Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Aquarium Compare-ium

Aquarium 1: 

Clark the Shark at the aquarium last year
Last winter we took our boys, who were almost two at the time, to the National Aquarium in DC. There's an aquarium in DC, you ask? Yep. It's downtown in the basement of the commerce building. Sounds spooky, right? It definitely was a little spooky in the beginning. The elevator was one of those chipped bronze-colored contraptions that moves so slowly that you could have walked down stairs carrying the stroller, then gone back up for each of the kids, and then your diaper bag in less time than it took to stand face-to-face with strangers in a descending box. For the $9.95 adult admission and free children's (3 and under) admission, this aquarium visit was worth every penny. There weren't many people there, which I'm guessing had to do with the fact that it is in the basement of the commerce building, but also that January is the best time in the whole year to go museum-ing around here.

Cool alligators!
The aquarium, due to its basement-ness, has low ceilings and low lighting, but that is really where the spookiness ends. It is the perfect size aquarium for little kids. Everything is low and the tour is easy to take. I think we spent maybe an hour and a half there, maybe even less. We combined it with a visit to the mammal room at the Natural History Museum and it was a perfect morning outing for the nearly two year-olds. The kids can see some cool aquatic life without the hassle of driving to Baltimore or the overwhelming size of that aquarium . I recommend it, as long as you don't think it's going to be amazing or that you won't have to experience slow elevators. Also, the octopus is surprisingly cute.

Aquarium 2: The National Aquarium, Baltimore style was an exciting trip this January for the almost-three-year-old boys. We took them last year too, when they were almost 2, but they didn't care. At that age they cared more about the pretty blue lights and dancing bubble tubes than about the shark and rays and dolphins, which was disappointing for such a long commitment as driving to Baltimore, and the more expensive admission. ($24.95/adult, $19.95/child 3-11) This time it was much more captivating for them. Their favorite part by far was the dolphin show. Spring for this, if it is happening when you go, because it is awesome. Just don't sit in the first four rows unless you want to get wet. We left the NOVA area around 10am and didn't hit traffic. We cruised into Baltimore and parked close to the aquarium off Gay Street in a garage that allows a discount for aquarium-validated tickets. We went with the boys' BFF Nick and his mom Aimee. She prepped us all on the way up with plastic sea creatures, shark books, and fish books. Because she's awesome at baking, she also baked themed cookies for the ride home.
Aimee's cookies

At the aquarium there is a stroller check near the door and lockers for valuables. A weekday in January was a great time to go. There weren't many other visitors, which makes things so much easier with kids. In my experience, summer up there at the aquarium is very crowded. The highlights of the trip were, like I said, the dolphin show, the captivating bubble tubes, the big open tank of rays, shark, and sea turtles that you can see from all levels, the jellyfish exhibit, and the shark walk. As you walk down the coral reef display, the lights get darker and darker as you descend into shark territory. Very cool. There are also blue lights along the floor that are good for counting and touching to make your hands look blue. Along the way there are computers with touchscreens to help you identify what creatures you're looking at. Since we got a late start, we ended up taking a break for lunch and just eating at the cafe. There are restaurants close by on the waterfront that you can eat at if you're ready to leave by lunchtime. Two of the three boys took their naps on the car ride home, and we cruised home around 2:30. All in all, a great trip. (Aimee also blogged about the trip here and took better pictures.)

I recommend both aquariums, the DC one for younger kids, and the Baltimore for older ones. Just make sure you know what to expect for each, and you'll have a great trip! Read about our other recent museum-outings here: Natural History and Air and Space.

Hello, Dophins!
Moon jellyfish display
I'm bein' a ray!
Shark attack!
Hard Rock Cafe giant guitar: nearly as cool as the dolphins!

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