Friday, September 12, 2014

Local Destination: Adventure Aquarium

Whenever we have conversations with people looking for suggestions on things to do in the Philadelphia area, the Adventure Aquarium comes up every single it.  It's doesn't matter if you're looking for things to do with adults or kids, winter or summer, on a weekday or on a weekend - the Adventure Aquarium is always recommended as a place to visit.  And there's a reason for that.  Not only is so interesting and fun that people always remember it (even years and years later!), but it always seems to be the right answer about where to visit no matter what the question is.
Personally, we've been going to the Adventure Aquarium for years now.  Counting back it seems that we average about one trip every month!  Even for Daily Vacationer, it seems to be the perfect answer every time we're deciding where to go.  The Aquarium is not a "huge" aquarium when compared with other ones throughout the nation, but it's also not a "small" one.  It's the kind of size where you can easily "see" the whole thing in a couple of hours, but if you want to stop and read and experience everything, it can take a whole lot longer (like 12 trips per year apparently).  It's also mostly an indoor venue, open year-round, and entirely handicapped and stroller accessible, so on those hot days in summer and cold days in winter, it's still a great place to go (and don't rule out spring and fall either - we like to duck outside on nice days and spend time with those penguins!)
The Adventure Aquarium is broken up into fours zones.  Follow the map and the signs to get through the zones in a way that makes sense (and makes for less clogging up in the smaller areas of Zone A).  If you are arriving in the earlier hours of the day, it makes sense to do Zone A first and Zone D last. Zone A gets the most crowded as the day goes on and some people never even find Zone D (it's across the café by the way - just look at your map!), plus it's much bigger, making it easier to get through at the more crowded times of day.  If you arrive later in the day, work your way backwards (but still follow the walking directions on the map, for those of you who take things literally) starting with Zone D and waiting for Zone A to clear out a little toward the end of the Aquarium's day.
Zone A begins with the Irazu Falls.  Having a irrational fear of big fish in smaller bodies of water - rivers, streams, public pools, our bath tub - these giant monsters floating by in that small space creeps us out every time.  Judging by the comments from others (especially about that really long one!), we are not the only ones who get a closer look just cause it gives us the willies.  Zone A continues with turtles, crocodiles, and a cool hallway with some pretty crazy sea creatures from seahorses and lobsters to eels and barracuda.  You then come around the corner to discover the Ocean Realm.  Set up like a theater, this giant window into one of the Aquarium's largest tanks looks like it just can't be real with giant sea turtles, massive stingrays, fascinating sharks, and countless fish going by.  Pretty much every time we go, we hear a child point out the "giant tv" and then freak out in excitement when they discover that those are real animals going by.  The Aquarium has daily live shows with volunteer divers interacting with and speaking to the audience from inside the tank (and if you're looking for Scuba Santa at Christmas time - this is where he's going to be).
Zone A continues on with a replica of a giant Megalodon jaw and then a closer look at sharks in the Shark Lab.  Stop and climb into the middle window in this space - it bubbles out right into the giant tank!  Exit the Shark Lab for one more look at the Ocean Realm.  The sea turtles seem to love hanging out right here (plus they are the only things moving slow enough for clear pictures), and the divers will also make a stop here after their show.  Touch-A-Shark is also in Zone A, and really needs to visited by everyone.  (Nothing quite says Aquarium experience like touching a real shark).
Zone B consists of the Rotunda (look up!), Stingray Beach Club, the penguins, and the 4D theater (this is also where special exhibits are sometimes set up).  In the Stingray Beach Club, visitors can touch giant stingrays (and even feed them!), while the littler visitors (children under a certain height) have their own section with little stingrays.  You are never too old or too young to interact with the sea creatures at the Adventure Aquarium.  Don't forget to head outside to see Penguin Island.  Check the schedule for daily feeding times and Q and A sessions with biologists.  (Next to the penguins is the discounted admission entrance to the Camden Children' Garden).
Upstairs, Zone C has been remodeled in recent years as a fun and interactive space for kids.  With something for everyone, we've seen kids of every age exploring this area from crawlers up to older school aged children.  But just because it says "Kids Zone" doesn't mean adults should miss seeing Zone C.  This is where they keep the "prettiest" fish - eye catching vibrant colors in just about every tank.  Plus if you're looking for the amphibians (stop and read about the Suriname Toad - whoa!), the dwarf crocodile, want to touch the lobster, horseshoe crab, and starfish, and experience other things only in this area, you really won't want to dismiss it at the "kids area".
Zone D (remember go ACROSS the café) is probably our favorite area (but we love the Ocean Realm too....and the penguins and stingrays....and the crocodiles....and... everything else).  You start off with a bang inside the newly renovated Hippo Haven.  Music, lights, and color add that little something that the hippo area was looking for.  Button and Genny can usually be seen hanging out in the water.  If you want to see some real entertainment, stick around for feeding times and ask the staff when the hippos are the most active.  One of the most memorable things you can experience at the Adventure Aquarium are the hippos gliding gracefully right on the other side of the glass.  Zone D continues into the Jules Verne Gallery (love this spot!) with giant porthole like windows filled with ocean oddities from jellyfish and eels to sea dragons and the octopus.  Look up to see what myths and legends have been inspired by these underwater creatures.
Now the music changes.  You're getting closer to the sharks (or are they getting closer to you?)  You've entered the Shark Realm, and it's truly a mix of fascination and fear.  Silently they glide by with their rows of teeth.  First you see one, then another, then there's another, and some more, and wow - that's a lot of sharks!  Muster your courage, because you're about to enter the most famous area in the entire Adventure Aquarium: the Shark Tunnel.  Going straight through the Shark Realm, the tunnel is one of the coolest things we've ever seen at an Aquarium.  Sharks are going by every where you look, and you get to see it all.  We especially love it with they swim right over us.  If you're looking for the best place to take an aquarium selfie - this is it.  Now that you've braved the Shark Tunnel, give the Cage Match a try.  And if you're real brave, you can also schedule a session to swim IN the Shark Realm.  No tunnel, no cage - just you and the sharks!
Don't forget to stop at the Gift Shop to pick up a memento of your trip (psssssst - someone get us one of those stuffed stingrays!).  And if you get the munchies or need to stay for a meal, the café has great options, as well as a Philly Pretzel stand and ice cream off to the side.  Pick up tickets to experience the 4D theater and stop for some facepainting in the Rotunda.
The Adventure Aquarium always has something fun and exciting going on.  It's never the same experience twice.  With new renovations constantly taking place, special traveling exhibits (likes last year's Frogs: Natures Messenger or the upcoming Dinosaurs of the Deep), new animals arriving, being born, and growing, and seasonal events (like the Rudolph-themed Christmas Celebration), you're going to want to come back again and again.  Do yourself a favor and purchase a membership.  Discounted parking, free admission, and complimentary 4D Experience tickets are just some of the benefits.  The Aquarium is also available for event rentals from birthdays to corporate events.
So as an answer to: What is there to do in the Philly area?  What should we do this weekend?  Where should I bring my grandkids?  Where should I bring my grandparents?  What can we do now that it's so cold/hot out?  What place is worth a membership?  Where should we go today? - the Adventure Aquarium is always the right answer!

Follow Daily Vacationer:


No comments:

Post a Comment