While it's fall break for most families in Middle Tennessee, it's not for the kids in Hamilton County's Chattanooga (fall break is Oct. 10 - 14). But why am I telling you this? Because the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga is a great family visit when the crowds aren't so dense! [caption id="attachment_71309" align="alignleft" width="288"] In River Journey, you can see these scaled creatures of the water.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_71306" align="alignright" width="288"] A staff member gently handed Lilliana a butterfly to hold in the Butterfly Garden.[/caption] My husband and I enjoyed a day of fun with our daughter Lilliana (age 10), and we arrived at the aquarium just after it opened for the day. Driving east on I-24 from Nashville, I fretted about how busy the aquarium would be, only I didn't know that Chattanooga wasn't yet on fall break yet! Score! This was the first time we've been able to leisurely stroll around the aquarium (that's usually packed with people!), taking the time to enjoy each and every exhibit and even circling back to check a few of them out again. We got our tickets and let our princess pick where we started — in fact, she was our guide the entire time! Having an older child alone on such a trip made it enjoyable and relaxing. The permanent exhibits, River Journey and Ocean Journey, have the same creatures to see, but strolling through without being pushed along made it feel like new. I had forgotten how big the buildings were and since we were able to explore at a much slower pace, it was nice. The penguins in the Ocean Journey building were our favorites and Lilliana loved how they followed her face-to-face! [caption id="attachment_71308" align="aligncenter" width="288"] The Awesome Otters program draws a crowd, and they sure are cute![/caption] The acrobatic otters in the River Journey section taught us that they really don't like to be out during the day. Aquarium workers strategically place food about the otter habitat just to get them to move around! The newest addition to the aquarium is the amazing Monster Fish: In Search of River Giants exhibit which opened Oct. 1 with several hands-on activities for kids. [caption id="attachment_71313" align="alignleft" width="288"] Lilliana sits next to a life-size sculpture while learning about it.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_71312" align="alignright" width="288"] Another amazingly detailed, life-sized sculpture of a giant fish.[/caption] The exhibit shows the work of many aquatic ecologists including National Geographic Fellow Dr. Zeb Hogan, host of the National Geographic's WILD series, Monster Fish. We love the Monster Fish series, so Lilliana really took her time here, exploring the touch-screen games. We sat on a boat in the center of the exhibit and listened to clips of Hogan recount stories of giant fish he has pursued and captured. Visitors get inside info on more than 20 different species and several life-sized sculptures that really put the creatures in perspective. It's amazing to stand next to these giant creatures and imagine that they can really be that big!
QUICK TIPS: Why This Week is the BEST Time to Go!
- Crowd volume is low.
- We're on fall break and they're not.
- There's a new exhibit to check out: Monster Fish.
- The weather is perfect!
- It's not but an hour and a half to two hours away (depending upon where you live).
- Pay attention to the campus map they give you when you get your tickets! On the back is a schedule of programs that are free with admission. One in particular to watch out for is the Awesome Otters: Otter Program in the River Journey. While it's an interesting program, the area is very small and if you don't want to stick around for the program, better get there before it starts or you'll be stuck! Even with just a few people around, we couldn't make it through that tiny area and by-pass the program. So, we listened and waited.