I love taking my kids to the aquarium.
It’s so fun to introduce children to new things, especially new living things. Their excitement and enthusiasm are contagious.
The low lighting, the huge tanks, the bizarre creatures – it was all pretty awe-inspiring for my twin boys and their brother, who was less than two years older.
Kids tend to behave better when they’re in awe of something and make less noise than usual, so it was generally a pleasant visit for me as well as them.
For these reasons and more, an aquarium visit can be one of the highlights of the year, and preparing ahead of your visit will make it even better.
Before you go: here’s a complete guide to visiting the aquarium with babies, toddlers, and older kids.
Let’s take a look at:
- The best time to go to the aquarium with kids
- What to bring (for toddlers and babies, especially!)
- And more tips for getting the most out of your aquarium visit with the kids.
Let’s “dive in!”
Best Time to go to the Aquarium with Kids & Babies
Not surprisingly, summer is the busiest time for aquariums, with fall and winter having the least traffic.
At any time of year, there are fewer people after around 2:00 pm, so if your kids can push through an afternoon without a nap, that’s the best time to go.
This is because school groups and other large groups tend to do field trips in the morning and early afternoon.
Make sure to check out the site of the aquarium you plan to visit; some have more detailed information about the best times.
Another timing issue to consider is what age is best for kids to go to the aquarium.
I recall taking babies and realizing (too late!) that their little eyes and brains couldn’t even focus on the sea creatures!
I would point them to a bright orange clownfish, only to have one of them start examining my finger.
The Academy of Pediatrics says children generally don’t have distance vision until after they turn one, so babies won’t see the same things you’re seeing.
Toddlers may not be as focused as you would wish (are they ever?) but they’ll certainly enjoy the experience.
Since some areas of aquariums are dark and can be crowded, keep close track of where everyone is. If there are more kids than adults, one good strategy is to have one adult take the lead, and another pull up the rear to keep an eye on everyone.
It might be necessary to talk to little children about their safety before you go inside; seeing a shark from a few feet away can be scary for anyone. Assure them that the glass is super-thick and there’s no way any animal can get out.
If they do show fear, back up and reassure them. Don’t try to force closer contact with a child who’s afraid. You want them to have good memories of the place, not traumatic ones!
In a year or so, they may have a completely different reaction.
What to Bring to the Aquarium (Packing List for Toddlers, Babies & More)
Once again, checking out the aquarium website will help you with your packing list.
Many aquariums don’t allow food or drinks other than water to be brought into the aquarium.
One strategy, if you don’t want to take time and money to buy food inside, might be to have a picnic outside the aquarium right before you go in.
Some aquariums have restricted hours for strollers, although most will have a place to check a stroller.
Besides the usual diapers, wipes, and water, it’s always a good idea to bring a few things for little ones to play with on a longer visit.
This will buy the rest of the family more peaceful time to enjoy the place.
Keep in mind that even if strollers are allowed, there may be exhibits that are too high to see well from strollers.
If you’re not outnumbered, many babies and toddlers will have a better experience being carried, so bring whatever sling or carrier makes that easier.
One nice thing about visiting the aquarium with kids is that it’s inside and cool all year round — no need for sunscreen, floppy hats, or tons of bottled water! (Unless the aquarium features some outdoor exhibits.)
What Should Kids Wear to the Aquarium?
Indoor aquariums are great for bad weather – no sunburn to worry about.
If some of the exhibits are outdoors, remember sunblock and hats.
An aquarium with outdoor exhibits will often be on the coast, so be aware that wind off the water makes beaches cooler than surrounding areas. You may need jackets.
Comfortable shoes are important for everyone to get the most out of the day.
Some aquariums, like Newport Aquarium in Cincinnati, give children opportunities to put their hands in the water and touch some animals, including crabs, sea horses, and even sharks, so a rain shell might help small children to keep their clothes dry.
Getting the Most out of your Aquarium Visit with the Kids (Tips and Advice)
Aquariums are much more interactive than they used to be.
From 360-degree tunnels that let you see fish and rays swimming above you, to opportunities to help train otters, to joining animal keepers as they care for penguins, there are wonderful kid-friendly ways to experience sea life.
Planning how you’ll move through the aquarium ahead of time is a good idea; it’s harder to think it all through once you get there.
Being near bathrooms, food, and water when you need them can prevent emotional meltdowns that take a while for kids to swing out of.
No one ever warned me that parenting would need sharp skills in logistics!
One way to help your kids get the most out of their day at the aquarium is to spend some time in advance learning about the animals they’ll see.
Reading library books, watching videos, and visiting the websites of the aquarium you’ll visit will make it more exciting for them. You could make a list of the animals you’ve learned about and see how many they can find.
Children may lose concentration before their visit is over, so taking some time to sit and do something quiet may help them to recharge.
Bring paper and pencils for kids who like to draw, or help them to sit still and watch one thing, like jellyfish floating. Ask them to tell you what they see.
Excursions like this are great training days for how to behave, too. Tell your kids how you expect them to act, and don’t give in to whining.
For instance, if you don’t want to buy any toys or souvenirs in the inevitable store, tell them that ahead of time.
You may not feel like putting a kid in a time-out in public or sticking to a decision not to buy something when they fuss, but do it once or twice and your children will be a lot more pleasant to be around.
Tips for Spending Less Money at the Aquarium
Aquarium visits aren’t cheap. Tickets run in the $20s, $30s, and even $40s, so it’s worth finding out if they have any free family days, or discounted admission days.
In some cities, tickets to large attractions like aquariums may be sold for a few dollars less at grocery stores or other businesses.
If you enjoy your day and live close enough, you may want to pay up for a family membership; most places let you subtract the day’s admission, and you can often make a zoo or an aquarium a regular destination all year for the price of a few visits.
If it makes financial sense and the commute from your house isn’t too bad, an investment in an aquarium membership gives you a GREAT place to take the kids on hot summer days over and over.
The more opportunities children get to experience new things with an adult helping them to learn and understand, the more they’ll know.
We’re giving their developing brains more material to process and remember. They’ll have larger vocabularies and an easier time learning new things in the future.
Taking little kids out for the day can be daunting; there’s so much to take and no control over how they’ll behave. But it’s worth it.
The more exposure they have to these experiences, the better behaved in public they’ll become. Go through this preparation checklist, and you’ll have a visit that everyone can enjoy:
- Carefully read the website of the aquarium before you visit. Some of them require you to buy admission in advance, and you’ll get the information you need about the best times to go.
- Look at a map of the aquarium and plot your course, allowing plenty of time for bathroom breaks, eating and drinking, and stopping to rest or enjoy an exhibit that’s really got someone’s attention.
- Bring age-appropriate distractions for babies and toddlers, and supplies for older kids to help them make the most of the visit.
- Dress for warmth and comfort, and equip yourself to carry little ones rather than leave them in strollers when that’s possible.
- Teach your children about some of the animals they’ll see before you go, in whatever detail is age-appropriate for them.
- Look around for any deals that will make your visit more affordable.
Remember to take some pictures of your kids enjoying themselves, and have a wonderful day!
For more, check out:
- Guide to taking kids to the zoo
- Guide to taking kids to the grocery store
- Guide to taking kids to the mall
Hope this helps!