Tennessee Aquarium

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal in September 2015.

My eldest son turned nine-years-old in August, and for his birthday, we let him pick a place he’d like to go. He told us he wanted to go to the aquarium again. We went to the Georgia Aquarium last year for his birthday, and when he was five, we had a membership there, so this time, we thought we should try a new aquarium.

It’s a three-hour drive to the Tennessee Aquarium in beautiful downtown Chattanooga, TN. We had heard good things about that aquarium, and I can tell you, it did not disappoint. It may be a little smaller than the Georgia Aquarium, but the exhibits are beautiful, and I liked viewing birds, butterflies, amphibians and exotic plants alongside the animals that live exclusively in the water.

There are two buildings to tour at the Tennessee Aquarium. One is called the River Journey building, and you begin at the top of the building in the “Appalachian Cove Forest,” and you make your way down from this mountaintop stream and end at the ocean, viewing the wildlife you would see on a journey such as this. It was great fun to view the birds and waterfalls, watch the otters play, and see some incredible amphibians, including a hellbender salamander, the biggest salamander that lives in the U.S.

My favorite exhibit in this building was of Alligator Bayou, and though the alligators were fun to look at, I was more fascinated with getting up close to a snowy white egret and two little ducks who were extremely entertaining to watch. I also love turtles, and while I’ve seen plenty at nearby parks, they usually disappear in the water before I can get close enough to photograph them. At the aquarium, I could have reached out and touched them, if it weren’t for that big pane of glass. My six-year-old told me he loved the ducks and alligator snapping turtle.

My nine-year-old’s favorite part of this building was the River Giants. Some of these fish are as big as small cars, and though they weren’t pretty, they were fascinating. According to the aquarium’s website, this exhibit showcases fish from major rivers throughout the world, but unfortunately, many are endangered. The Giant Pangassius Catfish of Indochina is one such fish. Its population is in the decline because of overfishing. The Lake Sturgeon, which resides in the Mississippi River, is recovering in numbers due to fishing regulations.

The second building is called Ocean Journey, and we lingered at the top of this building for a long time. The roof was made of glass, so the sunlight was bright and welcoming on this replica of a Tropical Cove. Here there were two hyacinth macaws showing off the most brilliant blue feathers I’ve ever seen. The boys loved Stingray Bay, which is the aquarium’s largest touch station. They were able to reach in and touch small sharks and stingrays.

We were all surprised to discover that this aquarium has a butterfly habitat with butterfly species from Asia, Africa and South and Central America. If you need to de-stress, a butterfly garden is a good place to do it!

I am giving you only the tip of the iceberg about this aquarium. There was so much more there that I don’t have space to write about, so you need to go check it out for yourself. We made it back in one day, and though it was a long day, it was all worth it.

The best part is that ticket prices are much more affordable than the Georgia Aquarium, and since it was his birthday, my son got in free (which you can also do at the Georgia Aquarium), but the Tennessee Aquarium also extended some birthday discounts to everyone else in the party. We found $5 parking a short distance west of the aquarium and in front of the Tennessee River, which, by the way, was another sight to see. View the aquarium’s website at http://www.tnaqua.org.

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