I've been a certified SCUBA diver since I was 12 and once thought I'd be a marine biologist (that is until I took Biology). The colony of symbiotic relationships that inhabit the coral head, the vibrant, water-breathing cornucopia--used to occupy my mind as a child. Now as a parent, I struggle to transpire that same sense of wonder for the ocean and have so far come up dry. That is, until we visited the Newport Aquarium.
Located about an hour and a half north from Louisville, the Newport Aquarium offers a spectacular selection of coral heads, fresh and saltwater fish tanks, penguins, otters, alligators, turtles, and frogs--just about anything that thrives in water. Housed in an immaculate homage to the sea, this aquarium is one of the best I've seen.
My family visited last Sunday (on boy-scout day) and joined the masses of badged boys that herded through the door. I'm not big on crowds, and the aquarium tends to stay busy, but the flow of foot-traffic and the multitude of exhibits to ooh and ahh at, made for a pleasurable experience despite the crowd. Dark lighting creates a tranquil mood that helps the audience flow through the exhibits with the grace of jellyfish.
Each tank and themed room seems to top the last. My family particularly enjoyed the twirling, wrestling sea otters, the giant octopus, the tank filled with four-foot long Japanese crabs, the shark tanks, and those graceful jellyfish that inspired my above simile. There are several walk-through tanks that house sharks, sea turtles, and manta rays. It's almost as if you are swimming among these creatures (well, you and a dozen other humans) and can catch a unique glimpse at the undersides of these animals. It's not everyday you sneak a peak at a stingray's mouth or a shark's genitals. In the jellyfish room, classical music plays while jellyfish "dance" in their tanks that are framed like pictures on the wall. Red and green lights illuminate the transparent invertebrates adding to their sublime entity.
The day was educational indeed. Each tank identifies the animal's name, diet, and habitat as well as a fun fact to quote later on. There are several exhibits that offer live educational presentations (notably the penguin room) and two separate touch-tanks where children can pet crabs and starfish, and a shark petting-zoo at the end of the aquarium's path.
Surrounding the aquarium, directly across the bridge from Cincinnati, are many restaurants, shops, and merchants. We had burgers and shakes at a Johnny Rocket's and marveled at the silly humans inside giant blow-up hamster balls that rolled around in pool of water (you have to see it…). All-in-all this was an incredibly fun, educational, and easy get away. With a round trip of around six hours and two exhausted kids that slept the whole way home, the Newport Aquarium was a perfect end to a weekend.
The Newport Aquarium is open 365 days a year, 10-6:00 p.m. and admission is $22.00 for adults, $15.00 for children 2-12, and children under 2 are free of charge.