The National Aquarium could very well represent the innovative future of aquariums. Limited by development space along a busy waterfront, the aquarium has built upwards instead of the standard sprawling campus found at most of the older institutions.
Visitors start by entering into a coral reef expanse and slowly work up a series of zig-zag escalators through different ecosystems, all the while looking down at black-tipped reef sharks patrolling the reef below. The trip back down to ground level spirals through stratified water levels diving deeper and deeper into the abyss–starting with coastal fish and ending with large sharks.
Here is an in-depth breakdown of what you’ll find on your visit.
Value ⭐️ ⭐️
A price tag of $40 per ticket is a lot of money. Combine that with typical waterfront parking rates nearby, and a trip to the aquarium is a solid investment. Kids under twelve get in free.
To their credit, the aquarium has partnered with two local garages to offer an unspecified discount off your parking cost. This still didn’t amount to significant savings. A stay of just over three hours cost $26 in parking, and the aquarium validation saved $7.
Education ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Most of their exhibits have digital touch screens, which despite becoming an industry standard is still never a good idea. The screens quickly need recalibrating and don’t respond to touch, and hordes of children crowd around the few available screens, making it impossible for you to see what other animals are present besides the one currently highlighted. When they do work, these screens are fantastic, but that is the exception rather than the rule. The smaller exhibits have more traditional square signs bordering the enclosure with a small photo of the animal and a one or two sentence description.
There was very little broader conservation education outside of the mandated animal identification. One of their art exhibits at the entrance shows a creative x-ray style image of various animals like skates, rays, fish eyes, etc. Yet, not a single one is labeled. This missed opportunity is unfortunate but somewhat standard at the National Aquarium.
Animals ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️
The National Aquarium really does have a little bit of everything. From rockfish that would be found in the Pacific Northwest, to tropical reef fish, to two-toed sloths, you will experience a piece of every ecosystem. You can find dolphins and exotic jellies across a skybridge, although the dolphins are slated to move to a sanctuary in a few years. There is even an Australian exhibit because…well, it’s never clear why since jellies are the “traveling exhibit”, but it sure does present an interesting ending to your tour.
The aquarium starts off strong with the full tropical reef that includes multiple species of sharks, a giant sea turtle, and all the classics like Nemo and friends. The diversity never really stops, and any animal lover is guaranteed to find something to get excited about.
Exhibits ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️
The National Aquarium is full of innovative designs that keep this aquarium fresh. The escalators rising throughout the building with the continuous view of the reef is unmatched anywhere I’ve been, the backdrop of the smaller exhibits looks like the real thing, and the spiral shark exhibit conveys a true feeling of sinking into the depths of the ocean.
Final Score ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
The National Aquarium is a unique aquarium experience with an encyclopedia worth of animals from the coasts of Oregon to the rivers of Australia. Special exhibit features such as a light on the electric eel exhibit that illuminates when the animals pulses energy draw visitors into the experience. The price is high, and the signage could be improved, but a trip here leaves no doubt that these animals are in good hands.