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Phoenix: Sea Life Arizona Aquarium

We recently visited the Sea Life Arizona Aquarium in Tempe, which is inside the Arizona Mills outlet mall. Depending on your point of view, the location is either kind of weird or kind of convenient. Having an aquarium in the middle of the desert also may strike some people as kind of weird, especially because the Sea Life group of aquariums emphasizes local sea life. That said, Sea Life Arizona does stick with that theme, just extending the local area to the whole Colorado River System and the Sea of Cortez.

I have less experience with aquariums than I do with zoos, but your expectations for Sea Life Arizona will have some impact on how well you like it. If you're expecting something large like Boston's New England Aquarium with animals like penguins and seals in addition to fish, you will be disappointed. On the other hand, if you go in expecting something more like the aquarium at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, you'll probably be happy with your experience. Even though most of the tanks are on the small side and there is not a huge variety of animals, you do learn that the Sea of Cortez is home to lots of aquarium favorites, such as stingrays, sharks, and seahorses. Information about each species is presented on a screen to the side of each tank that cycles through every species on the tank.

Sea Life Arizona has several kid-friendly features. One of them is the touch tank, where you can touch starfish.

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The aquarium is set up so that you take a winding path through the space. This layout works well for practical reasons because it helps fit more into the space, but it's also good for families because it's stroller-friendly. The only stairs are optional ones you can climb if you want an overhead view of the shark-and-ray tank. Sea Life Arizona also does interesting things with the layout of the tanks. There is a 360-degree tunnel through their biggest tank. There also are smaller tunnels where you crawl through and pop up in a bubble to look at the fish eye-to-eye. Anyone can go in the tunnels, but they really are sized for kids. My daughter loved them!

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Throughout the aquarium, there are facts, quiz questions, and mini-activities like digging in sand for "fossils." My daughter enjoyed digging, though she didn't understand the purpose behind it. In general, these parts of the exhibit seemed best suited for elementary schoolers.

The aquarium also has various presentations throughout the day, some of which are aimed at kids. We attended the "Junior Aquarist" presentation, in which a staff member talked about sharks and rays and had volunteers feed them. It may have been good for older children, but my daughter didn't even realize there was a presentation going on and hardly noticed the feeding (the fish were pretty nonchalant about eating, though).

Finally, at the end of the path, there is an interactive quiz projected onto the floor. My daughter couldn't read or answer the questions, but she loved choosing answers by jumping on the floor.

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There is also a children's area in a room between the interactive quiz and the gift shop. The children's area includes a large play structure with its own lobster.

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There is parent seating around the structure and a craft area with kids' tables and chairs. The activity that day was "Draw your favorite sea creature." Unfortunately, the craft area had crayons, but no paper, so nobody was participating.

Because of its location, Sea Life Arizona can be a good place to go if some family members need entertainment while the others shop. It is also easy to get snacks or a meal affordably, even if hunger hits you midway through your visit: you can leave for the mall food court, and your hand stamp will let you back into the aquarium at no charge.

In all, even though it's not as big or as diverse as a big-city aquarium, it's still a fun place to take the family, especially on a day when it's too hot to be outside.

Admission: $18.00 adults, $12.00 children ages 3-12, free for children 2 and under. Buy tickets online a day or more in advance to get a 20% discount.

Best for: children ages 7-10. Although all ages can enjoy the aquarium, I think this age group will get the most out of their visit. They will be young enough so that they still might enjoy the play/craft area, but old enough to read the interactive exhibits and be interested in the presentations.

Website: http://www.visitsealife.com/Arizona/

Posted by amikulski 19:34 Tagged children arizona aquarium

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