Roadside Fun – Tampa’s Dinosaur World

Personally, I think part of the fun in travel and wandering the roads is finding unique little places to spend a few hours.  One of those places is Dinosaur World, located along I-4 just outside of Tampa, Florida.

Like so many Florida attractions, you enter and leave through a large gift shop.  It is full of the usual dinosaur toys and T-shirts, but it also has a really nice selection of geodes, minerals and small fossils.  There is interesting jewelry, and loads of dinosaur-themed knickknacks.  It makes a great place to hang out during one of Florida’s afternoon rains.

Speaking of spending money, the admission varies depending on the extras you select.  The basic admission runs Adult-$17, Senior-$15, Child-$12.  Children get a turn in the Fossil Dig with their admission, where they get to look for fossils in a stocked pit.  They get to keep three of them, so choosing their favorite finds is part of the fun.  Grown-ups can join in for only $2.  For pricier fun, you can buy a bag or bucket of dirt and use a mining sluice to uncover an assortment of fossils and minerals.  You can also buy an unbroken geode and let them crack it for you, revealing the beautiful crystals inside.

A few housekeeping points – Dinosaur World does not sell food.  It does have some vending machines, but there is nothing else available. However, they have several picnic areas located around the grounds and they encourage you to bring in your own lunch or snack.  We stopped at a nearby Wawa to get sub sandwiches.  That turned out to be a good decision when it started to rain.  We ate at a covered picnic table and waited it out.  The park has two sets of restrooms, and I would advise you to make sure your children use them before you get too far back in the trails.  They can get confusing, and nobody wants to get turned around while you are anxiously hunting a toilet.

After you’ve paid your entry and gone through the gift shop, you come out into a nice open area where you are greeted by several large, iconic dinosaur models.  The one sure to set the kids squealing is the trio of baby T-rexes hunting for food.

Also just outside the gift shop is a playground for the little ones.  It is, of course, dino themed and quite cute.

First on the tour is a small museum.  Some of the ‘fossils’ are actually reproductions, which is understandable.  Some dinosaurs, though very common in fiction, are actually quite rare as far as fossils go, which makes the real thing extremely expensive.  It has a good variety of displays, and quite a bit of information about each one.

There are a number of special areas like the fossil dig for kids, the gem mining area, and the cave show.  The Exploration Cave Show involves a short talk that explains a bit about how fossils are discovered and preserved.

There are also sections devoted to mammoths and skeletons.

But the overwhelming majority of the park is devoted to statues of a wide assortment of dinosaurs. One thing I especially liked was that the information boards pointed out what part of the world the fossils had been found in, and what time period they were believed to exist.  From popular fiction, and even some supposedly scientific sources, you would think that all dinosaurs existed at the same time and all over the world.

Some models are very realistic, while others are a bit, well, cartoonish.  You find yourself muttering reminders that this is supposed to be kid friendly.

The family groups are cute, I admit.

And some models are based on theories about dinosaurs having bright colors.

There was, of course, the obligatory T. Rex section, laid out to allow for a variety of amusing family photos.

Sorry, folks, I didn’t include any shots with the Poor family mugging with the dinosaurs.  They are hilarious, though.

Hey, most of this stuff hasn’t been scary at all, so how bad can this section be?
Okay, um…
Ack!!!
Ack again!!!

Okay, they aren’t all grisly.  Most are just regular statues, like the rest.  But there is no denying that this section makes it plain that it was a dino-eat-dino world out there.  I included the pictures so parents can decide if this section might be upsetting to their children.

All in all, we had a good time.  None of us were ‘kids’ – my youngest was a few weeks from turning twenty – but we still enjoyed ourselves.  The park has set an interesting balance between fact and fiction.  If you expect extremely sophisticated and realistic dinosaur models, well, they aren’t here.  On the other side, if you are expecting Land Before Time cuteness, you won’t find that, either.  You will find dinosaurs that are real enough to be educational and entertaining.  If you have a dinosaur fan in the family, I think they will like Dinosaur World.

This was originally posted on my old blog, Middle Class Poor. Since then, all admission prices have gone up $3. I should also mention that the attraction is wheelchair accessible, and has been rated Autism Friendly by The Center for Autism and Related Disabilities.

For more photos, check out the Gallery.

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