Imagine reef sharks cruising silently over your head, or perhaps a stunning coral reef with its myriad colors, teaming with neon fish and other exotic creatures. Or a rock wall with hundreds of brilliantly colored Lake Malawi cichlids milling about, a group of penguins swimming playfully at the edge of a rocky shore, or a black-and-yellow polka-dotted stingray gliding effortlessly in front of you, as curious about you as you are about it.
You don’t have to go diving on the Great Barrier Reef, cruising in Antarctica or snorkeling in the Amazon River to marvel at sights like these. No, you can experience all of this and much, much more without traveling to far-off places or spending thousands of dollars, by simply visiting a public aquarium.
There are over 100 major public aquariums in the United States alone, not including those in zoos, and many more to choose from in major cities around the world. The World Association of Zoos and Aquarium estimates that more than 700 million people – roughly 11% of the world’s population – visit a zoo or aquarium annually. Some of the best aquariums in the world are right here in the United States. Vacation destinations typically offer myriad things to do, so many in fact, that it’s often impossible to fit them all in in the time you’ll be there. Whether you’re a reef geek, a casual aquarist or have never had a pet fish in your life, why not visit a public aquarium on your next vacation?
Take a look below as we review why your next vacation should include a trip to an aquarium near you.
1. Public Aquariums Offer Fun for All Ages
Public aquariums offer wonder and excitement for young and old. If you have kids, a visit to an aquarium will spark their imagination and teach them about the world around them – over 70% of which consists of water! Sure, they can watch videos of aquatic creatures and their habitats and behavior, but there is nothing quite like seeing them in person, experiencing their size and proportions and watching their behavior in real life. Many of the best aquariums in the U.S. also have touch tanks or pools, where kids get an opportunity to actually touch baby sharks, rays, jellyfish – yes, JELLYFISH! – sea cucumbers, crabs, sea stars and many other interesting animals. This is a great way for them to learn about new creatures, and it can help lower their apprehension towards things that are new to them.
2. Fish Aquariums Offer A Tranquil, Relaxing Environment and Are Educational, Too!
For adults, there’s something tranquil and soothing about listening to the sound of moving water and watching fish gracefully glide by. It offers a rare opportunity to take a break from the rigors and stresses of day to day life and just relax for a few hours. In today’s world we’re constantly bombarded by stimuli and information, and those living in urban settings have been increasingly removed from nature. An afternoon wandering through an aquarium can make us feel more in tune with the world around us and will do wonders for our mental health. And it’s a great way to learn! Many public aquariums have an exhibit dedicated to the watershed or shoreline habitat in that region as well, and these exhibits help us understand the ecology of the local area and explain how we can be better stewards of our environment.
3. Public Aquariums Offer Family Bonding Time Through Experience
In addition to teaching us about different aquatic habitats and the creatures that live there, public aquariums offer an excellent opportunity for family bonding. Everyone can choose their favorite fish, wonder out loud why animals do the things they do, why they look the way they do, or what they eat and how they keep from being eaten! Exhibits are appointed with signage describing the animals on display and the habitat they live in, which are a great way for kids to learn new vocabulary. And for avid aquarium keepers, the exhibits can be a source of inspiration for decorating our own aquariums and creating more natural habitats for our fish and other aquatic pets back home.
4. Tips to Plan For Your Next Aquarium Visit
To get the most out of your visit it’s best to plan ahead. In addition to directions, admission fees and hours of operation, check the aquarium’s website for discounts, parking, wheelchair access, dining options, special events and peak visitation times to avoid big crowds. You’ll usually find a map of the facility there, too, which you can use to pick out specific exhibits you don’t want to miss. Many aquariums also offer behind the scenes tours and special activities for kids. Finally, don’t forget to plan adequate time and wear comfortable clothing and footwear! In addition to the time it takes to get there, park and make your way in, most aquariums are not places you can see in an hour or two. It’s typically an afternoon, if not all-day experience that involves a fair amount of walking, so bear that in mind if you have small children or older relatives. All in all, however, visiting a public aquarium is sure to be a fun and educational experience you and your family won’t soon forget!
Looking for aquariums to visit near you? Here is a list to get you started on your next great aquarium adventure!
Top 20 Public Aquariums in America*
1. Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, GA
2. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, IL
3. National Aquarium, Baltimore, MD
4. Aquarium of the Pacific, Longbeach, CA
5. New England Aquarium, Boston, MA
6. Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach, Myrtle Beach, SC
7. Steinhart Aquarium, San Francisco, CA.
8. Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, CA
9. Newport Aquarium, Cincinnati, OH
10. Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, New Orleans, LA
11. Downtown Aquarium, Houston, TX
12. Florida Aquarium, Tampa, FL
13. Dallas World Aquarium, Dallas, TX
14. Miami Seaquarium, Miami, FL
15. Tennessee Aquarium, Chattanooga, TN
16. Texas State Aquarium, Corpus Cristi, TX
17. Moody Gardens, Galveston, TX
18. Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport, OR
19. Ripley’s Aquarium, Gatlinburg, TN
20. Alaska Sealife Center, Seward, AK
*As listed by US City Traveler
10 Largest Aquariums in the World **
1. Chimelong Ocean Kingdom, Zhuhai, China – 12.9 million gallons
2. Marine Life Park, Singapore – 12 million gallons
3. Oceanografic, Valencia, Spain – 11 million gallons
4. Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, GA, USA – 10 million gallons
5. Moscow Oceanarium, Moscow, Russia – 6.6 million gallons
6. The Seas with Nemo & Friends, Bay Lake, FL – 5.7 million gallons
7. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, IL, USA – 5 million gallons
8. uShaka Marine World, Durban, South Africa – 4.6 million gallons
9. Atlantic Sea Park, Alesund, Norway – 4 million gallons
10. Ambassador Lagoon, Dubai, UAE – 2.9 million gallons
**As listed by List 25
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