As February came to a close, so did Chicago museum discount days. Landon really wanted to go to the aquarium, so we decided to take advantage of the free day. The completely free ticket only included the main floor, with Amazon Rising, Waters of the World, Caribbean Reef, and Great lakes exhibits. However, the Total Experience pass, which is usually $40 and includes a dolphin show, 4D movie, and other exhibits including Amphibians, Wild Reef, Polar Play Zone and the Oceanarium, was only $15 for Illinois residents on free days. So, I decided to take advantage of the discount and see everything at the Shedd. I bought my tickets online and printed them out to avoid the lines, and the stroller entrance is on the bottom floor, around the south side of the building. Our experience this time was a little different than the last time we visited the aquarium, so I decided to write about it again.
The first thing a visitor sees when walking into the aquarium is the giant Caribbean Reef tank featuring all sorts of tropical fish, rays, and a partially paralyzed sea turtle. We managed to time it so there was a feeding time just as we arrived. The divers that feed the fish are volunteers, and sign up to lead presentations at the Shedd on their schedule. After a short explanation of some of the fish in the tank, an aquarium host outside the tank leads a Q&A with the diver. It was a neat way to start off our visit to the aquarium. Landon was drawn to the Amazon Rising exhibit, so we did that first and saw an anaconda and giant fish from the Amazon river. Both of my boys were really into the fish this time around, but Landon was enjoying them at a faster pace and leaving Owen in the dust. It was pretty busy, so eventually I had to put my toddler in the stroller so I could keep track of both boys.
Next up, we visited the Great lakes section of the aquarium, where Landon, after several attempts, worked up the courage to touch a sturgeon. They swam a little too deep for Owen to reach, but he really tried! It was neat to see all of the different fish that live in Lake Michigan! When we bought our tickets online, we had to pick times for the dolphin show and the 4 D movie. I tried to pick times around the middle of the day so we would have time before and after to see the other exhibits, but it seemed like we were on the elevators all day going between the floors to the shows and then back to see other things. Landon wanted to go downstairs and play in the water play area by the starfish touch tank, so we did. Owen got soaked, again, because he loves playing in the water. Both boys touched some starfish, including a few that we found on the beaches in Korea!
I’m not sure how often the Shedd offers new shows, but the dolphin show was different from last time. It featured more dolphin tricks, and no belugas. They had penguins run across the stage, and it was much more conservation and environmental focused. They brought out a rescue dog, which I thought was a little odd, to show how the training of dolphins and dogs is similar. I guess the Shedd has several rescue dogs that it uses for this current show. The live dolphin tricks were interspersed with video presentations showcasing other marine mammals at the aquarium. Everything was well done, but I think for the price and the time, I would rather see more live animals than just a movie.
Since we didn’t see the belugas in the show, we had to go visit them in the Oceanarium. One of the belugas seemed to have a lot of extra skin. I figured maybe she had recently given birth, but the docent I asked said that some belugas just have that extra skin. They were so beautiful, and even seemed to be trying to get our attention with some fun tricks while we watched. One of Owen’s other favorite books is Baby Beluga so we made sure to sing the song and point them out. He loved watching the whales and sea lion!
While I was admiring the majestic belugas, Landon was organizing an arctic ocean voyage aboard this submarine play area. My boys could spend all day in this thing if I let them, and if it wasn’t so crowded! We also checked out the penguins and the penguin play area. They are across from each other and the habitats look similar, so the kids can look across the room at the penguin exhibit and copy their behavior. Landon did a great job pretending to be a penguin, including trying to slide head first, even though the sign said not to. I’m not sure what they expected kids to do in a penguin exhibit with a slide…
For the 4 D movie, I chose the prehistoric inland sea film. Landon’s really into dinosaurs right now, but it was hard to choose between the sharks and the ancient marine reptiles! The movie followed a little plesiosaur as it grew up in a sea fraught with dangers. Along with the 3D aspect, there were some interesting 4D touches, including spraying water, wind, bubbles, vibrating seats, and even a little poke in the back when the predator chomped down on its prey. I’m not sure I would pick this movie again, and I certainly would not buy the total experience ticket for the 4D movie, but it was fun for a few minutes. Owen got pretty freaked out by some of the sounds and the spraying water, so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for little guys. To finish off our day, we checked out the Wild Reef exhibit. This exhibit has all of the tropical fish, sharks, and brightly colored corals. This exhibit has some wow factor with huge tanks and a tank that wraps all the way around the room and overhead! Something new this visit were I-pads located at every tank. Instead of placards with pictures and names of the fish, they were all in the I-pad so Landon could easily scroll through the find the fish he wanted to learn more about. We really liked having more information about each animal right at our fingertips! We could find out what they ate, where they live, and so much more.
The Shedd Aquarium is a great place to visit with kids, but adults will find just as much enjoyment in its exhibits. If visiting for the first time with kids over 3, I think the total experience pass is worth it. For younger kids, or return visits, I think the exhibits offered in the much cheaper general admission ticket is more than enough. Everything is stroller accessible, but when it’s busy (like on free days) the line for the elevators can be quite long. Make sure to catch feeding times to learn even more about all of the fish and marine mammals at the Shedd! I would definitely recommend purchasing and printing tickets beforehand, because the lines to get into the aquarium can be outrageous! Come check out the Shedd and the other iconic museums of Museum Campus, including the Field Museum and Adler Planetarium!