Leah Lefler enjoys adventures with her family and frequently camps with her two sons.
A Visit to the Myrtle Beach Aquarium
We visited the Myrtle Beach area over spring break, which meant the weather was subject to a few temperature swings. When we woke up and discovered the outside temperature was 50°F, we decided to stay off the beach and try out an indoor attraction. With two boys ages six and four, we thought the aquarium in Myrtle Beach would be a perfect adventure. We packed up the car and headed to Broadway at the Beach, an inland shopping/entertainment center where the Ripley's Aquarium is located.
We arrived at the aquarium just in time for opening and stood in line to purchase tickets. The line was nearly an hour long, and was one of two lines to get into the aquarium - a second line wound around the building, filled with people waiting to enter the attraction.
Myrtle Beach Aquarium: A Very Crowded Experience
The wait to get into the aquarium should have been a clue to skip that attraction, but we had been to several other aquariums (such as the Long Beach Aquarium in California) that were able to handle the crowds. We believed things would be better once we were inside the aquarium.
After paying approximately $75 to get into the aquarium, we were pleased to see that the second entrance line had disappeared. We walked over to the entrance and went through the turnstiles. Unfortunately, the aquarium is much smaller than the billboards advertising the attraction would have you believe. The aquarium consists of only a few rooms - a main "Discovery" room for the kids to explore, a large shark tunnel with a moving sidewalk (the best part of the aquarium experience), and a "rainbow reef" area. Along with a small dinosaur exhibit in the upstairs area, that was the extent of the aquarium. Reviews for other Ripley's Aquariums indicate that other locations have much larger venues: be aware that the aquarium in Myrtle Beach is much smaller than the other Ripley's attractions.
With the large crowds, our kids couldn't edge their way in to the touch pools for the rays, and the discovery room was literally shoulder-to-shoulder in several areas. The moving sidewalk for the shark tunnel experience malfunctioned on our ride through, and the crowds jammed into the tunnel. It was hot and extremely crowded. Once the sidewalk started moving again (approximately 10 minutes later), the rest of the ride was quite enjoyable. We waited in yet another line to see the dinosaur exhibit, and then we left because we had seen the entire aquarium - in less than an hour.
The Discovery Room at the Aquarium
The Discovery Room at the aquarium features a stingray touch pool, a horseshoe crab touch pool, a slide, an example of how the pumps work to keep water moving at the aquarium, and a small interactive "island" with a ship's wheel and a treasure chest.
There is also a live mermaid show, but be aware that the mermaid show only operates on the weekends. There was a mermaid "meet and greet" which had another long line, so we avoided it.
The stingray pool was so crowded that we could only maneuver one child into a gap to try to touch a ray. My son is six-and-a-half, and the pool was too deep for him to reach the rays that swam near him. Having been to other aquariums with this type of exhibit, we were disappointed in the set-up, though the heavy crowds may have made the experience more frustrating.
The horseshoe crab touch pool was less crowded. Both of my boys managed to touch a horseshoe crab and see the legs of these unusual creatures. This was the highlight of the discovery room, as both boys were able to have a hands-on experience here.
My older son was interested in the water system displayed, and both boys wanted to play on the "slide." The slide is a large fish with a tongue sticking out - unfortunately, there are no stairs to get on the slide, so kids must climb up in the same direction that other children are sliding down. On a crowded day, you can imagine the chaos this caused (along with a few head bumps). This would have been fun on a day without crowds.
The little interactive island was fun, but again the heavy crowds in the small space detracted from the experience. Both boys spun the ship's wheel and tried to pull a sword out of the plastic island.
The Shark Tunnel at Ripley's Aquarium
This was, by far, the best attraction at the aquarium. A rather long-moving sidewalk moves on a circuitous path through clear tunnels under the shark tank. There are Moray eels, several species of shark, and a lot of fish to view as you move through the exhibit. The moving sidewalk helps to keep the crowds evenly paced, so this functions well, even on a crowded day. The only (momentary) problem we experienced was when the moving sidewalk malfunctioned and stopped, causing congestion in the tunnel.
This one exhibit made the trip almost worth the cost of admission. The shark tunnel was truly an amazing experience, and both the adults and the children in our party loved it.
Rainbow Reef at the Aquarium
The Rainbow Reef area of the aquarium featured three large tanks with fish. The Leafy Sea Dragons call this area home and were extremely fascinating. There is a large tank with tropical saltwater fish, and my boys had fun finding all the clownfish hiding in their anemones. There was also a tank containing an octopus, which my six-year-old liked.
We would have spent more time in this area if the crowds hadn't been so pressing. Even without crowds, this area does not take long to walk through and observe the fish. Having been to other aquariums, I thought this part of the aquarium would be larger. The tanks they did have were fascinating and beautiful, but there simply aren't enough exhibits to spend any quantity of time in this area.
The Dinosaur Exhibit
Every exhibit at the aquarium required a separate line to get into, so we weren't surprised by the line to see the dinosaur exhibit. We waited approximately 30 minutes in line to get into the dinosaur room, which Ripley's has dubbed "Dinosaurs LIVE!" The animatronic dinosaurs do move and occasionally roar, much to the delight of our six-year-old. We spent about 15 minutes in this area, looking at the dinosaurs. There was a table for kids to participate in a dinosaur dig, but again the crowds meant pressure to hurry through the experience.
Our local natural history museum has a much larger dinosaur dig site for the kids. While their dinosaurs don't move, they are just as impressive as the ones set up at Ripley's site. This exhibit is not a reason to visit the aquarium on its own, though it does make a nice addition since the rest of the aquarium is rather small.
Overall Impression of the Ripley's Myrtle Beach Aquarium
This aquarium is smaller than the advertising alludes to - while this Myrtle Beach attraction may be worth the admission price on a day with no crowds, you will spend more time waiting in line than seeing anything if the building is crowded. For the cost of admission, I would expect the aquarium to take up more than an hour's worth of time. Unfortunately, the days when you are most likely to visit the aquarium (cold or rainy days) are precisely when everyone else will be there, too.
We waited an hour in line to buy tickets, 30 minutes to get in the door, 20 minutes to go through the shark tunnel, and 30 minutes to get into the dinosaur exhibit. We spent at least double the time waiting in line as we did actually seeing the exhibits.
The dinosaur exhibit is a nice addition, though your kids would probably get a lot more out of a visit to a natural history museum for a tenth of the cost.
If the aquarium is not crowded and you need something to do on a rainy day, then by all means try the Ripley's Aquarium in Myrtle Beach - just be aware that the aquarium is a short diversion and not an all-day adventure.
Questions & Answers
Question: Does Ripley's Aquarium have a family ticket package?
Answer: There are a few options for obtaining a discount to the aquarium! There are "bundling" options with other attractions in the area, which gives you better rates than purchasing each ticket separately. While I don't see a "family package" on their website, it is possible to obtain group rates if you call and reserve in advance. Another option would be to register in advance through the home-school option on the website, which has deep discounts for the children's tickets. Special programming is also available through this option. When using the group or home-school options, you need to reserve at least 24 hours in advance.