Since moving to the middle of suburbia, we haven't visited an aquarium in awhile and my sons requests to go had started to reach fever pitch. We had an unexpected opening in our schedule this past Saturday and lucky us, it was a community discount day! As much as we love the Shedd Aquarium as our family has grown our ability to afford such an amazing attraction has been reduced (admission prices listed at end). Since we had other plans that were going to require us to spend money, we decided to splurge and include the new Oceanarium and Wild Reef in our visit.
We were pleasantly surprised that even though it was a "free day" (to the main galleries) that the line was not very long and when we got there (around 10:30am) the place was not very crowded. We were even still able to get a locker (although it was the last one!). We spent the morning exploring some of the main galleries and checking out the Caribbean Reef. To save money we always pack our own lunch and snacks. So after our lunch we headed to the Oceanarium.
Now I expected it to be a little more crowded. The Oceanarium has just been reopened after being closed for almost a year. I expected many other people like us trying to see the new features without paying full price. I was right it was more crowded but the kids were still able to see the animals, move around and enjoy the play area. My kids LOVED the new Polar Play Zone. It was actually difficult to get them to move on. They had water tables to play on as well as a touch tank filled with starfish. They even had a keeper out with hermit crabs (which of course were a big hit!) There is a play area where the kids could climbs and slide and pretend to be penguins (they had dress up, a nest and eggs too!) there was also a submarine (yellow of course!) that my son did not want to leave.
Personally my favorite area is the Wild Reef. There are many huge tanks that make you feel like you are actually swimming with sharks. There is another area where you can walk on top of a tank full of rays (another hit with the kiddos). We ended our day with a quick walk through one last upstairs gallery and headed home around 3pm. At this time the place was very crowded and the line to get in was all the way down the front steps and than some!
Overall it was a great and exhausting day (both kids fell asleep on the way home). The Shedd has done a lot to improve it facilities making it more family friendly. They seem to have added bathrooms that are bigger and cleaner. There are nursing rooms, family bathrooms, and step stools in all the bathrooms for kids. There is plenty for kids to do and explore even if you never leave the main galleries.
However I have one BIG complaint. My son wanted nothing more than to see the dolphin show. He saw the dolphins jumping around and was convinced they were practicing for him. 30 min before the show I went up to get seats. I was not only turned away but all the access points to the amphitheater were covered with curtains and guards. Now I am aware that they have limited seating however while we were exploring the Oceanarium 2 hours prior to the show the amphitheater was already more than half full. Full enough that it prompted me to ask the staff member standing there if a show was starting soon.
Now to be fair, the Shedd does say on your ticket that seating is "not guaranteed". However that ticket is not printed until AFTER you pay. Even on the price board it says the show is included. So clearly they are letting in a lot more people then they can handle. I remember a time when the Oceanarium (and maybe the Reef too) first opened and you had a timed entry. Once you were in you could stay and see everything for however long it took, but you couldn't enter until a specific time. Presumably this was keeping the number of people in the facility at a reasonable number. Clearly the method they are currently using is not working and they need to do something different. As a mother there is no way that I can have my family sit and stare at an empty tank for 2 hours in order to see a 30 (?) minute show. Perhaps the Shedd needs to consider reducing the price of the Oceanarium and making the show a separate item that you buy a ticket and a time slot for.
Overall we LOVE the Shedd, we will go again and again and again. However I don't think we will visit the Oceanurium again, the cost is too high for what we got out of it. If the cost is prohibitive for you and live in the Northwest Suburbs, consider visiting Living Seas. If your children are small (under 5) it will be just as cool and amazing to them and will cost you a lot less.
Basic Info for the Shedd:
Address: 1200 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago (part of the Museum campus)
General*: $8 adults and $6 children 3-11
Shedd Pass: $24.95 adults and $17.95 for children 3-11
*general admission only includes the main galleries (more than enough to do with toddlers!) when looking online you can't see this price unless you choose "buy tickets"
Parking: Everyday parking rates for the Soldier Field north garage are $16 for the first four hours or $19 for up to 12 hours. There is some street parking (meters) that we have used before but you pretty much need to get there before 9am t o get any.
What we spent (family of 4):
Parking (Solider Field): $19
Admission (2 adults, 1 child 3-11, 1 child 2 (free)) community discount Day, including Oceanaium and Wild Reef: $45.85
Lockers (opened 3 times) $2.25 ($0.75 per open)
Total: $ $67.10
A little more than we would normal spend on a family outing. Which is why we generally only go once or twice a year.
***Disclosures: Since I told you what I spent (FTC) I obviously was not compensated in away shape or form for this review and the opinions expressed are all my own.