So many aquariums: 4 ways to decide if they’re worth your time (and our faves)
We’re big on aquariums in our house. We have a local one that’s free and open only 4 days a week…and we go EVERY week. Seattle has one that’s a boat ride away and we’ve been pass holders. Tacoma has one that is paired with a zoo and that’s just a quick drive away. And we travel. Did you know that land-locked cities have aquariums too? Who knew?! Basically, we can confidently say that we know our aquariums and feel comfortable shouting out our opinions about them.
If you ask our oldest if he wants to go to an aquarium, he’ll always say yes. Do you or your family always need to go? Probably not. Does it ever hit a point where it’s not worth the time or money? Here are our thoughts on worthwhile water-worlds and whether to hit them or not, as well as our list of future visits.
When was the last time you went to one? – If your last vacation or weekend trip included an aquarium, maybe it’s not worth your time and money to do another one so soon. Aquariums aren’t cheap. A family of four can easily spend over $100 USD just for entry, and then once you’re inside there are more costs. If you recently swam with the dolphins in Clearwater, FL, you may not need to fork out a gazillion more bucks to do it again in Cabo. If you just went to a small local aquarium, such as the Undersea Gardens in Newport, OR, you may not think it’s worth your time to stop in to do the touch tanks at the Poulsbo Marine Science Center on that same road trip up the west coast. Don’t beat a dead horse, that’s all I’m saying.
Tip: Hit one aquarium per year. Kids’ interests change and who knows what will catch their attention next time.
Is there something super special about this aquarium? – If they can’t tout something like petting skates and rays, or don’t have a special seahorse exhibit that you’re dying to see, maybe it doesn’t need to be on your agenda. We learned that there needs to be something new to see to keep the attention and momentum during an aqua-visit. Seattle’s aquarium is on the water. Literally. And it has great outdoor space. The Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga has the most amazing tropical atrium with birds and skates and butterflies and snakes and…
Tip: Aquariums are great at tailoring their online presence. Read visitor reviews to be sure that the “amazing jellyfish” exhibit, for example, really is so so very captivating and that you’re not just viewing one more circular moon jelly display.
Are there other things you’d rather do? Do you have time to kill? – If you’re visiting a city that is epically awesome and great for kids without adding an indoor experience, take advantage of that. If you have an infinite list of things to do or see where you’re visiting, pass on the aquarium. You’ll get to visit another one during another adventure. If you have the time and there’s nothing else you REALLY want to do, drop in to see the fishies.
Tip: If you’re visiting San Francisco and you’ve already toured the city and seen the sights, you can still jaunt across the Golden Gate to see the redwoods, or you can spend the day in Golden Gate Park instead of getting sucked into the wharf/Pier 39 area where the Aquarium of the Bay is located. **see recommendations below
Is the cost gonna cramp your day? – Like I said, the cost of a day with the sea can be greater than you expect. We’re always watching for deals for the cities we visit but it’s rare that we see aquarium offers. Do you know what’s cool though? CityPASS. Each one is a bit different, but they tend to include your key attractions. Not all cities have this option, but the ones that do are worth taking advantage of.
Tip: subscribe to Amazon Local or Groupon for an area you’re going to be visiting. You may be able to score tickets on the cheap in advance. Also, local activity books may have deals you could take advantage of upon arrival.
Our Favorite Aquariums to Visit
- Seattle,WA – Seattle Aquarium: on the water, great outdoor space, lots of otters. Very cool, very enormous tank upon entry with divers in it.
- Tacoma, WA – Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium: great winter festival call Zoolights, summer isn’t too crowed. Small though.
- Poulsbo, WA – Marine Science Center: it’s free with limited hours. It is very local down to the octopus that they borrow from the Puget Sound for short visits.
- San Francisco – Aquarium of the Bay: it’s neat and is very informational regarding the local waters, but there are better SF activities to do. CaliforniaAcademy of Sciences: it’s in Golden Gate Park, has an aquarium, rainforest and planetarium. It’s close to the Conservatory too, so this one gets our vote.
- Long Beach – Aquarium of the Pacific: So cool. If you’re in Long Beach and not actually heading to a local beach to play, it’s worth checking out. It’s close to the Queen Mary if you’re into that.
- Seward, AK – Alaska Sealife Center: it has a diving puffin wall. It’s so cool and totally worth the time if you’ve already trekked to Seward. **Better experience is going on the Kenai Fjords tour. Done it many times and seen countless orcas, humpback, grey whales, puffins, otters….
- Baltimore, MD – National Aquarium: I love the shark exhibits here. If you’re in Baltimore for some reason, this is a great use of your time. Also, the dolphin show is very informational around science and training. **I mention this due to the Georgia Aquarium’s show.
- Atlanta, GA – Georgia Aquarium: I love the layout. It’s crazy crowded, but worth wading through the crowds. Each exhibit is well done and beautiful. WHALE SHARKS. **The dolphin show is not worth the time you wait for it. It’s a weird musical and there is nothing about dolphins except in the fictional context. It’s uber-lame. Sad face.
- Chattanooga, TN – Tennessee Aquarium: it’s split into two sections, the river and the ocean. It’s spacious, not crowded, well kempt, so interesting, such a variety of animals. Its atrium level has rainforest creatures, a butterfly garden and touch tanks where you can pet rays and skates. The seahorse exhibits are exceptional. This is my favorite aquarium in the US.
- Vancouver, BC – Vancouver Aquarium: located in Stanley Park, it’s pretty cool. It’s not huge, but it’s well done. I love the ancient fish exhibits. Also close by is a beautiful collection of totem poles that cannot be missed.
Our Future Visits
- Monterrey, CA – Monterrey Bay Aquarium
- Valencia, Spain – L’Oceanografic
- Chicago, IL – Shedd Aquarium
- Perth, Australia – Aquarium of Western Australia
There are more aquariums all over the world, but these are the ones that strike us as awesome and must-do sites.
Rob Taylor is the founder of 2TravelDads, the original LGBT Family Travel blog. Focusing on ecotourism and education, 2TravelDads inspires LGBT families (and traditional families also) to go beyond their usual getaways and use travel to learn about and be part of a bigger world. “Traveling the globe and giving the kids a broad worldview.”