Visiting Kentucky’s Newport Aquarium: Shark Encounters and More!
Newport Aquarium, located along the levee at the Kentucky border, overlooks the Ohio River and downtown Cincinnati. It’s the largest aquarium in the Midwest.
If you’ve ever visited the zoo, the aquariums housed on zoo grounds pale in comparison to Newport Aquarium. Newport’s sampling of ocean dwellers provide you with an experience that is up-close and personal. While some sea creatures look like God was showing off His handiwork, others look like rough drafts rather than final masterpieces.
If your child hasn’t been permanently scarred from watching Jaws, then viewing the shark tank and walking across the rope shark bridge provide the biggest thrills of the entire adventure. Unlike Jaws 3 The Revenge, the tunnel of tanks are never smashed by a Great White and you won’t need a bigger boat.
Surprisingly, Denver, the loggerhead sea turtle, is the Alpha of Shark Ray Bay. Any reef shark or shark ray that crosses him might find a triangular chunk missing from their hides.
Tuesday through Saturday, visitors can witness a shark tank feed, as a marine biologist sends squid down on a hook for sharks and target feeds fish to each shark ray.
How do fish survive in the tank with these scary predators? Sharks are fed far more frequently in the aquarium than they would be in the wild, and they are lazier hunters than you would think. In fact, sharks here keep the tank clean and healthy. If a fish starts to look a bit sickly one day, it will be gone by the next.
Did you know sharks lose a tooth every time they eat?
Watch a Marine Biologist Feed a Shark Ray at Newport Aquarium
Kids have a chance to touch a shark while in Shark Central. Most are docile and spend a lot of time laying on the bottom of the touch station. However, if a striped Pyjama shark gets too frisky, swimming rapidly and lifting its face out of the water, the attendant will caution to keep hands out of the water until the sharks settle and calm.
Fun fact: Did you know that sharks kill 12-16 people annually, yet people kill over 11,000 sharks each hour?
Let your kids sit in a special weighing chair to learn how their poundage measures up to that of a shark. Hopefully, no one qualifies as a Great White!
The second biggest thrill at Newport Aquarium is petting sting rays. A tunnel with a 3-foot clearance channels under the sting ray tank for your kids to wind through, making them feel like they are practically swimming with the rays and visiting their habitats without fear of being stung by their deadly barbs.
Handwashing stations are available after petting these beautiful creatures.
The ocean comes to you in the Shore Gallery and engage with sea creatures you’ve only read about in books. Kids and adults have the opportunity to touch sea anemones, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, and horseshoe crabs using the two finger method.
Ring of Fire
What are those suction cups on the inside of the tank? See an octopus, or at least its underside, up close.
If you’ve ever seen a commercial for Prevagen, the memory supplement claiming to sharpen the mind, you know it’s supposedly derived from a protein in jellyfish. Since jellyfish have no brain, heart, blood, it’s hard to imagine a critter who desperately needs to visit the Wizard of Oz could be so useful. Maybe that’s why the benefits of Prevagen are largely unsubstantiated. Still, Jellyfish are an important component in the ocean food web, and their graceful and seamless movements are mesmerizing.
See the Japanese Spider Crab while you’re here, but a word of warning, these are deeper sea creatures who are used to the dark. Be mindful of signs that say “no flash photography” because if you miss the signs and accidentally forget to turn off your flash, aquarium workers will materialize from nowhere to confront you. True story.
- Gator Alley features an American alligator and a white gator. Let’s hope that glass partition holds!
- See creatures from the dangerous Amazon.
- The Dangerous and Deadly wing features beautiful but deadly critters like piranhas, snakes, eels, and lion fish.
- See the seahorses—they are amazingly smaller than they are depicted in National Geographic.
- Frog Bog showcases a multitude of frogs, from green tree frogs to tiny, poisonous dart frogs. Tap buttons to hear the sounds each of these species makes.
- Penguin Palooza offers a close-up look at a variety of these icy, tuxedo-ed friends frolicking in the waters. Penguin statues make great picture backdrops, and there’s even a sand table nearby for littles who need a break from education to have some interactive, tactile fun.
- Splash and Bubbles Reeftown Adventure is a fun space for kids ages 2-12 who can toss off their shoes to run through a soft play area, color, or enjoy aquatic themed computer games.
Places to Park at Newport Aquarium
Good luck! Newport Aquarium advises visitors to park in a parking garage that is seemingly invisible to the naked eye. If your GPS isn’t equipped to say, “The garage is right here, you moron!” then a trip around the block will put you on the bridge to Ohio. Within a 15-minute period, your even-toned GPS lady will mark your geographical impairment with these announcements: “Welcome to Kentucky. Welcome to Ohio. Welcome to Kentucky.”
Call ahead for more specific instructions on accessing the parking garage. Luckily, there is a lot across the street with reasonable rates, but it’s small and fills up quickly on busy days.
Best Times to Visit Newport Aquarium
The aquarium’s website advises to plan your visit after 2pm on week days or before 11 am or after 2 pm on weekends. For those of us who are early birds and like to arrive at opening time, here are a few things to keep in mind. During the school year, field trips create an ongoing surge at the aquarium. With so many kids packed inside, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to access each display. During the summer months, day cares and summer camps bring loads of children too, but the kid traffic isn’t nearly as heavy, making it easier for families to enjoy their visit. Working moms and dads looking to extend their weekend typically take vacation days on Fridays or Mondays, so those are two days to avoid. Generally, Tuesdays are a dead day everywhere, so shoot for a Tuesday at the opening time of 9:00 am.
Places to Eat at Newport Aquarium
You can eat at Sharky’s Café inside the aquarium, but it’s your typical, over-priced, so-so food. Snacks are also available for purchase if you get hungry before you’re ready to leave. Several restaurants are just outside of the aquarium that can be accessed without even crossing a street, such as Brio, Five Guy’s, and Tom and Chee.
You can also pack your own lunch and eat outside on the steps overlooking the levee.
If you decide to leave the aquarium for a quick bite, you are allowed to return to the aquarium to finish your tour after you eat. Just inform the attendants who scan your tickets that you had stepped out but are returning.
Newport Aquarium Gift Shop
When you visit the beach, souvenir shops are on every corner, making their prices lower and more competitively priced. Newport Aquarium has the market cornered where they are, so prices are high in the gift shop. Kids’ shirts are $17.00 and stuffed animals start at $18.00. Mugs are a little reasonable, starting at $10, but adult sweatshirts hover closer to $55.00. Kids can fill a rectangular plastic tube with small sea creatures for $15, but you can do better at Target.
The moment you step off the escalator entrance into the exhibit area, a photographer will offer to take your picture as a memento from your trip. These photos are showcased in a paper frame, and you can choose from three different backgrounds. The first picture is $15, with each additional photo costing $5.00. Additional paper frames can also be purchased for $3.00 each.
Preparing for Your Trip to Newport Aquarium
For your safety, any bags you are carrying will be inspected when you enter. Make sure you leave questionable items in your car or you will either have to throw them away or make the trek back to your car to store them. You are not permitted to bring food, only bottled water.
Parents are discouraged from bringing strollers because they take up too much space and detract from the enjoyment of other visitors trying to access displays. Parents insist on bringing strollers anyway, but if your kids are too young to walk through the aquarium on their own, they will never even remember the trip. Why not wait until they are old enough to appreciate it? With adult tickets currently costing $25.99 and kid tickets $17.99 (roughly $10 more for each ticket if you get the behind-the-scenes combo), this investment is one everyone should remember.
If you are taking children, equip them with books in advance so they will know a little about the aquatic creatures they will be seeing. National Geographic is the best source of educational material for kids because they boast fabulous pictures and easy-to-read content. Before your kids even see the signs describing the animals in the tanks, they will exclaim, “Look! A bull shark! Look! A grouper!” Our family's favorite book is National Geographic's Little Kids First Big Book of the Ocean.
How Long Does It Take To See Everything In Newport Aquarium?
The average stay ranges from two to four hours. You can stop at every display case, touch ocean critters, watch a shark feed, and visit the gift shop easily in two hours. In order to extend your stay another hour or more, you would have to spend time in the soft play area and dine in at Sharky’s Café.
Newport Aquarium Is a Great Family Destination
Many negative reviewers cite Newport Aquarium as being overpriced, over-crowded, and voice disappointment in seeing everything they wanted within an hour. Planning your visit to avoid crowds or taking advantage of promotions to reduce price (such as one kid free after 4:00 pm with adult ticket purchase) can help. Anyone who views all the attractions in one hour must be running.
Take your time to savor this magnified view of the ocean. With tunnels that bring the ocean over you and see-through floors to watch the ocean under you, it’s the safest way to enjoy these magnificent creatures without ever getting wet.
© 2019 Vivian Coblentz