The last time I went to the Tennessee Aquarium, I was a kid and I thought it was the best place in the world to visit. Now that I’m a mom myself, my family decided to go and I was pleasantly surprised at how much is grown! There are now TWO buildings to visit—one is an ocean adventure and the other is river.
I love that Chattanooga is a short drive from North Alabama. We decided to take a day trip and left early on a Saturday in August. The Aquarium is easy to find and there is lots of parking in the vicinity—bring some cash with you because it makes the paid parking easier and faster.
There are also lots of terrific restaurants within a block or two as well as a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream shop (YUM!!). We decided to eat lunch before we ventured to the Aquarium, and we found a restaurant with outdoor seating located across the street from a rock climbing gym, which served as excellent entertainment for our whole family and kept our son in his seat, which hardly ever happens. It’s the little things, am I right?
On Saturdays during the warm months of the year, there is an outdoor market right outside of the Aquarium. We enjoyed browsing, listening to the street performers and watching the boats on the river. There is also a water feature that kids can play in if you want to bring a change of clothes.
We got our tickets and were faced with the choice of which building to enter first—the Ocean Journey or River Journey. The River Journey offers river otters, turtles, alligators, giant catfish and thousands of freshwater wonders. The Ocean Journey offers penguins, sharks, butterflies, giant sea turtles and scuba divers, and there is a touch and feel tank where people can gently pet stingrays, fish, and baby sharks.
Planning Your Visit
I suggest allowing three hours to finish your tour of the aquarium, depending on how many kids you have with you and how quickly they like to move through exhibits. Strollers are permitted but on a busy Saturday, they will slow you down. There are restrooms located throughout both buildings and also outside, and there are nursing rooms available. Be prepared; the one changing table in the women’s restroom seemed to always have a line of people waiting to use it. Maybe this isn’t the case on a weekday.
There is a free TN Aquarium phone app available, and I found it helpful because it lists the live show times for the day and information, map, IMAX times, and more.
In addition to the self-guided aquarium tour, the Tennessee Aquarium also offers:
- Ranger Rick’s Backyard Safari, which is a live animal presentation on the lower level of the River Journey building;
- River Gorge Explorer, which is a river cruise; Backstage Pass, which gets you VIP access to go behind the scenes; and
- IMAX Movie Theater, which offers a state-of-the-art sound systems and six story screen.
(There are discounts available when you buy a combination ticket.) Be prepared for a lot of walking! If you can schedule an IMAX movie in between your tours of the two building, it’s a nice rest.
Admission to the Aquarium is $26.95 for Adults and $16.95 for children (3 to 12). Kids under the age of 3 are free. Combine your Aquarium ticket with our other options and get the COMBO price:
- Add an IMAX movie for just $6 per person.
- Add a River Gorge Explorer cruise – only $27 per adult, $21 for kids age 12 and under.
- Add a Backstage Pass for just $15 per person. A 10% Military Discount is available. Show military I.D. to get a discount on Aquarium admission. Also applies to military retirees who show their I.D. cards. Available at Aquarium ticketing center only.
There are also hotel packages as well as group discounts available. The Aquarium also offers a “Sleep in the Deep” night. Kids must be at least six years-old. Visit their website for more information.
Heather Phillips and her husband are high school sweethearts originally from Kentucky. Heather worked in the fields of public relations and marketing for over 13 years before becoming a stay at home mom to their two boys. Heather has enjoyed volunteer work her whole life and is active in the animal rescue community here in Madison County.