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Our Vote for the BEST Family-Friendly Aquarium in the U.S.

Updated: Feb 2, 2019

Throughout our travels, we have visited many aquariums and I have to say that, hands down, the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga ranks as best overall! Boasting both salt water and fresh water exhibits, you get two awesome experiences with one ticket! Immersive, hands on exhibits welcome kids to learn and explore but adults are just as fascinated by the exceptional exhibits!

Ocean Journey

We began our tour with the Ocean Journey exhibit by ascending to the top of the building right into the Lemur Forest! Tropical flowers, waterfalls and swinging lemurs greet you along with a massive touch tank of (small!) sharks and stingrays. We all know kids LOVE to touch things and at this aquarium, they offer several touch tanks (with easy step access) for kids.

Surprisingly, the Ocean Journey also includes a beautiful butterfly garden! Here your child can learn about the stages from pupae to beautiful butterfly. If you stand still, many will land on you and Rayna was determined to serve as a live butterfly perch before we moved on. She got lucky and a couple stopped to visit with her!

Another unexpected animal experience was Penguin's Rock! These playful little guys put on a delightful show, twirling and spinning through the water. Multiple viewing spots made it easy for kids of all sizes to see the penguin's tricks and the highlight was seeing a couple of little fuzzy babies!

We meandered from there down to the Secret Reef, a surreal area that made you feel as if you were submersed underwater. Salt water fish are always so vividly colored and are mesmerizing to watch. It can be soothing to watch fish in the dentist office's aquarium, so imagine the serene atmosphere of a well populated, 600,000+ gallon tank! Many of the viewing windows have benches built in so you can sit and relax as you marvel at the fish, colorful reef and sea turtles.

I am lacking a bit in picture documentation of the last two ocean exhibits, the Boneless Beauties and Undersea Cavern, due to the low lighting of these exhibits. But don't miss these two spots that highlight the breathtakingly beautiful jellyfish and also the creatures of the deep, such as the octopus!

River Journey

The great thing about the Tennessee Aquarium is that you can leave the building to grab a quick lunch or breath of fresh air and re-enter the same day with your ticket! After lunch, we began our journey into the river exhibit.

This section of the aquarium also begins with an immersive experience into the Appalachian Cove Forest. As you wander across the boardwalk, you are surrounded by mountainous rocks and trees while chirping birds and waterfalls add to the experience audibly. We spent quite a bit of time at the river otter exhibit since they were putting on a playful show, jumping and splashing with each other!

Moving along to the Discovery Hall and Delta exhibits, you get to view the swampy habitats of turtles, frogs and alligators. Most of the tanks are open on the side (or have a step stool) so kids can get up close and personal! There are also tons of friendly guides throughout the aquarium who are always ready to offer facts and info or to snap a family picture for you!

One of the most impressive parts of the aquarium was seeing the MASSIVE river giants exhibit. This is one of those see-it-to-believe-it things, but trust me when I say these catfish and sturgeon were way larger than my 6 ft 3 in husband! Some were as large as small cars! (I must have been so overwhelmed with these giants that I neglected to snap many pictures to present as evidence, so I apologize.) This is another dimly lit area in an effort to highlight the tanks but you are able to view all heights of the tank via ramps.

One cool thing we also got to watch were the divers who were working hard to keep the tanks clean! They diligently scrubbed and clean but noticed they had an admirer so one stopped for a quick photo op! The Tennessee Aquarium runs on excellence and a trip here will not disappoint!

<<Trip tip>> If you plan to visit Rock City, you can purchase discounted aquarium tickets when you buy your Rock City passes!


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