So this is my post about the trip I took this past weekend to the Tennessee Aquarium. I have a soft spot in my heart for this Aquarium, and it means I may be biased toward it, but I’m clearly not the only one. The Aquarium is continually rated one of the top Aquariums in the country, and is currently rated as the very best. So while my sentimentality is purely emotional, it’s good to know I’m emotionally attached to the best.
The Tennessee Aquarium is in Chattanooga, TN right on the Tennessee River. Opened in 1992, the Aquarium initially showcased the river flora and fauna of the Tennessee River, making it unique in not relying on fancy and flashy ocean fish to bring in tourists. The centerpiece is the massive “Nickajack Lake” tank showing the fish of the large lake downstream from Chattanooga. It’s a beautiful tank with giant catfish, paddlefish and other fish found in that natural resource.
In 2005 they added a new building that was dedicated to tropical fish, including another massive tank for sharks and sea turtles and the like. Not quite as big as the whole “River” building, the “Ocean” building is nonetheless an excellent example of bringing people to nature. It houses a beautiful butterfly house (although I personally think the one at the Huntsville Botanical Gardens is better), a sting ray petting pool (with stingers removed, of course) and penguins.
This trip to the Aquarium was a Cub Scout trip where we planned to spend the night in the Aquarium. The program is called “Sleep in the Deep” but I prefer calling it “Sleeping with the Fishes.”
My boy and I met up with the Pack and headed over to Chattanooga Saturday afternoon. We arrived right at 5:30 and went into the Aquarium for the evening. From the moment we arrived until we were shown out the next morning at 9am, the staffers at the Aquarium kept us moving and gave us a most enjoyable tour, letting us do and see things most tourists never get the chance of doing or seeing.
Our guide, Miss Jill, kept us moving and well informed for our entire stay. She was great with the kids, and answered the adult’s stupid questions (and the kid’s incredibly intelligent questions) with skill and care. She took us first to the penguins, which had already gone to bed. This was my first surprise of the evening, my boy wanted to know if they had any Macaroni Penguins. Trying not to laugh, I told him to ask Miss Jill. Half because I didn’t want to laugh at my son and half because I wanted to see how Miss Jill handled silly questions from six year old boys.
Imagine my surprise when not only did Miss Jill not laugh, but told him they had 11 adult Macaroni Penguins and a baby one. Really? Macaroni Penguins? Really? Yup. There really are Macaroni Penguins, and they are quite pretty. I asked my boy how he knew about them, and he answered (predictably) “Diego saved one.” Score one for Noggin (or Nick Jr. or whatever it’s called now).
From the Penguins we went to the top of the Ocean tank. Not the top tourist level, the actual, behind-the-scenes top, where the divers go down to clean and the caretakers feed the fish. Along the way we saw a real Shark Cage that had been used in filming some documentary or another. It even had “real battle damage” from a great white shark. The boy, who loves sharks, thought that was cool and impressed Miss Jill by announcing “That’s a shark cage. It was invented by Rodney Fox after he survived being attacked by a Great White.” For your information, that’s 100% accurate! That’s my boy! Definitely smarter than his dad.
After visiting the top of the tank, we went up to the stingray petting pool and the butterfly house for a while, until a great 3D IMAX movie and then dinner.
This would be my one complaint of the night. The Aquarium is spread out over about 10 buildings. The “River” and “Ocean” buildings are right next to each other and the IMAX theater is across the street a bit. It was cold. Real cold. Dinner wasn’t till 8pm or so. And to GET to the theater with all those hungry scouts they marched us through the cold and right by two FABULOUS restaurants. Oh the cold! Oh the smells! They nearly had a revolt!
But we managed to make it to the theater and enjoy the movie. And dinner of Pizza. And the cold walk back to the Aquarium. And then… all the fun of the rest of the night. Seeing the kitchens where they fix all the food (including meal worms and rats). Petting Sturgeon (Side note, the Tennessee Aquarium is actively raising and releasing sturgeon into the Tennessee River, reintroducing a species that had gone extinct!!). Petting snakes (NO THANK YOU!) and then, after a full evening it was time for bed.
Now our bedroom was perhaps the COOLEST PLACE EVER to lay out a sleeping bag for a night. At the bottom of the Ocean building is a cave like structure UNDER the big tank. We were surrounded by water and fish and sharks and just about any other cool sea creature your can imagine. Sharks glided by us all night long. Sea turtles played over our heads. And while it was dark, their ghostly shapes kept us company all night long. When the tank lights came on at 6am, we were greeted by amazing scenes of trigger fish and tuna swimming by. It was fantastic.
So if you have a group going to Sleep in the Deep… or Sleep with the Fishes, I can’t recommend it enough. It is a fabulous trips and you get to see behind the scenes at one of the truly great places in the Southeast. Heck, I can’t recommend the Aquarium high enough, and just visit if you can.
On a final note, I have to share a video, because it just was the highlight of the trip. I’ve been going to the Aquarium since 1992. And since then, they’ve had river otters. And all I’ve ever seen is the otters sleeping. Maybe one of them take a quick dip, before going back to sleep. But this time, we got to feed the critters. And they are as cute and fun as you’d expect. So here’s a parting video of the fun we had feeding the otters.