Coastal Angler Magazine
Published: May 2011
By Jessi Blakley, APR
Living in Central Florida, the state’s tourism capital, we often take for granted the various entertainment options available to us. From Mickey Mouse to Harry Potter, Central Florida’s got it covered. Within our tourism mecca, however, there are a number of “hidden” amenities and perks available to locals and visitors alike from some of the world’s best hotels and resorts, from first-class spas and celebrity run restaurants to Vegas-esque entertainment.
Among these hidden gems is one referred to as “Fish Heaven” – and although its unique features may be unknown to locals, its presence certainly is not.
The Gaylord Palms Resort sits adjacent to Interstate 4, a mere mile and a half from the gates of Walt Disney World®, and only twenty-five minutes from downtown Orlando. A world-renowned luxury hotel, Gaylord Palms is one of Central Florida’s finest. Featuring a top-rated steakhouse and first class spa, many Orlandians visit the resort each winter to experience the ICE! exhibit, where one can channel their inner-Eskimo and view a display of award-winning ice sculptures in a room kept at a bone-chilling 9 degrees! And coming this November, the world-class resort will offer live interactive appearances from DreamWorks Animation characters, such as “Shrek,” “Kung Fu Panda,” and “Madagascar,” including character breakfasts, newly themed Christmastime events, poolside activities, birthday parties and more.
However, should you stumble into the resort you will uncover a breathtakingly beautiful setting that replicates the natural splendor and beauty of Florida’s one-of-a-kind environments. From the old-world charm of St. Augustine to the funky and vibrant Key West, the four-and-a-half acre indoor atrium features lush, tropical gardens, waterways and live species that showcase the sights and sounds of the Sunshine State without having to traverse across Florida.
It is within these exhibits that you will find winding waterways and lagoons that, unlike most displays in our animated town, are natural exhibits. Showcased in three distinct natural themes — Everglades, St. Augustine and Key West — more than 200 marine animals live within pristine habitats that would surely be envied by their lake- and ocean-bound friends.
As the fishing capital of the world and with some of the most unique ecosystems, it should come as no surprise that Florida’s natural resources are the main attraction. But as obvious as the theme may seem, the exhibits are truly one-of-a-kind and offer guests the unique ability to observe various marine life in their natural settings from the swamps to the coasts.
“Gaylord Palms wanted to bring the best of Florida’s outdoors, indoors,” said Baron “Bear” Kozy of Bottled Ocean that created and maintains the resort’s aquatic exhibits. “We created a one-of-a-kind Florida experience for visitors, where you can stare at alligators, pet friendly koi fish, watch catfish swim and tarpon splash around, all under one roof!”
A full-service aquatic management solutions company based in Orlando,
Bottled Ocean’s clients span the globe and feature the industry’s most well-known custom aquariums and waterways, including the largest known euryhaline exhibit at the Gaylord Palms. Bottled Ocean created and maintains the 360,000-gallon attraction, which features nine individual waterways and lagoons, including world-class koi ponds and a GATORLAND® exhibit.
However, Bottled Ocean’s centerpiece at the world-class resort is the Key West lagoon, which houses various marine species from mangrove snappers, redfish, snook and stingrays to a 95-pound, rescue tarpon named Stamos. The lagoon is the largest known euryhaline exhibit — where saltwater fish have been accustomed to live within a relatively low salinity habitat, which makes the display much easier to maintain.
The Key West lagoon was designed to showcase three of Florida’s most sought after game fish: redfish, snook and tarpon. Anglers travel from all over the world to fish these species. Catching all three in the same day is considered one of Florida’s most desired “Grand Slams.” The bull reds featured in the world-class exhibit are Florida-record size, tipping the scale at close to fifty-five pounds.
Standing on the Marlin Dock overlooking the 161,000-gallon lagoon with its live grass bottom and baby red mangrove trees, you could easily fool yourself into thinking you are polling across the grass flats somewhere in Florida. Visitors to Bottled Ocean’s fish heaven can watch mangrove snapper and sheepshead nibble at the mangrove roots; see the reds as they tail in the grass for little snails. Kids can marvel as the tarpon come alive for the feeding show.
“Watching these interactions up-close and personal, seeing how the fish react in their natural habitats might just make you a better angler,” says Greg Lund, president and CEO of Bottled Ocean and avid fisherman.
Many of the fish within the Key West lagoon are supplied by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), working as a partner with Bottled Ocean to use the natural exhibit as an educational tool for visitors.
Bottled Ocean’s professional staff members are avid anglers, and are self-governed and approved by the FWC to collect some of the species in the exhibit. Spending a great amount of time out on the water, the experts at Bottled Ocean are great supporters of education for and the conservation of our waterways, natural resources and fisheries. In fact, the company’s success is directly tied to this mission.
In addition to the Key West lagoon, Bottled Ocean also manages the St. Augustine and Everglades’s ecosystem exhibits.
The St. Augustine Atrium features three individual koi ponds, a striped bass display and the GATORLAND® exhibit, which also includes several local turtle species such as common, red ear and painted turtles.
On the opposite side of the resort sits the Everglades Atrium, where cypress trees hover above a rugged wooden walkway that leads down to the waterway within one of Florida’s most well-known ecosystems. The Everglades Atrium is home to a number of keystone species to the environment, including catfish, tilapia, and leopard garr. The Sawgrass Shack in the Everglades Atrium houses baby alligator grunts, turtle hatchlings, and even a few indigenous snakes.
Bottled Ocean hosts fish feedings from the Marlin Dock, located in the Key West Atrium, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 1 p.m. Be sure to stop by with your family to watch Stamos make his splash. The Key West Atrium also boasts a nightly celebration at 6p.m., where live music and festive drinks offer visitors the experience of traditional sundown festivities of the Southernmost City.
Bottled Ocean hosts weekly baby alligator grunt feedings from the Sawgrass Shack, in the Everglades Atrium, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday following the Key West fish feedings.