The New England Aquarium is one of the most popular attractions for families visiting Boston. While it isn’t the largest aquarium around, the New England Aquarium’s commitment to conservation issues is world renowned. If you plan to visit during the most popular times (summer and school vacation weeks), be prepared for crowds and try to arrive early in the day. You can pick up a map of the aquarium and a daily schedule on your way in, or download them from the aquarium’s website. You can also purchase tickets online, which will allow you to bypass the outdoor kiosk. Family memberships to the aquarium are a popular option, with benefits including unlimited admission for a year, a subscription to the aquarium’s quarterly magazine, and discounts on food, parking, and souvenirs.
The first exhibit you’ll see at the aquarium is the outdoor harbor seals exhibit. If the kids are interested, check the schedule and try to get back to observe a seal training session (usually offered daily). If you need to store jackets or bags, lockers are available just inside the entrance.
The star of the aquarium is the 20,000 gallon giant ocean tank, modeled after a Caribbean Coral Reef. A winding ramp lets you take it all in, from the rocky bottom where eels hide in little caves to the very top where sea turtles poke their leathery snouts up to take a breath. Along the way, windows beckon you to stop and admire the colorful fish and menacing sharks. The answer to the inevitable question, “Why don’t the sharks eat the other fish?” is that sharks eat only when hungry and these sharks are very well fed. Several times each day you can see divers in the tank feeding the sharks and turtles with a fish stuck on one end of a long pole. At the top of the tank, interpreters are often on hand to answer any questions your kids may have.
The penguin exhibit is also a huge hit with the kids, and you’ll often see a volunteer scrubbing the rocks or doling out fish. The exhibit includes three varieties of penguins and your kids will not soon forget watching them swim, preen, and squabble over fish. Nearby is the aquarium medical center, a working animal hospital that helps to rehabilitate sick or injured creatures for eventual release back into the wild. During our visit, newborn sea turtles occupied one of the tanks.
One of the newest exhibits at the aquarium is the Amazing Jellies Exhibit, which contains many different species of jellyfish and interactive educational displays. Our kids could have spent all day at the display that allowed you to change the color of jellyfish by changing the color of the light shining on them.
In addition to these popular stops, you’ll find exhibits on freshwater life, a tank of sea dragons, New England sea life displays, a touch tank, and much more. You’ll want to allow at least 2-3 hours for your visit here, but you could easily spend an entire day wandering around. The aquarium offers two dining options. The harbor cafe, located inside the aquarium, offers pizza, sandwiches, burgers, fruit, drinks, and cookies. Many families bring their own lunches into the cafe and purchase drinks to go along with them. In warm weather, you also have the option of eating outdoors at the Plaza Cafe next to the aquarium plaza.
If your kids want a souvenir to remember their trip, the aquarium gift shop offers stuffed and plastic versions of the most popular aquarium residents, t-shirts, postcards, sea life jewelry, souvenir mugs, and a great selection of aquatic related children’s books.