New in-water stingray experience at ZooTampa Stingray Shores

INSIDE LOOK: Incredible NEW Stingray Shores In-Water Animal Encounter at ZooTampa

Stingray Shores is now open at ZooTampa and it’s a whole new way to connect with stingrays in Tampa Bay. But, it’s not just an out-of-water experience…we got a sneak peek of the NEW In-Water Stingray Encounter, and it was magical! So, let’s dive in so you know what to expect.

There’s something magical that happens when you get the chance to connect with an animal in person, especially for a child. For my 10-year-old son, it was an opportunity to lift the veil of fear of a creature…the stingray.

This new in-water animal encounter at ZooTampa fully immerses you into the new stingray habitat, getting you up close to the rays in ways you’ve never been able to do before in Tampa Bay. While I’ve swum with stingrays during cruise excursions in the past, this was a much more comfortable and controlled environment, so at no point did we feel unsafe.

In fact, it’s one of our new favorite things to do in Tampa Bay!

What to Know Before You Go to the Stingray Shores Animal Encounter

First, you will want to book your encounter online at least one day before you go to the Zoo to secure your spot on Tickets are on sale now and range from $44.95-$59.95 for non-members. ZooTampa members receive a discount. Kids must be 48 inches or taller to participate.

The experience is offered twice daily at 9:15 am and 9:45 am.

Plan to bring your bathing suit and avoid applying sunscreen before the experience. The new Stingray Shores exhibit is covered, so there’s no need to worry about direct sun exposure.

The entire program lasts about 90 minutes, including 15-20 minutes in the water.

Arrival Time

When you arrive at the Encounter site, you will start in the dressing area which includes several private changing rooms with a shower in each one.

A ZooTampa member will direct you and your fellow guests to a rack full of wetsuits that fit kids and adults 48 inches and taller and come in sizes up to 3 XL. Along with the wet suits, water shoes, and towels are also provided, so no need to bring your own.

ZooTampa Stingray Shores Encounter dressing rooms
Listening to our briefing before we got into the water. You can see a few of the dressing room doors and rack of wet suits here too! Photo by Laura Byrne.

Note: There is a bathing suit dryer for after the experience too to help lighten your load as you enjoy the rest of your day at the Zoo!

The In-Water Stingray Experience

Once we were changed into our wetsuits, our group was briefed about what to expect before we made our way around the corner to the new Stingray Shores exhibit. It is absolutely stunning!

Keep in mind that you will not be able to bring your own camera or GoPro, however, a ZooTampa staffer will be photographing the event for you.

You can also have a friend or relative outside of the exhibit to snap photos, but the Zoo’s photographer will be in the water with you and will have a MUCH better angle. Don’t fret–you will get some great photos!

ZooTampa Stingray Shores Encounter pool
My son stepping into the water.

As we stepped into the world of these beautiful stingrays, they gracefully swam by and a few even swam right up to us, surely as curious about us as we were about them (or maybe they were hoping we had snacks).

The water was a bit cold at first at 72 degrees, but we adjusted pretty quickly and I’m sure this will feel refreshing once the Florida heat creeps back!

We took our seats on a bench while our guides shared facts about the rays in the exhibit and then it was time to take a closer look. We were each given an underwater viewfinder so we could see these magnificent animals up close as they munched on clams our guides placed near us in the water.

The viewers gave us a very clear look at the rays, even better than peering through aquarium glass. It was super cool.

Stingray Shores ZooTampa
Watching the stingrays with the underwater viewers.

And then it was time to feed the stingrays! We were given fish to hold in each hand like ice-cream cones, and waited as the rays swam right up to us for their treat. It was the coolest feeling as their little snouts wrapped around our hands briefly to grab the snack.

One unexpected thing for us was learning how different each stingray is. Like people, they all have their own personalities. They also have their own marine-inspired names like Kelp and Clam!

“They all definitely have their little quirks. Some are really engaged with people and some are more standoff-ish and that’s been really fun, so I think people think of stingrays, they don’t know that each one really has its own personality, so what a cool thing that people can get into the water and experience these animals and experience what we do as animal care staff on their own level,” said Molly Lippincott, senior curator of Florida and marine life at ZooTampa.

The stingrays at Stingray Shores are cow nose stingrays. Lippincott tells us Southern stingrays will be introduced in the next few months.

How this experience changed our perspectives on stingrays

While my son was a bit nervous when we first waded into the water, as he interacted with the stingrays and learned more about them from our guides, he felt much more comfortable. He even learned they were juvenile males just like him.

“I think it can really change people’s perspectives on wildlife, especially marine life and we really want to make sure that we are making those connections,” said Lippincott.

It was a connection I am certain he won’t forget and it was honestly a really special way for me to connect with my son as a mom.

Even if you’re not quite ready to immerse yourself into their world, you can still experience Stingray Shores from the outside. Food will be sold throughout the day and you and the kids will have the chance to pet them.

We’re definitely adding this to some of our other all-time favorite in-water experiences in Tampa Bay like swimming with manatees in Crystal River and walking underwater among sharks and turtles with SeaTREK at the Florida Aquarium!

Related: ZooTampa Debuts NEW Walking Trail in partnership with Muma Children’s Hospital at TGH

What to Know Before You Go Recap:

  • Allergy Warning: The stingrays at ZooTampa are fed a diet of fish and shellfish. If you have seafood or shellfish allergies, you should not participate in this experience.
  • You must book the Stingray Shores Signature Encounter at least the day before your visit. You can book on Encounters do not include zoo admission. Encounters are offered daily.
  • ZooTampa’s animal care team trims each stingray’s barb which is made up of the same thing as our own nails and hair.
  • Kids must be at least 48 inches tall to participate. Guests under 18 must be accompanied by a paid, participating adult.
  • Bring a swimsuit to wear under the provided wetsuit. Wetsuits come in sizes up to 3XL.
  • Do not apply sunscreen before the encounter—it is under a covered area.
  • You will be in the water for 15-20 minutes with the stingrays. The entire program, including changing time, is about 90 minutes.
  • The water is approximately 72 degrees F.
  • There are showers on site and towels are provided.
  • Photography equipment is not allowed in the water. There will be a photographer to take your pictures.
  • There is an aquatic lift and accessible changing room and shower for guests in wheelchairs or who are unable to walk.