Currently there are at least 38 public aquariums located across the United States, and many in other parts of the world as well. These wonderful attractions can be a great place to get ideas for your own home aquarium, provide educational experiences for both children and adults alike, and they can just be downright fun and amazing places to visit. The best time of year to spend time at an aquarium is most likely in the fall or winter when the weather outdoors turns cold and individuals as well as families are looking for good indoor activities. A public aquarium will have displays of both saltwater fish and freshwater fish, and often it will include other creatures such reptiles, amphibians, and penguins.
The closest aquarium to where I live is the Newport Aquarium at Newport on the levee near Covington Kentucky. Recently, I spent a day at the aquarium there visiting the displays I have watched mature over the last few years as well as checking out some new exhibits for the very first time. In this entry I’ll discuss my visit, including the types of things I saw, heard, and even smelled. Hopefully you will pick up some tips along the way that may help you get the most out of your visit to a public aquarium.
The first thing you need to do is decide what public aquarium you would like to visit and when. Most people will find the one within closest driving distance to their home, but other more adventurous aquarium enthusiasts may choose to travel a greater distance. I myself am considering a multiple hour drive to Georgia next summer to visit the Georgia Aquarium and I am hoping to find someone to speak to about a behind the scenes tour so I can see their plumbing and research areas. Once you have established which aquarium you would like to visit, then check out their hours and any special events they have going on so you can plan when you want to visit. The Newport Aquarium for example has “Scuba Santa” from November 26th through January 2nd, where they have a Santa attired scuba diver giving show and reading a customized version of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas for eager onlookers. Another example is the Georgia Aquarium and its sleepovers! Yes, that’s right, there are several different types of sleepover events at the aquarium which are targeted to specific age brackets, even adults.
Now on to my visit! The Newport Aquarium is located in a very nicely redone area called Newport on the Levee, surrounded by shopping and good places to eat. The aquarium does have food available at a food court area mid way through and the food there is good, but I was hungry so I ate beforehand at a restaurant just outside the aquarium called Brother’s Bar & Grill which had excellent food (try those cheese fries, yum!). After eating it was time to hit the ticket line for the aquarium, which was about a 15 to 20 minute wait on the day I went. For this particular aquarium you can purchase memberships, or buy tickets in advance, and it will allow you to completely bypass that ticket line to get in. I would recommend getting your tickets in advance for any aquarium that will allow you to do so. A membership will sometimes have additional rewards such as discounts on food or at the gift shop, and the price of an unlimited yearly membership is not far off of the price for two visits to the aquarium so it would make a lot of sense for those who wish to visit often.
Once past the ticket line and in the doors, you will be greeted by a great looking giant statue of a whale with its nose pointed skyward as if it has just surfaced hard from a deep dive, which builds excitement an anticipation about the things to be seen next on the trip. Entry is easy, just a walk through a turnstile after having your ticket scanned, and you are on an escalator downward into the depths below complete with discordant sounding music emphasizing that you are descending. It is really an excellent job using sight and sound to build anticipation. Once the escalator trip is complete, you are greeted by the first displays of fish and plants in a freshwater fish display area complete with a large, circular, open water cichlid tank. The displays are brightly lit, some for the growth of live plants and some to show off the color of the fish. After the freshwater area you will begin seeing brackish water fish and then the saltwater fish, including an area where you can reach down and touch things like horseshoe crabs and starfish. There is even a pool where there are small sharks that can be touched, with the supervision of an aquarium staff member. Along the route you will come to an area that is very different than the rest of the aquarium, and that is the jellyfish gallery. Each jellyfish display is framed on the wall much like fine artwork would be, and there is comfortable seating to sit and relax while you enjoy watching the gently moving jellyfish.
Also well represented in the aquarium is a large collection of turtles, amphibians, an otter display, and a Lorikeet feeding area. This variety really gives the facility something for everyone to enjoy, so even if fish aren’t your thing it is great fun. Once past the fish, reptile, and amphibian displays you will come to the last exhibit and it is very popular. The penguin exhibit is one of my favorites to sit down and watch, as the penguins swim and chase one another or just sit up on dry land and relax. This room nearly always has a crowd watching the antics of these interesting flightless birds. There is also a special penguin encounter for an additional fee, which will allow an even closer look at the Blackfoot penguins, including the opportunity to touch one.
A day at the Newport Aquarium, or any of the other wonderful public aquariums found around the world, is an opportunity to see into a world below water that many people would never see otherwise. It is an educational experience for children and adults alike, while also being a great deal of fun. I strongly recommend finding a public aquarium in your area of the country and making the trip on one of the cold, rainy, or excessively hot days that make outside activities difficult.