Situated on the Tennessee River in downtown Chattanooga, TN, the Tennessee Aquarium is home to 10000 animals and an IMAX theater. Guests can explore two worlds of wonder and excitement at this top-rated aquarium in America. Visitors start their visit with the River Journey building and then continue to the Ocean Journey building. Thus experiencing two aquariums in one great city — Chattanooga.
During Spring Break the kids and I teamed up with another local blogger and friend and visited Chattanooga as it’s only a few hours from Atlanta, GA. The Tennessee Aquarium was kind enough to give us tickets for review and upon first arriving in Chattanooga this was our first stop.
About the Tennessee Aquarium
Located on Chattanooga’s beautiful downtown riverfront, the Tennessee Aquarium is made up of two buildings. Both are beautifully designed with help from some local University of TN students and has an artsy feel, and also makes for some unique exhibits inside. The buildings are named River Journey and Ocean Journey and each one focuses on exhibits that match their name.
River Journey sets the stage for a fascinating adventure tracing the path of freshwater from the mountains to the sea. The focus is on freshwater habitats from the mountains of Tennessee to the Gulf of Mexico. You’ll meet feisty otters, colorful trout, alligators, giant catfish, tons of turtles and more freshwater animals. Exhibits include:
- Appalachian Cove Forest – visitors are surrounded by an ancient forest; the sounds of chirping birds, cascading waterfalls and whimsical river otters splashing and foraging. The forest is remarkably realistic as the air is moist and thick, the trees are filled with birds and the streams and pools are inhabited by fish, amphibians and reptiles find refuge in hollow logs.
- Discovery Hall – Guests explore an underwater world where vibrantly colored sunfish float like jewels or peak into the swamp nursery where baby alligators bask or reach out and touch an ancient-looking lake sturgeon.
- Mississippi Delta – see animals like the extraordinarily large alligator snapping turtle, red-bellied turtles and ducks sloshing through the swampy waters amidst a tangle of tree trunks, vines and hanging moss.
- River Giants – a global collection of behemoths, such as the powerful Arapaima, the bizarre-looking Wallago Catfish, and giant freshwater stingrays.
- Rivers of the World – Three exhibits are devoted to the Amazon, the world’s largest river.
- One displays smaller, brightly-colored fish, frogs, lizards and turtles from the region.
- The second contains the feared red-bellied piranha and anaconda.
- The largest exhibit depicts the beautiful ‘flooded forest’ created each year during the rainy season when the river rises 30 to 40 feet.
- Tennessee River Gallery – examines the river, comparing the wild Tennessee with these new, man-made environments. There are three major exhibits to explore: Tennessee River, Reelfoot Lake and “Turtles: Nature’s Living Sculptures.”
The second building has guests immersed in saltwater habitats. You will find yourself surrounded by playful penguins, touchable stingrays, beautiful butterflies and a spectacular coral reef with big sharks and schools of fish. Exhibits include:
- Tropical Cove – welcomes visitors into a misty, tropical rainforest paradise filled with vibrant blossoms, lush greenery, the echoing cries of lemurs and a unique touch station. The space’s open-concept design allows guests to wander through a diverse collection of exhibits representing exotic tropical and island ecosystems.
- Lemur Forest – a recreation of the rainforests and spiny forests the lemurs call home in their native Madagascar. Watch endangered Ring-tailed and critically endangered Red-ruffed Lemurs perched dozens of feet overhead or sunning themselves on a miniature island.
- Stingray Bay – the Aquarium’s largest touch station with several different shark and stingray species
- Butterfly Garden – enter to the sounds of birds and splashing water filling the air. It’s a garden overflowing with exotic flowers, a sparkling, cascading waterfall and hundreds of jewel-hued, free-flying butterflies.
- Penguins’ Rock – Gentoo and macaroni penguins are constantly diving into and rocketing out of the water in this gallery.
- Secret Reef – the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary perfectly depicted in a dimly-lit gallery with mystical, underwater music. The exhibit features sand tiger sharks, sandbar sharks, colorful reef fish, and two Green Sea Turtles.
- Boneless Beauties – showcases some of the most fascinating and bizarre animals on earth, including the wondrous, Giant Pacific Octopus, the hovering, squid-like Cuttlefish and those spineless, brainless wonders: the electrifying jellyfish.
- Undersea Cavern – provides breathtaking, panoramic views of the Secret Reef.
Tips For Your Visit
- Food is not allowed in the aquarium so be sure to plan on eating before your visit. And while the website says it takes about 2 hours, you can spend much longer visiting. We sure did.
- Chattanooga is a walking city so parking is all at cost. There is no official lot for the Tennessee Aquarium but there is a parking lot attached to River Place or there is street metered parking too.
- Once scanned for entry, Aquarium tickets allow visitors to leave and return as needed for that day. Just be sure to hold on to your tickets.
- Download the Tennessee Aquarium app for information on any special seasonal activities (like Spring Break or holiday fun) and a list of daily animal programs.
- There are no guest lockers or coat check areas available at the Aquarium. Nor do they rent strollers.
Our Thoughts on the Tennessee Aquarium
Since we lived in Atlanta at the time and have visited the Georgia Aquarium on several occasions, Chattanooga had some high standards to meet. Each one is unique and has its highlights. The kids enjoyed the hands-on activities and how the different exhibits had them feeling like they were really somewhere else in the wild.
The Butterfly Experience was very engaging for Lil Man as he was wearing a blue shirt that was the same shade as the morpho butterflies, which attracted them. It was so amazing to see them flying all around Lil Man and trying to land on him. Thankfully, he was calm and thought it was funny so none of them were hurt.
There were so many photo opportunities and such a variety of animals to see that the kids listed the Tennessee Aquarium among one of their favorites.
One Broad Street, Chattanooga, TN 37402
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