Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Visiting Vancouver Aquarium with my spring-breaking kids

Because it's spring break, and because we're crossing off some of the items on our spring-break wish-list, I headed to the Aquarium with my kids on a grey and rainy day this week.

The Vancouver Aquarium is definitely one of my kids' favorite destinations, and if I ask them to choose where we're going for a day out, this is usually top of the list. They love watching the animals, birds, bugs and various sea creatures, they love being able to touch, explore, and really get up close and personal with the exhibits, and they love just hanging out there in general. I like taking them there because it's a kid-friendly place that is educational and fun, and is also interesting for adults, making it a great family destination.

When we arrived at the Aquarium this time though, I did become a little worried. The long-awaited expansion of the Aquarium had obviously gotten under way, because the usual entrance was closed, and a new (very nice-looking) entrance was open for business on the side of the building towards the parking lot. I wondered if this would mean a lot of closed off areas inside too, something I knew my kids would probably not like.

One of the new tanks in the entrance area.
However, inside the Aquarium was pretty much its old self, with some new additions. The area right inside the new entrance, which used to be a dark-ish corner of what my kids call "the jellyfish area", had some nice, new exhibits. Several pillar-shaped, floor-to-ceiling tanks had been placed there, each representing a certain place in the world: coral reef, Arctic, and so on. They looked spectacular, and the kids enjoyed being able to walk around the tanks, and not just look at them from the front.

The big snake.
There was also a big terrarium here with a really big snake that kept my son's interest for a good 15 minutes. Both kids also really enjoyed the new "Babies" exhibit, featuring tiny wolf-eels, baby jellyfish, and baby sculpins. I'm not sure how permanent this new addition to the Aquarium is, but I really liked it and hope that at least some of it stays around.

The rest of the Aquarium looked much the same as before, and that was OK with me and the kids. They have their favorite spots throughout and we visited them all.

The resident Pacific octopus.
The octopus is always a favorite with the kids, and it's one of my own favorites too. On this visit it was out and about and showing off (sometimes it just hides in a crevice instead). My kids always seem simultaneously creeped out and completely fascinated by watching it move around.

The worms.
Then we headed over to the tropical zone where the big attractions for my kids are the shark tank and the "peeking worms" (my daughter's name for them).

Scarlet ibis in the tropical zone.
After that we headed into the warm and humid rainforest gallery and looked at the giant fish from the Amazon river, and the bats, before taking a walk through the "mini jungle" with its wealth of birds, tortoises, sloths, monkeys, butterflies, parrots, and a lot more besides.

Up close and personal with some tarantulas.
The last stop in the tropical zone is always the spiders, giant cockroaches and other creepy crawlies. I tend to keep my distance at this point...

In the Aquarium's play area.
As we often do, we had brought a packed lunch and ate it downstairs by the underwater-viewing area. The kids love eating their food while perched in the windows, looking in at the dolphins swimming by. This is also where the kids' play-area is now located with stuffed animals to "examine" (just like a real marine biologist), cushions to play with and sit on, and other interactive exhibits.

There are several small tanks in this area where the kids can touch sea creatures like sea cucumbers, star fish, and sea urchins, though we were not lucky enough to be there for one of the shows on this particular visit.

One of the interactive exhibits in the Arctic zone.
After lunch we headed back upstairs and outside. It was raining pretty hard, so we just scooted over to the Arctic gallery where you can watch the belugas underwater. This gallery also has several interactive exhibits about life and research in the Arctic.

Once the kids were done exploring here they were ready to head home. We had a great visit as usual, and I'll be interested to see how all the new additions and expansions turn out in the end.

Value for money
We have a family membership at the Aquarium, and I think it's worth every penny, but it isn't a cheap place to visit if you're bringing a whole family and paying regular admission: $21 for adults, $16 for youth, $13 for kids 4-12 years old (younger kids are free).

However, it is very kid-friendly, there's lots to see, and the kids can explore, touch, and really get into many of the exhibits. There's a 4D theatre (yes, four D!), and also all sorts of activities and shows on at different times during the day: feeding-times for some of the animals, dolphin and beluga shows, and so on.

When it isn't raining, it's also nice to hang out in the outdoor area and watch the belugas, otters, and sea lions. And on a really nice day, you can combine an Aquarium visit with a walk around Stanley Park.

Parrots in the Aquarium's tropical zone.
If you're going to the Aquarium, try to find some 2-for-1 coupons or similar (some tourist flyers will have them), to save money. The Aquarium also gives you $2 off the price of admission if you can show them a valid transit pass, for example a bus- or SkyTrain ticket.

We usually bring our own snack or lunch when we go here. There is a café on the premises, but I find it a bit pricey and also rather busy if it's around lunch-time. Since my kids can also be a little picky about food and snacks, it's just a better bet for us to bring our own.

The Vancouver Aquarium is a very popular and busy place on most days, and holidays and weekends are busier still. However, there are usually less people in the mornings and late afternoons.

There is a lot of parking near the Aquarium, though it tends to fill up quickly on busy days. If the weather is good, you can park your car in another area of Stanley Park (or take transit!) and make a walk to the Aquarium a part of a day out.


  1. Great description of the Vancouver Aquarium. I'm taking a leave of absense from the aquarium this year for Science World. My son keeps talking about the Aquarium, so we'll have to go back there soon!

  2. Yeah, for my kids it's a close call between what is more popular: Science World or The Aquarium... I think it's a draw!


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