Whether you’re a family looking for some wholesome fun, or just a person who loves animals and sea creatures, the Shedd Aquarium is a must-visit when in Chicago!
Because I got a CityPass for my trip, I was able to visit the aquarium along with a bunch of other great museums the city has to offer!
With the CityPass, the general admission to the Shedd Aquarium ($39.95) also comes with a showing of a 4D movie experience ($4.95). When we checked in at the front desk with our tickets, we were asked to pick a film and timeslot. Note that you’re only able to watch the film you’ve chosen. If you happen to miss the time, you can try asking the front desk to reschedule for a different time.
Our first stop once we arrived was the famous Shedd Aquarium belugas. We headed straight to the Oceanarium, but didn’t see any belugas swimming in the large pool in front us. We went down the stairs to see if we could see them underwater, but alas no belugas. A bit downtrodden, we walked further down the underwater gallery and found the penguins chilling in their habitat, and a bunch of Pacific White-Sided Dolphins zooming past the glass! They were absolutely adorable twirling and swimming, and some of them were even paired up!
After enjoying the view of the dolphins we headed to the sea star exhibit where guests can touch sea-stars (remember to be gentle!). There are several hand-wash stations where guests can wash their hands before and after the experience. I really appreciated that they encourage guests to wash their hands before the encounter as well, since not every aquarium does that!
As we were waiting in line, I suddenly caught something huge and white passing by the glass in the corner of my eye and I knew instantly…belugas!! I ran out of line and straight to the glass display and saw soo many belugas (actually three of them) swimming around. They made me so giddy with their smooth round faces, gentle smiles, and playful demeanors! I loved how they twirled around and swam back and forth past the glass. Some of them even blew bubbles and played with them as they were swimming which was the most adorable thing!
I would have gladly spent my entire day just watching the belugas, but there was just so much more to see, we had to move on. But we were definitely coming back to say goodbye to them before we left!
During our visit, we were able to choose from an Octopus film, a Shark film, and a kids Splash and Bubbles animation. Both the Octopus film is an excerpt from Blue Planet II and the Shark film is from BBC Earth, so if you’ve seen either of those two before, the film content may be nothing new. It is fun to experience it in 4-D though! We chose the Octopus film; I definitely had some jumpy experiences (in a fun way!) and loved when the bubbles came out! The movies are about 20 minutes each and are a pretty nice way to relax (and possibly take a nap).
Next we visited the Wild Reef (which requires an elevator ride) where you can get a group photo taken before visiting all the cool exhibits here. There were lots of fish to see and lots of coral, with informative exhibits about the animal-hood of coral! (They are NOT plants, and Shedd really wants you to know that!)
We also ran into a pair of adorable cuttlefish that were holding hands as they swam!
In the Wild Reef, you can also see a bunch of cool different species of sharks. They are in a huge tank swimming alongside other fish, which is fun to see.
Amazon Rising is a fun exhibit that contains lots of super interesting-looking animals! We saw this really awesome turtle that totally confounded us, but we were so amazed! There were plenty of other really cool species as well that I didn’t get as many photos of, but it’ll just be something you’ll have to see when you get there!
In the center of the main level is the Caribbean Reef where there are lots of fish and different animals swimming around. In Caribbean Reef, we also met Nickel, a giant sea turtle who has buoyancy issues due to a motorboat accident. It was really sad to see her struggling, but also nice to know that she had a safe place to swim.
At the beginning of every hour, there is a spotlight show at the aquarium’s indoor amphitheater. We stumbled upon it right before the show started and got to see the Pacific White-Sided Dolphins show off their cool tricks! Each of the shows showcases one of four different animals: the belugas, the dolphins, the sea lions, and the penguins, but they don’t tell you which one you’ll see until the show starts! No matter who you see though, you’re in for a great show and some awesome fun facts! (i.e. Did you know that a dolphin’s pectoral fin has the same bone structure as the human hand??)
Before we headed out for the day, we made another stop by the belugas to say goodbye and enjoy some more of their twirls and adorable smiles and winks.
Right before the exit there’s a large canopy encasing a huge raised pool of stingrays. Once again there are hand washing stations both before and after the exhibit for those wishing to graze some stingrays. As always a member of the aquarium staff is monitoring the activities to ensure everyone is being gentle with the animals while also calling out some fun facts about them. We enjoyed a few stingray touches, said our goodbyes to the animals, and headed out for the day.
The Shedd Store
Before I forget, I have to call out the awesome gift shop at the Shedd Aquarium. I’m honestly so sad that I was too amazed by all the cute stuff that I didn’t even get any photos of them! The art and design of the souvenir tees and hats were just so adorable it was really hard to pick just one thing to take home with me! I loved how cute the art was and that it really highlighted the animals, not necessarily the aquarium itself, because the animals are really what we care about!
Also as an additional plus, if you spend over $50 at the store and have CityPass, you get an additional 10% off! We love savings!
Tips for visiting Shedd Aquarium
Before I end this post, I’ll leave you with a few tips on visiting the aquarium that I’ll definitely be implementing on my next trip.
Tip #1: Prioritize exhibits
This is likely true of any attraction, but it helps to look ahead of time at the open exhibits and the location map. Decide which exhibits you absolutely need to see so that you can get to them efficiently, and then leave a little time in between for spontaneous finds that you’ll only notice when you’re there. This tip is especially useful if you’re running on a relatively tight schedule.
Tip #2: Use CityPass
If you’re planning on visiting at least 2 of the attractions available on CityPass, I highly recommend purchasing it. The equivalent Shedd Aquarium ticket you’re getting with CityPass is worth $44.90 on its own, plus you get extra savings as the souvenir shop! If you’re with a group, gather your purchases into one so you can take advantage of the discount since it only applies to purchases of $50+.
Tip #3: Bring snacks!
Another tip that holds true for visiting any attraction. Unless it’s part of your plan to purchase food at the aquarium, if you’re planning on spending a big chunk of your day there, it’s economical and efficient to bring your own snacks! Like any attraction, the food here is limited in variety and costly in price. Keep in mind that there are areas where food and drink are not allowed since there is open water.
Even though we got to see and enjoy so many animals, I still felt like there were exhibits we somewhat rushed through or missed, either because of the crowd or because we were running low on time, so I’d definitely set aside more than a few hours for the aquarium (4-5 might suffice! We time-boxed 3, but ended up staying for 4) It’s always good fun learning about the different species and their natural habitats, and especially seeing that the exhibits really respect that. It might be sad, but not everywhere will do that, so I really respect the effort that is put into making these animals comfortable.
If there’s one place I know I’ll want to return to on future trips to Chicago, it’s for sure the Shedd Aquarium. The belugas must be visited, and I can’t wait to visit all the exhibits I didn’t really get to experience!