As a kid, the Shedd Aquarium was your favorite Chicago cultural institution for so many reasons. From its aqua-boogieland appeal of colorful sea creatures from all over the globe to the fact that you could enjoy it in climate-controlled comfort on the coldest winter day (sorry, Lincoln Park and Brookfield zoos), it’s been the site of so many great memories. This cherished destination has thrilled kids and their parents since it opened in 1930, but it always seems new, thanks to a series of rotating exhibits, special animal presentations, and interactive experiences. Drop by on your next big family day and you’ll quickly see that this isn’t the same Shedd Aquarium you visited as a child. The Shedd’s gone high-tech, and it’s better than ever.
Start with a visit to the Polar Play Zone. Your little ones won’t be able to contain their laughter as they slip into penguin costumes and frolic in the “icy south” play area. The tots can continue the fun in the “icy north,” where they’ll get to ride in a miniature submarine as they explore the arctic deep.
Continue on to the Oceanarium, which offers a thrilling way to get up close to some of the biggest and most intelligent animals in the Pacific, from majestic beluga whales and white-sided dolphins to playful sea lions and sea otters. You’ll get to wave at them as they go about their day behind glass, but to really know what they’re capable of, head to the amphitheater for an aquatic show. Try to get seats near the front to appreciate every jump, flip, and comedic antic these amazingly well-trained animals can perform. The venue itself is dramatic, with massive windows showing the shimmering waters of Lake Michigan in the background.
All this exploring will leave everyone more than a little hungry, so head to one of the three restaurants that weren’t around when you were a kid. Two of them, Deep Ocean Cafe and the Bubble Net, serve traditional family day fare like burgers, hot dogs, and mac ‘n’ cheese, while Soundings Cafe is more in line with the theme of the day, serving several seafood-focused dishes.
After a few more exhibits, and maybe even a visit to the “Stingray Touch” experience for the braver members of your crew, it’ll be time to head for the exits. Before you do–surprise surprise–your kids will try to drag you into the gift shop. Let them. Not only will they find well-made, educational toys to remind them of your day together, you might find a few unique gift ideas of your own, from glossy coffee table books to ocean-inspired apparel and accessories. At this point you’ll have to admit, this might be your kids’ first trip to Shedd, but it feels like yours as well.
Photo by Hywell Martinez