Sunday, March 16, 2014


If you are traveling to Chicago with your kids a visit to the Shedd Aquarium is a must. We took a family road trip last Fall to the Windy City and our kids loved stopping by this great aquarium.  The SHEDD AQUARIUM is located along the city's Lake Michigan shoreline in an area called the Museum Campus which features 57 acres of attractions including the Adler Planetarium, Chicago Field Museum, Soldier Field (home of Da Bears) and Grant Park (home of the landmark BuckinghamFountain made famous by being included in the opening sequence of thetelevision show “Married with Children”).  We took the public bus route that was near our hotel over to the Museum Campus and were dropped off at a stop conveniently located between the Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium.  There is a nice children's play area right by the bus stop that overlooks Soldier Field so we started our visit with the kids exploring its features.

When you arrive at the aquarium there are two entrances, a Group Entrance (for school field trips and other sorts of large organized visits) and the Main Entrance for the rest of us.  I’d recommend purchasing tickets online because when you go in through the Main Entrance there are 2 lines: one for those who bought their tickets online in advance and another for everyone else.  We had to wait in line for about 5 minutes in the advance ticket line while the rest of the atrium was filled to capacity with people who didn’t have tickets waiting to buy them which the staff person at the counter told me took about forty-five minutes to get through.  Being prepared, and the extra few dollars in processing fees for buying online, pays off.  I have to say too that with the entrance area so packed with people it really is nice that the facility processes group tours through another route.  It should be noted that we made this visit on a Monday afternoon in mid-October so we weren’t there during a peak time.  It was a great time to visit because there really weren’t “crowds” during our visit though the aquarium still was fairly busy.

In addition to the exhibits, they also sell tickets to a 4-D Experience (you could pick from seeing a show with the ICE AGE movie characters in it or Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure – we opted to see the adventures of Manny, Sid & Diego) and the Shedd Aquatic Show which features Beluga whales and dolphins interacting with their trainers as you watch from an amphitheater.  Note that when we tried to purchase these tickets online it would only give us the option to go to the last shows of the day.  The staffer who checked us in though told us that was a default and we could pick any time we wanted during the day when we got there.  Which would have been helpful to know before we got there in making our plans for the day as we may have gone in the morning and stayed longer for the day.

Upon leaving the Entrance Atrium, you enter the central area of the aquarium and are greeted by a huge circular tank filled with bright exotic fish in an exhibit called the Pritzker Caribbean Reef.  Surrounding this exhibit were various alcoves filled with fish tank displays of various themes: Oceans, the Great Lakes, American Rivers, The Amazon Basin.  You aren’t allowed to take flash photography in SHEDD for the protection of the animals (remember whales are mammals and they have some otters and iguanas there too), birds, and fish on display and none of my pictures in this area or the live aquatic show turned out.  While this area had some nice displays and interesting creatures to examine it was also the most crowded and really never caught my 4 year olds attention. 
It was the lower levels that thrilled them.  After you go through the central area you can go down to lower levels that hold the live aquatic show amphitheater and other displays & exhibits plus a restaurant to eat at.  The first thing we did after wandering around the central viewing area was head down to eat and that was a huge mistake, especially at lunch time.  There is absolutely nothing remarkable about the restaurant and it has standard “stadium fare”  food  that is over-priced and not that good.  So I’d recommend eating before or after your visit if you can arrange it.

Outside the restaurant is a display with otters in it that is fun to watch for awhile, you can than go up to grab a seat at the amphitheater or head down to a lower level.  We had tickets for the next show so watched the live presentations and my kids really enjoyed themselves.  My daughter LOVED the Beluga whales and my son’s favorite part was being amazed by the dolphins doing flips in the air.

After the show we went downstairs and this was my kids’ favorite part of the visit.  The next level down has a nice penguin exhibit.  Plus it has a children’s play area called the Polar Play Zone where kids can dress up in penguin costumes and slide down rock slides or explore a submarine.  My children would have spent hours playing on the submarine if I’d let them stay there that long, but we spent about an hour enjoying that part of the aquarium.  We stayed long enough that the next live show started while we were down there and we ended up watching it from the display windows located in the Polar Play Zone.  It was almost as thrilling to watch the show underwater as it was from the amphitheater seats.  If you don’t want to pay for viewing the aquatic show or have some extra time to spare I recommend watching it underwater from this vantage point.  There also is a touch pool exhibit in this area that lets children pet star fish that shouldn’t be missed.

Another sub-level area that you don’t want to miss is accessible by an elevator and could be easily missed if you aren’t looking for it.  Make sure you don’t miss the “WILD REEF” because that is where you can get the close-up views of the blacktip sharks and stingrays that are on display.  Here’s a map of SHEDD to give you a lay of the surrounding when it comes to navigating the passages of the aquarium. CLICK on the map to enlarge the picture.

We wrapped up our visit by taking a walk through a special exhibit, JELLIES, that focused on jelly fish.  It was a really well done display that really showcased these creatures in an artistic light.   That probably was my favorite part of our trip, that is besides watching my children be excited and enjoy themselves at the aquarium.

If you are going on a family trip to Chicago a visit to the SHEDD AQUARIUM is not to be missed when you are in town.  Definitely check it out!  For more information, visit

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