I'm very excited to bring you my first roving report for Mice Chat. It is also exciting for me because it's the first time I've gone any place other than Disneyland in quite a while.
So let's put on our mask and snorkel and take a journey through the Aquarium of the Pacific.
This is my first time visiting the Aquarium of the Pacific, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I checked out their website at Aquarium of the Pacific and purchased my tickets online in advance. It was a few dollars cheaper to do it as a package which included my admission, the Behind the Scenes Tour and the 4D movie.
Here are the current Admission, Membership and Online prices.
I'm a pretty frequent visitor to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which I love and also have been to Scripps Aquarium, the Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco as well as Sea World many times. Other than Monterey, most aquariums don't thrill me too much because I have had aquariums my whole life and go to so many pet stores that I see fish every day. As a child my dream was to become an Ichthyologist (it's the branch of zoology that deals with fishes) and I took 4 years of biology and Marine Science. That was until I learned that most of them don't make very much money and have a very difficult time finding consistent work. "They never tell you that before you spend years studying it."
I have to start off by saying that my day going to the aquarium did not start off as I had planned. We got off to a later start than I wanted which was only exacerbated by car troubles making me spend 3 hours and close to $800.00 at the auto repair shop. Needless to say I was in a really bad mood before we even left San Diego and still had 2 hours of sitting in traffic in front of me.
We finally arrived at the Aquarium at 3:00 in the afternoon and parked in the structure right across the street. Parking is close and convenient for $8.00. By pre purchasing the tickets online and printing them out, you can completely skip any lines at the ticket windows.
Simply take your print out right to the front door and walk in. That was nice. We had purchased the tickets for the Behind the Scenes Tour at 1:30 but since we didn't get out of San Diego until after 1:00, we obviously missed it. We went to the guest services station and explained what happened and asked if we could join a later tour. The last tour was at 4:00 but it was completely booked and they can only fit so many people. BUMMER! Without me asking or even thinking of asking they promptly offered me a refund on the cost of the tour. I figured we missed it and that was our fault but they were really, really nice and gave me back $28.00. I was genuinely impressed and was now in a good mood again, ready to begin my adventure.
The very first thing that struck me about this aquarium as compared to others was how family and especially child friendly it was. All of the exhibits are very low and everything is touchable. Most of the displays go all the way to the floor making it easy for even the smallest child to sit and watch the fish.
The first area you enter lets you know right off the bat that the seas are in peril and the aquarium has a very strong environmental approach with displays showing what is going on.
There are a few small fish displays in there as well as a jellyfish petting tank. Yes, an actual tank where you can pet jellyfish.
The little ones found this fascinating.
Outside of that area is a little stand where you can Adopt an Animal and donate to help support whatever your favorite type of fish is.
Next on the ground floor is the large Southern California & Baja section.
This is where you will see the 30 foot tall, 142,000 gallon aquarium representing our local waters and marine life that inhabits it. From a photographic standpoint, this is a difficult tank to photograph because of the sunlight and lights glaring off the glass. I want one of these for my house.
However, every so often they dim the lights and play a movie about penguins on the wall near it.
When the film is playing you get a better view of the giant tank and can get a much nicer photo without as much glare.
That's when you can take photos of this guy.
Or my favorite fish, the Leopard Shark. (I've had two of these in my own aquarium and they are the coolest fish ever. That is until they get too big and you have to donate them to Sea World.)
There are other exhibits showcasing our local waters including a nice Jelly Fish display.
Next, you travel north and check out the marine life in the Northern Pacific.
There is an exhibit of Alaskan Sea Birds (Puffins)
There is also a Star Fish area where you can pick up and experience the feel of a Star Fish.
Other exhibits include a large tank with lots of schooling fish and a sleepy Sea Otter as well as giant Spider Crabs.
No aquarium would be complete without the warmer, sunnier waters of the Tropical Pacific.
Here you find the more colorful fish like you would find in most fish stores. One of the very cool exhibits is "The Tube" where you walk through a large tank filled with all kinds of fish, small sharks and a sea turtle.
Everyone is fascinated by the divers in the tank keeping it clean. I wish I could clean my tank like this.
"Hey Mister, watch out! There's a Shark above you!"
Not to worry, it is only a harmless Bonnethead Shark.
Or is it a Zebra Shark?
This area of the aquarium had several colorful and very interesting exhibits. Being close to Disney, you have to have a tank filled with these crazy characters. I heard little kids yell "It's Nemo" at least 5 times in the few minutes I was there taking pictures.
There is a tank showing symbiotic relationships like this Cleaner Wrasse that picks bacteria and tiny pests off of other fish, keeping them healthy.
Also of interest is this tank showing how some fish can change sexes if needed for survival. The bright orange ones are the females and the darker more colorful purple ones are the males. If the dominant male dies, the most dominant female will become a male in just a few days. I've had several of these in my aquarium and it really is remarkable how fast they change sexes.
One of the more interesting displays is the tank with the Leafy Sea Dragons, relatives of the Sea Horse. (NO FLASH PHOTOS of these) They are so well disguised with the plants around them that several people glanced at it and walked away thinking it was empty.
Outside the main building are the larger exhibits. First up is the Lorikeet Forest.
You can purchase a cup of nectar to take in with you and feed the birds.
This is a surprisingly large aviary filled with colorful & noisy lorikeets.
In between the Lorikeet Forest and the Shark Lagoon stands the appropriately named Shark Shack.
Here you can buy all kinds of unique merchandise like shirts and plushes.
Fellow Mice Chatter, Legacy 55 seems confused by this Tiger striped Shark/Dolphin type plush. What is it, a dolphin, a shark or a tiger?
Now we venture over to the Shark Lagoon where you get up close and personal with toothy characters like these Black Tip Reef Sharks.
Or this Sawfish.
Or this guy with a menacing smile, the Sand Tiger Shark.
There is also a wonderful area where you can pet larger rays like this big sting ray. "Stinger removed"
As I mentioned before, the Aquarium of the Pacific is extremely kid friendly. Outside is also a large play area with fountains and all kinds of structures for kids to climb on.
Even the restrooms have little fold down stairs for kids to reach the sink and wash their hands. I thought this was a really nice and thoughtful touch.
Up another flight of stairs, or elevator are more exhibits that allow you to reach out and touch the fish. This one features local fish like bat rays.
I had to post this shot just for the Halibut.... get it? "Just for the Halibut"... bad, I know.
There is a California Sea Lion exhibit with an underwater tunnel as well but it was being serviced on this day. It didn't stop this little guy from looking and looking though.
Now for the newest and featured exhibit. PENGUINS! This exhibit is only a few months old and they are very proud of it.
There is a little beach for the penguins to hang out on.
My favorite little viewing area was this little cut out in the tank allowing you to sit and watch them swim by and above you.
They are fast little buggers and kind of hard to photograph though.
Now it was time to check out our movie Turtle Vision in 4D. This is a pretty short film that is only about 15 minutes long. You watch it in 3D with some 4D effects like steam and water sprays, (nothing too annoying or wet). The film is cute and is the story of a young turtle exploring the world and learning about the dangers and hazards created by man. If you purchase the online package that includes the film, it is worth it. I wouldn't pay the full $4.00 for it though.
Another interactive thing you can do is take your aquarium map around to all the different stations where you can emboss a stamp on the matching page. My wife Diane made it her mission to go around and get every one.
Of course you will undoubtedly get hungry or thirsty during your visit. The aquarium has a coffee station with Starbucks coffee and the usual assortment of sandwiches, pastries, sodas and ice cream. We did get a sandwich and salad here that were both pretty good.
There is also Cafe Scuba which has a larger menu featuring sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs and pizza. I didn't get the opportunity to try out the food at Cafe Scuba because it closed at 6:00 and we just missed it. When I first looked at the menu I was a little disappointed because I love the dining area at the Monterey Bay Aquarium which has a fantastic menu with unique and very gourmet selections. Then I looked at the crowd that this aquarium receives and realized that the menu they offer is perfect for their particular audience. The vast majority of the people they will be feeding are small children who only eat hot dogs, burgers and pizza. For a tourism location such as this, the food is actually reasonably priced too.
No visit to a place like this is complete without stopping in the large and well stocked gift shop.
Most of the merchandise is reasonably priced too, averaging a few to several dollars less than similar items you would find at Disneyland.
Had I not felt so poor after my car repairs, I would have bought a few things. There were several t-shirts that I liked.
Speaking of Disney, they found their way into the gift shop as well.
If you find yourself short on cash, there is also an ATM for your shopping ease.
For most adults, a trip through the Aquarium of the Pacific will only take between 2 - 3 hours. For families with small children, count on 4 - 5. All in all it was a lovely way to spend the day.
I should also let you know that if you want to spend a few hours there for less money and avoid most of the family crowd which clears out by 5:00, they are open till 9 on certain evenings during the summer for a discounted price. Here is a little info on that. You can check out their website for the specific dates. www.aquariumofthepacific.org
Since any of my trips like this are focused around photography, one thing became very clear to me in my first 5 minutes there. If you arrive in the afternoon like we did and plan on taking pictures, bring a cloth to wipe the glass where you want to take your photo. By 3:00, every square inch of glass in the entire place was completely covered with fingerprints. I guess that's the price for making them so accessible to children.