My survival kit for a visit to the Shedd Aquarium

Shedd flyerIt took us a year but this past weekend we finally got the kids to the Shedd Aquarium. I am surprised it took us this long since the first thing we usually scope out in a new city is the aquarium. Some of the ones we have visited over the past couple of years include the Mystic Aquarium, the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, CT where we had a membership for two years, the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, and the Newport Aquarium in Cincinnati. Now, we can add the Shedd to that growing list and we’ll be back. It’s a treasure here in Chicagoland.

By this point, you would think I would be an aquarium visiting expert and would know what to pack for the day. I thought I did until we visited the Shedd. So, here is my list of must-haves so you can survive the day.

1. Money. Lots of it. At $8 for adults, $6 for kids, general admission itself is cheaper than a movie ticket but it does not buy you very much. You can see some fish in tanks, c’est tout. If you want to do pretty much anything you have to pay up. The Shedd Pass is $30.95/adult, $21.95/child and that still excludes the aquatic show, stingray touch, special amphibian exhibit and 4D movies. We ended up buying the Total Experience pass which gets you access to all of that and purchasing online saved us some money but was still expensive at $37.95/adult, $28.95/child. As pricey as that sounds, it’s on par with pricing at Mystic Aquarium. The Shedd also offers Extraordinary Experiences for older children (generally 10+) and adults and pricing depends on the experience (shark, penguin, beluga whale, behind the scenes) but that is a much higher price point.

So that gets you in the door but you have to well, get to the door. We paid $22 to park at Soldier Field. I am not sure if that is the going rate on any given day but it didn’t help that some Bears meet and greet family event was going on. Metra would have been $30 round trip for the four of us.

Then there was lunch. I had packed snacks and drink boxes for the kids but after a few hours both kids were begging for more food. We scouted out our options and decided to pass on the healthy fresh and organic food cafe in favor of the fast food court downstairs. The grand total for a hot dog, one 5-piece of chicken strips, one 5-piece chicken strip meal (with fries and soda) and a bottle of water was $31.64. It would have been $9 more if my husband remembered my fries and drink and the 3-piece chicken strips for the toddler. And that was for fast food. I don’t want to think about how much a meal for four would have cost with the Whole Foods crowd upstairs.

Shedd pic pickupIf you are keeping track, so far we are up to $187.44. That doesn’t include that cute stuffed beluga whale from the gift shop, a copy of that awful photo taken the minute you walk in the door, or donations, which leads me to…

2. Tissues. In my aquarium experience aquatic shows are usually light-hearted and entertaining because dolphins and beluga whales jumping around are just plain cute. I didn’t expect a tear-jerker but that’s what I got during the Shedd’s aquatic show called “One World”. The soundtrack was sung by a children’s choir so you feel like you are in church on Christmas Eve singing “Silent Night”. Then they started telling the story of the sea lion they rescued and I was done. What kind of cruel person shoots a sea lion, leaving it blind and to die? Bullet fragments in the skull? Luckily I didn’t have to field any questions from the 7-year old on that one. But that wasn’t enough. Out came the rescue dog who would have most likely died in a shelter if not rescued. Why a dog? I mean, I thought I was at the aquarium. I tried to rationalize this by convincing myself they were trying to build a case for donations, but that didn’t stop the tears*.

Tissues are also necessary to wipe the tears from your child’s face if you choose the Sea Monsters 4D show. Did I seriously think a 3-year old was going to enjoy underwater prehistoric underwater dinosaurs shredding each other for dinner? It took less than two minutes of film time before the piercing screams hit and I whisked her out of the theatre. Come to think of it the second grader was pretty freaked out too. Parent fail. Next time we’ll stick with the SpongeBob SquarePants 4D movie. We’re not exactly fans of the sea sponge but if it means my daughter will get to sleep before 2 AM, then we’re so there.

3. Wet Wipes. Kids equal germs, period. Group a few thousand of them in one spot and you get the idea. I believe the aquarium acknowledges this fact since you have to wash you hands before touching the stingrays. I hadn’t seen that before and it makes sense. Some of our germs are probably more harmful to the animals than other people. I brought snacks for the kids so after touching every tank, touch screen, guard rail, you name it, yes, I was definitely going to wipe their hands off before they could have their Goldfish. Perhaps my resolve was cemented by standing behind the boy who sneezed a few times without covering his nose that was dripping snot after he sneezed. Yuck. Wet wipes also come in handy after the bathroom. All had those Dyson dryers, those ones you actually stick your hands into which don’t dry not only your hands, but those from the 50 people who put their hands in before you.

4. Flat, comfy shoes. No two ways about it, you will do a ton of walking. From the parking lot to the entrance, and back and forth to the exhibits and shows. You will cover a lot of ground since it is one of the largest indoor aquariums in the world. Granted, I don’t wear a Fitbit or anything like that but based on the blisters I accrued, I am guessing we walked a good 3 miles. There is also quite a bit of standing around because of #5 below.

5. Patience. Based on the Shedd’s website, an estimated 2 million people visit the aquarium each year. I am guessing most of them are on Saturdays. At least it felt that way. What to do? Take a deep breath, step back, let the kids explore the tanks, stingrays, touch screens, and have a great time.

*I am grateful the Shedd has the resources, facilities and staff to rescue these animals. One theme that was evident throughout several of the exhibits is how human actions are threatening various animal populations which are crucial to the functioning of our ecosystems.

For more information about the Shedd Aquarium, here is a link to the website. Here is a post about the “One World” aquatic show we saw and the rescue dogs. Here is a post about one of the Extraordinary Experiences offered at the Shedd – this one was feeding the sharks.

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Tags: city outings, parenting

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