the end of the aquarium they talk a lot about conservation and what they are doing to help the ocean ecosystem. They also have videos of what we can all do to help conserve our planet along with ways they are helping the animals. I had a wonderful time touring the aquarium and would definitely return!

florida aquarium

HOW MUCH DOES SHARK DIVING COST?

To dive with the sharks, you must be dive certified and ages 15+. The dive costs $160 and includes your admission to the aquarium. There are also shark swimming options for ages 9+ for $110 if you aren’t diving certified, but still want to experience the sharks!

General admission to the Florida aquarium is $34.70 and they are open 9:30am-5pm.

Go here to schedule your dive with the sharks at the Florida Aquarium!

(via Jenn @ColemanConcierge)

I had an incredible experience diving with sharks at the Florida Aquarium. Furthermore, I’m glad I got to conquer my fears and cross it off of my bucket list! We were treated like royalty the entire time and I felt safe and taken care of during my experience. If you’re in for a thrill, but also a calm and beautiful experience I highly, highly recommend booking this Shark Diving Tour!

I want to send a giant shout out to the Florida Aquarium for hosting us on this amazing dive and treating us so wonderfully! Find them on Instagram and Facebook here. 

flip turtle
(Via Cathy @CathylwGorgensen)

As always, the content and opinions expressed here are entirely my own.

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Diving with Sharks in Florida
Diving with Sharks in Florida
Diving with sharks in Florida

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