When we first moved to Florida, we were excited to hear about Dolphin Tale and the story of Winter… of which both the filming and the story took place nearly in our backyard! We rented the movie and visited the Clearwater Marine Aquarium to meet the star herself, all of which became the first of many visits. What began as purely a marine hospital with the goal to rescue, rehab and release, built on the remains of a water treatment facility here in Clearwater, has quickly become an attraction for many to see the beautiful ocean creatures as they receive help and care from the CMA staff. Now, as an aquarium for the marine life that reside there while still being a rescue facility and hospital, their goal remains steadfast… to rescue, rehabilitate and release.
We began a recent weekend as part of the Dolphin Tale 2 press junket with a behind the scenes tour of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home of the star of the upcoming film, for a chat with the CEO of CMA, David Yates and Abby Stone, Winter’s main trainer. The kids were able to see, up close and personal, how Winter’s tail works and the creation of “Winter’s Gel,” a sock-like sleeve that fits over her peduncle so that the tail wears comfortably, and how a form of it is now used for human prosthetics to make them more comfortable as well!
As you may know, the original film, Dolphin Tale, was based in both fact and fiction, with the story of Winter and how her prosthetic tail (that is used mainly for physical therapy sessions to reduce pressure on her spine) came to be and part-fiction with the life and stories of the families in the film. Upon completion of the first film, during the wrap party, the next story unfolded right before the cast and crew. Just five years after Winter was rescued, Hope was found trying to nurse from her mother who had died. What the cast and staff of the CMA didn’t know that night, was that the story of Hope would mean hope for Winter, and it would unfold so that a few years later they’d be filming a sequel.
The film reunites the entire main cast, led by Harry Connick, Jr., Oscar winner Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson, Nathan Gamble, Cozi Zuehlsdorff, Austin Stowell, Austin Highsmith, and, of course, Winter as herself along with the new member of the team, Hope.
I don’t want to spoil the movie for you, but my kids and I loved it! It’s just as moving and inspirational as the first, meaning tissues needed, and full of sweet and laughable moments for the kids too… like their favorite scenes with the sea turtle and pelican, Rufus and Mavis.
Inspired again by the true events that took place surrounding Winter, the loss of her dolphin companion Panama and the rescue of Hope, “Dolphin Tale 2” was filmed at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium… and we had a great time checking it all out. Dare I say, we were “super excited” (haha, you’ll have to watch to see what I mean).
Of course, my favorite part came when a few of us were able to sit down together with Nathan Gamble, Cozi Zuehlsdorff and Harry Connick, Jr. to talk about the movie… and life. It’s amazing how friendly, fun and personable this cast was! Though we were there for interviews, it really was more of a conversation. Yes, the movie was important to talk about, but something we all talked about was how the movies impacted each of these actors, as they have impacted so many across the country.
I was impressed by the friendly and open chat with the young Nathan and Cozi, asking if they liked to share advice for other young kids that look up to them when they watch movies like this and what would they say to childhood passions. Nathan’s response? “Follow your passions, because something good will come from it.” I think that is a great way to look at life, there will be good, even if it’s not in the form we thought it might take. I’m sure the same can be said for this movie series and the impact it’s had on the actors as well as the viewers, giving hope when life takes a turn for the unexpected.
Of course I talked kids a bit with Harry… because what else would there be to talk about? Hello, totally kidding, because American Idol, New Orleans, Accents and Music and Movies and Handsome. But, clearly kiddos were on my mind and I we chatted about raising kids and preparing them for this big, vast world we live in. I loved a story he told about how each night, when he would tuck his girls into bed he would tell crazy, scary stories where in the end, he would always be the hero to rush in to save them from the hands of the witch or the pot of burning stew they were trapped in. Then, one night he realized, “I’m not always going to be there. That’s not how the story is going to end, they have to figure out how to get out of the pot. It’s about the discovery process, about letting them fall down and learn how to get back up.”
I had to know some of the favorite local eateries that the stars liked to visit while in town… Clear Sky Beachside Cafe and Frenchy’s in Clearwater, and Casa Tina’s in Dunedin. If you’re in town, check them out!
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a great place to meet the stars of Dolphin Tale 2 (Hope & Winter), although it’s also an educational place to different animals and marine life being rehabilitated before they are released to the wild (and of course not all of them are able to released back, like Winter and Hope). Next time you’re in the Clearwater area, take the kids to experience the CMA!
Clearwater Marine Aquarium 249 Windward Is, Clearwater, FL 33767
Disclosure: I received tickets to the Clearwater Aquarium and to the screening of Dolphin Tale 2 as part of the press junket and #DT2TampaCrew. All opinions are 100% my own, and we’ve long loved CMA (purchasing an annual membership the first year we moved to the area) and the Dolphin Tale movies!