Do you like fish? How about those adorable penguins? Maybe it is the sharks that intrigue you. For me it’s the octopus! If you or any of your kids are big fans of the underwater, visiting an aquarium should be on your bucket list.
You may not be aware that there are nearly 115 aquariums in the U.S. That means that if you live inside the U.S. or Guam, it is likely that there is an aquarium somewhere near you. My children had the privilege for the beginning six years of their life to grow up near the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga. We spent so much time there, in fact, that my daughter referred to it as “her aquarium.” We have since moved and find ourselves north of Knoxville in Tennessee. Yet again, we are near an aquarium, this time Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies.
A couple of weeks ago we spent part of our vacation at Ripley’s Aquarium. This was our third visit. It was great, never disappointing. Each aquarium has its draw, its niche’, its audience. This particular aquarium is really great with the younger crowd, while still intriguing the rest of the family.
While Ripley’s Aquarium cannot compare in sheer volume to the Tennessee Aquarium, it doesn’t let you down. Ripley’s aquarium has a lot of interactive displays that are purposefully placed right at a kid’s level, with lots of bright colors and fascinating facts. At the entrance you are met with a huge round fish tank, flanked by a gigantic sea turtle skeleton hanging from the ceiling — pretty impressive, but just the beginning. Around every corner there is a new adventure area with facts about living environments, food preferences, camouflage, and temperaments.
One really cool element of this aquarium is that they give you a look inside…inside the filtration system, that is. Through a large window you can view the large filters and giant protein skimmer. Tours of the filtration system are available via their Behind the Scenes pass. However, it is pretty cool to look down over those giant tanks and skimmers.
Around the corner is one of the two most impressive parts of the aquarium, Shark Lagoon. I could stand here all day! There are sand tigers, sawfish (sawtooth sharks), shovelhead sharks, a giant sea turtle and more. The cool part is that you see it from the top! You get to see that shark fin break the surface and ominously skim through the water. We were there during feeding time for the sharks, and that was really fascinating to see.
We rounded the bend from there to find that they had added a children’s play area, with climbing and slides and tunnels, right in the center of the aquarium for the little ones to get their energy out. My three-year-old enjoyed the reprieve from standing and staring at fish. He ran and whooped and slid for five minutes, after which we moved on down the ramp and on to the piranhas.
We saw fish and frogs and penguins and sharks and eels. The eels I like best are the garden eels. They look like they are planted there in the sand, and all around them are tiny shrimp floating in the water. When one floats near, the eel will grab in and gulp it down. I think it’s fascinating.
Of course the most well-known feature of the Ripley’s aquarium is seeing Shark Lagoon through the underwater acrylic tunnel travelling on a 340-foot glide path. There are sharks literally lounging and cruising right above your heads.
I almost forgot that there is the “touch bay,” with horseshoe crabs. They have blue blood, by the way. In the same area is a pool where you can touch jellyfish.
Ripley’s has an area where there are changing exhibits. Right now it is a very interesting display about Pearl Harbor, complete with real news footage and audio recordings and a life-sized figure of Roosevelt addressing the nation (for those history buffs out there).
So all this to say, “Go visit some fish! Go find an aquarium!” After all, it is inside, out of the icky weather, and has tons of educational insights.
Now for the homeschool stuff! Most aquariums offer a discount for homeschool students. Ripley’s is $10.99 per family member, and you have to bring proof of your homeschool status.
On their website they have offers for more educational opportunities with Labs and Behind the Scenes tours. Here is the link to Wikipedia’s list of aquariums in the U.S. Hopefully one is just around the corner from you.