Two hours south of Nashville in beautiful Chattanooga, TN is the Tennessee State Aquarium – a great place to spend a day! We drove down on a Sunday and realized as we arrived that we had crossed into the Eastern time zone so it was an hour later. Make sure you factor the time difference into your trip!
Once in downtown Chattanooga there are lots of options for parking. We ended up in a covered garage about a block from the Aquarium. There are 2 options for ticketing – 2 credit card machines outside and a line that leads to ticketing windows if you would rather pay cash or ask questions. Our group split up into two groups and in the end the ticketing window line moved faster.
The Aquarium is comprised of two LARGE buildings – the River Journey for freshwater animals and the Ocean Journey for saltwater species. We started our tour in the River Journey. When you first enter the building a guide will direct you to either ride the escalator or the elevator down to the first floor to see the seahorse gallery and experience Ranger Rick's Backyard Safari. We were just in time for a 10 minute bird show. Several types of parrots were brought out and a few even flew over the group of spectators.
Make sure to watch for signs on the wall for the cell phone audio tour. You can dial a local Chattanooga number and enter the audio stop number to list to more information about the exhibit you are in.
Once you finish exploring the first floor of the River Journey you venture back to the main floor and then ride an elevator or escalator up to the top of the building and wind your way down through the exhibits. There are ramps to change floors and it is all stroller and wheelchair friendly. As you progress you will see alligators, turtles and HUGE fish. There is an area where you can pet sturgeon and several tanks that kids can crawl into for a 360 degree view. It took us about an hour and a half to walk through the River Journey building.To continue your tour you exit into the courtyard area and then enter the Ocean Journey building. We took this opportunity to get some lunch. There are several options nearby including TGI Fridays, a food court with pizza and burgers and a few food trucks. Outside the courtyard but still within a block of the Aquarium are even more options.
After our meal we headed back to start our tour of the Ocean Journey. The building has the same set up – you come in on the ground floor and then take an escalator or elevator up 4 floors to the top and then wind your way down as you see the exhibits. This building begins with a tour of the rainforest including a touch pond with stingrays. Following that adventure you can spend some time in the butterfly area. There were hundreds of butterflies and some did land on us. There is also a display of caterpillars in various stages of transformation as well as new butterflies and moths.
Move from the tropics to the South Pole and visit the penguins. The birds were very active and would even interact with you through the glass. The rest of the ocean building winds through many different aquatic ecosystems including jellyfish, a coral reef area and coastal regions. My children were fascinated with how close you could get to the animals.
We had planned to visit other Chattanooga attractions but the Aquarium turned into a full day on its own. You can purchase combination tickets and see an IMAX film at the theater across the street or take a 2 hour boat ride on the River Gorge Explorer.
Do come prepared – there is a man-made creek that wanders through the aquarium courtyard and lots of kids were decked out in swim suits splashing around. Of course, our kids wanted in on the fun so we held them off to the end. Their wading session turned into swimming so I was thankful I travel with full sets of clothes just in case!
Family Fun Facts
Hours: Open daily from 10 AM to 6 PM. (Remember this is Eastern time!)
Cost: Aquarium Only – Adults $29.95, Child (3 to 12 yrs) $18.95, Under 3 FREE
IMAX – Adult $11.95, Child (3 to 12 yrs) $9.95 Under 3 FREE
River Gorge Explorer – Adult $32, Child $24.50, Under 3 – $18
Discount combo tickets and memberships are available