The tranquility found in an aquarium includes surreal imagery and a rhythmic soundtrack that is unique. The whirling and bubbling of the water complements the bright orange of the Giant Pacific Octopus to the bold hues of the tropical fish. As we have highlighted in our post Benefits of Aquariums, there are many academic and developmental reasons to visit these locations. Because of this, I have consciously included visiting aquariums in our family vacations. Since the National Aquarium, located on the waterfront in Baltimore, Maryland, is often times lauded as one of the best aquariums in the United States, it was a MUST DO during our recent visit to this great city.
Opening its doors in 1981, the National Aquarium is the home to over 17,000 specimens and receives more than 1 million visitors. After spending the day walking through the various exhibits, it is easy to understand why this is one of Maryland’s most popular tourist destinations. Baltimore boasts a multitude of learning opportunities and the National Aquarium has amazing reasons to include it in your travel itinerary.
Amazing Reasons to Visit The National Aquarium
A benefit of visiting aquariums is observing animals that most people will never see in their natural habitat. Aquariums are now a refuge for some animals as they may not survive in the wild. For instance, Calypso a sea turtle who lost her fin due to an infection at a young age, is a popular resident. Several years later, she is healthy and happy tipping the scales at 500 pounds. We were hypnotized watching her swim with Black Tip Reef Sharks and Zebra Sharks. In fact, thanks to the National Aquarium this was our first time watching both sharks!
We arrived as the doors opened, so our first stop was the Black Tip Reef Sharks being fed which meant most of them were actively swimming. Since my son is fascinated with sharks, it was easy to spend twenty minutes watching the creatures swim past each other. A staff member showed us one of the zebra sharks who was sleeping with Calypso. Observing animals is not only calming but enables wonderful conversations to take place.
Listen to Engaging Talks
One of the “Must Do” experiences at the National Aquarium is to watch the Dolphin Talk which puts six of the Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins on display while teaching visitors about these unique creatures. While you can visit this space whenever you want, the Dolphin Talk is scheduled at specific times during the day and offers visitors the opportunity to watch these festive creatures flip into the air or twirl in the water. The purpose of the talk reveals how dolphins play, learn and interact with each other.
When you enter the National Aquarium, the times are posted of specific talks and feedings or your can download the app which will maintain an updated list of the different experiences and their times. However, you will encounter talks throughout your stroll in this amazing space. My husband was determined to see the shy Giant Pacific Octopus, named Killian, thus our stop outside his tank began an amusing conversations with one of the staff members. Octopus are incredibly intelligent and need enrichment toys. We found out that Killian loves to play with Mr. Potato Head!
Engage Your Senses
Immediately, your nose will be tingling with the salt air that surrounds the aquarium; however, there are exhibits and hands-on activities that will engage other senses. Dipping your fingers in the water to touch Horseshoe Crabs challenges your mind to reconcile the texture of this creature with what you think it might feel like! Our favorite touch tank experience was touching jelly fish! We faced our fears to touch Moon Jellies with the guidance of aquarium’s staff to help guide when and where.
One of our favorite experiences was watching the 4D movie Sharks. The ticket cost was a reasonable $5/15 minutes of multi-sensory fun. Not only did we learn about the camouflage of the Wobbegong but also the evolutionary coolness of the Epaulette. No Spoiler Alerts here! The 4D movie will have sensory moments that make you feel as though you are in the movie. If you are a fan of sharks, this movie is perfect; however, if you have young children, there is a 4D Dolphin movie you might want to explore instead.
Learn about Conservation
The National Aquarium takes conservation efforts seriously, and this belief is threaded throughout the exhibits, talks, and even the gift shop! With over eight different types of jelly fish, the Jellies Invasion provides a surreal visual imagery as they slowly pulse through the water. As we admired the jellies, staff from the aquarium demonstrated how a plastic bag could be confused for a jelly by a turtle. Since turtles eat jellyfish, it is easy to understand how turtles can choke on plastic bags found in the ocean thus reinforcing why we need to include reusable bags in our life more frequently.
- The National Aquarium is considered one of the best aquariums in the country and due to its size, residents and design, it is one of the most popular attractions in Baltimore. It will be massively crowded during peak times, holidays and weekends. It is recommended to visit before 11am or close out the aquarium to avoid the crowds.
- I recommend buying your tickets online especially after we saw first hand how long the line can get.
- I recommend downloading the app as it will list the times of the talks and feedings. It will even send you alerts! Thanks to the app we knew where to catch the scuba divers feeding fish. Children get delighted when they wave to them!
- There are two places to eat. The café by Dolphin Discovery will have sodas and various fried foods while the café by the entrance has a lot more options like salads, fruit and sandwiches.
To learn more and to purchase tickets, visit their website!