Family Activity: The Vancouver Aquarium

Our family has been trying to visit the aquarium for months now. On three separate occasions we’ve arrived at Stanley Park and promptly driven home again in order to avoid parking chaos and hordes of swarming tourists. But eventually, our determination to introduce our son to the bubbly world of undersea creatures outweighed our desire to avoid pushy crowds. And so, one overcast October morning, we were delighted to finally find ourselves inside a relatively quiet Vancouver Aquarium.

With an Aquarium stamp on our hand, humming “Baby Beluga” under our breath, we made our way past tanks filled with both local and tropical marine life. From the Amazon Gallery to Penguin Point, the exhibits teemed with poison frogs, giant turtles, colourful fish, and countless other animals. We spent the day marveling at the incredible array of beautiful and intricate creatures displayed before us.

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As a self-supporting, non-profit society with a strong emphasis on marine conservation and research, the Aquarium is more than just an entertaining afternoon or great educational experience.

Going out of their way to give interesting and creative presentations to guests, the Vancouver Aquarium puts a different spin on the “usual” aquarium experience. The Caring for Dolphins show is just one of many examples of this: rather than solely providing the crowd-pleasing flips and tricks, this presentation gives visitors a look at an actual dolphin training session. This behind-the-scenes style show gives guests unique insight into what it takes to train and keep dolphins healthy.

Beyond the numerous shows, guests can spend hours studying and watching thousands of different intriguing animals, insects, and fish. From hanging lanterns powered by an electric eel, to a cave full of fruit bats,  there’s something here for the entire family.

And with a fifteen-month-old, this was the perfect time for our first visit to the aquarium. Bubbling with curiosity and on the verge of mobility, our little one was completely amazed by world around him (and obsessed with the jellyfish!) And while the exhibits are fascinating enough, the aquarium has also set up Clownfish Cove. This area is specially designed to provide children under eight with a fun and interactive play experience while simultaneously teaching them about caring for marine life.

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Things I love about the Vancouver Aquarium:

1. This is a great activity for rainy days. While the Dolphin / Beluga shows (and some of the other animal tanks) are located outside, there is an abundance of indoor exhibits to keep you busy. Some of the larger tanks also have “underwater” viewing areas where you can stay out of the rain but still hear the show.

2. The Aquarium really emphasizes the local marine life that can be found along our coast. I love learning about the creatures found in our very own “backyard.”

3. It’s a full day activity. While it doesn’t seem that large from the outside, there is no lack of informative activities, shows, or things to see.

4. It’s “Baby Friendly.” While it might be a different story during the peak season, we had no difficulty navigating the Aquarium with our jumbo-sized stroller. The cafeteria has a designated “stroller parking area” and I also stumbled across a cozy corner marked specifically for breastfeeding mothers. These little things go a long way in making an outing easier for families with younger children.

Other things to note:
1. This is a major tourist destination and, as expected, can be quite crowded during summer break, holidays, and weekends. For a quieter visit, try to plan for an off-season or mid-week visit.

2. Aquarium parking is limited and while there is plenty of other parking located around Stanley Park, keep in mind that you may be required to walk a ways.

3. Admission can seem a bit steep for a family on a tight budget but after seeing how much my little one loved the Aquarium, I would definitely consider purchasing an annual membership. Membership pays for itself in two visits and comes with several other perks / benefits.

aquarium5I’ve been to a couple aquariums now and the Vancouver Aquarium is definitely my favourite. Informative, interactive, and a ton of fun, this is one family activity that you don’t want to miss!

 

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