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Newport Aquarium

August 1, 2019

  • 1 Levee Way
  • Newport, KY 41071
  • (800) 406-3474
  • Website

Our family vacations the last several years  have been big city zoo trips.  We’ve been to just about every zoo within a four hour or so driving distance.  We decided we had to branch out just a little bit further this year and planned a trip to Cincinnati.

We got up early on Thursday morning to make the drive.  We were actually coming from my parents house in Iroquois County.  The kids got to spend some time with Grandma and Papa before we left on the trip while J and I still had to work three days that week.

I didn’t want to do the zoo on the day we drove because I knew it was going to be a lot for the kids.  A five hour car ride and a five hour zoo trip just seemed like it was going to be a disaster.

I had to find something to do though that was kid friendly and it didn’t take me long to find a great aquarium just across the Ohio River.

Newport Aquarium is part of the Newport on the Levee. This massive entertainment complex has an AMC IMAX Theater and several shop and restaurants.  It’s just across the Taylor Southgate Bridge on the Kentucky side of The Ohio.  We were a little confused on the parking situation at first but it looks like there is a garage there.  We parked across the street at a cash only surface lot because that was the first thing we saw other than valet.

The aquarium is in the northwest corner of the complex right on the riverfront.  There’s a pretty great selfie spot before you enter with the Cincinnati skyline and the bridge as a backdrop.  The riverfront was set up for Glier’s Goettafest which we somehow avoided the kids from noticing.

The Newport Aquarium opened 20 years ago last May.  It’s owned by Herschend Family Entertainment which owns several other entertainment properties including Dollywood among other things.  This aquarium claims to have over 20,000 animals in a million gallons of water in 70 exhibits.

We had bought our tickets online so we could skip that non-existent line.  They do timed entries so to be safe, we bought tickets to the time we thought we would be there.  The aquarium claims to be a member of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums but they don’t appear on the reciprocity list for discounted admission.  It cost us just under $100 for the four of us for admission.

Just outside the doors there is a quick security check.  They looked through bags pretty thoroughly before heading in to the entrance area where two people with ticket scanners were waiting.  J had the tickets on her phone so she just swiped through and let them scan each one.

You head down an escalator immediately after getting through the ticket entrance.  The aquarium starts out with it’s first exhibit, Fresh Water Falls.

This exhibit highlights a lot of freshwater fish and aquatic life that can be found in, behind, and around waterfalls throughout the world.  There are several large tanks that include a cross section of a Central American waterfall and a cross section of a cascading stream through the Congo.  As you leave the area, there is the first of five enclosed walk through tunnels that let you see the fish swimming above and around you.

The next area is called the Shore Gallery.  There’s the first many interactive pools so don’t wear long sleeves.  There are several different species in the Tide Pool and touching with two fingers is highly encouraged.  There’s an employee standing behind the pool not only to make sure you’re not hurting the animals but to answer questions as well.

You like sharks?  The next big exhibit on the path gives you a really good look at them.  The Shark Ray Bay theater is a huge display glass that gives you a really good look into the Surrounded by Sharks exhibit.

The theater also has rows of seating and periodically hosts talks by employees to explain what you’re seeing in the tank.  We had several instances of sharks and other aquatic animals just stare at the kids.  It was actually kind of creepy feeling to be looking eye to eye with some of these fish but it was also really, really cool.

Seahorses: Unbridled Fun is the next stop on the path around the aquarium.  I don’t know why but seahorses are always fun to me. They’re clearly not an animal you’re going to see in Michigan and they’re just so fun looking.  There are several tanks both in the walls and free standing in the middle of the various species.

Like most zoos and aquariums, Newport Aquarium has a focus on conservation and education.  There are signs all throughout the aquarium and next to every tank explaining what you’re looking at, why it’s important, and how we can preserve their habitats.

There’s a gallery called Dangerous & Deadly which showcases dangerous but sometimes misunderstood animals before you come up to Gator Alley.

Gator Alley has large tanks that you can walk up to with two of the rarest animals in the world, the White Gator.  The exhibit lets you see them underwater and it’s shocking to see those gators just stalking you as you walk through.

The Frog Bog comes up next and it makes sense as there are more animals that are native to the streams, rivers, and lakes around us.

This area also provides a little outlet for the kids.  There’s a play structure right in the middle of it and as soon as my kids saw it, their eyes lit up and they asked if they could go run around for a bit.  They were being really good even after the five hour drive so we said yes as it gave us a break to just sit and relax too.

Next to the play area is a small craft area for the kids too.  L found this pretty quickly  and left the play structure to go draw.  They have this neat feature where the kids can color in a picture and then scan it next to a large TV.  The color scheme they used on the picture will then show up on a cartoon fish in the monitor.  L went through five or six pictures just because she liked seeing what wacky thing she could get on the screen.

We gave the kids about twenty minutes then it was back on the path and up to the Stingray Hideway.  There is a large pool with platforms all around it so you can reach in and touch one of the rays.  There’s also small tunnel the kids can crawl through that will get them to the center of the pool and a tube that they can pop up into that puts them right in the middle of the action.

The Newport Aquarium has five tunnels that you can walk through spread through the different exhibits.  These tunnels give you such a unique look at the aquatic life on display because you can see how they swim around and over you.  We would get stuck in one every time we passed through because the kids would just look up and get lost in what was going on.  The one in this picture goes right underneath the massive shark tank.  There are so many cool things to see here.  It’s the same tank from the Shark Ray Bay Theater but this gives you another look and in some cases, an even more up close look at all the unique sharks they have on display.

Need a snack?  Right near the end of the aquarium tour there’s Sharky’s Cafe.

There’s still more to see but just like the play area, if you need a break there’s a spot to grab a drink or something to eat but you get to the Shark Bridge to exit.

More chances to touch fish.  There really are a lot of them at the Newport Aquarium.  This small tank is right outside the cafe and has, little sharks to touch.

Penguin Palooza is one of the last big exhibits you’ll see before the end of the tour.  There is a few rows of seating looking into this big tank which lets you see the penguins both above and below the water’s surface.  Penguins are a favorite at any zoo we go to so we spent a little bit of time just sitting in the front row watching.

So…it’s time to leave but there’s a giant shark tank between you and the exit.  The only way out (not really the ONLY way out but the most fun way out) is to cross over that shark tank on a one foot wide beam.  Sure, there’s netting on either side but looking down and watching the sharks circle underneath is…unsettling..but super cool.

Like all tourist attractions, the end of the tour spits you out in to the gift shop.  We warned the kids we weren’t buying souvenirs at the aquarium.  We were saving that for the zoo the following day.  They were good about not wanting anything so we quickly walked through and ended our adventure at the aquarium.

The Newport Aquarium is by far one of the best aquariums I have been to.  I spent my childhood being dragged to Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and I never enjoyed it.  I always wanted to go to the Field Museum but my family outvoted me…as they did almost every time.  I’ve gained a new appreciation for aquariums as an adult and I’m glad I found this place.  It’s worth the trip across the river if you’re in Cincinnati for any reason but it’s also worth the trip to Cincinnati just to go to this aquarium.

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