Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sea Life Aquarium Grapevine, Texas

One day I was happily thumbing through one of our Texas travel magazines and saw that a new aquarium was opening up in nearby Grapevine, Texas. The new Sea Life Aquarium is located in, of all places the Grapevine Shopping Mall. I have no real problem with it being at a mall, except this same mall has a Legoland Discovery Center and an AMC theatre right across from each other. When we got there at 3 p.m., the parking lot for the entire mall was full which required us to join the other cars stalking a spot. Dianna’s eagle eye caught an escaping SUV pulling out on only our second turn around the northeast lot by the Aquarium. I might add, this was day 29 of the 100+ temperature days in the Metroplex and everybody without an air conditioner (and maybe those who did) was at the mall.
When I first researched the aquarium, I noted you could buy tickets cheaper online. Kids under two are free, kids 3-12 are $12.75 and 13+ were $16.15. At the door, kids are $15 dollars and 13+ are $19. Point is, you save on cash and the wait. Online tickets basically walk-in. Those waiting to buy at the door wait in a swirling line of overheated parents and screaming kids for HOURS. If you want to maintain your sanity, get the online tickets. I’m not sure about weekdays, we were there on a Saturday and the online tickets go fast. Book several days in advance. I was able to pick my time to enter three days before.

But, we are aquarium snobs. We come from San Diego, home of Sea World (long before San Antonio got theirs) and the Birch Aquarium at Scripps and the on Cannery Row Monterey Aquarium. We’ve seen some aquariums. Dianna loves looking at the fish and sea life. It brings back memories of home.

But let’s be fair. Sea Life is a multi-national company, which has aquariums all over the world and just recently came to America. Clearly, they are trying to get to the masses by choosing to open small aquariums in places like malls to get their message to about conservation and protecting the world’s oceans. I’m OK with that.
Sea Life has put together a diverse bunch of commonly identifiable fish and crustaceans that attracts and holds the attention of their demographic. Little people between say 3 to 12 years of age. Lots of bright and colorful displays and lots of little cute fish. And some sharks to get the “Shark Week” bunch to come in. I went to see their much-touted “360° Ocean Tunnel”. The tunnel is a walk-through lane with an arching acrylic glass at the bottom of their largest tank with sharks and fish continuously wandering by.

Throughout the aquarium, you pass through all your different food groups, Turtles, Rays, Sea Horses, Crabs, Eels and Octopus. So you have your Reef Sharks, Cownosed Stingrays, Common Octopus (are there any uncommon Octopi?), Jellyfish, Bonnethead Shark, Zebra Shark, Bowmouth Guitar Fish, Ribbon Sea Dragons, Big bellied Seahorse (so he has a weight problem, isn’t it cruel to label them like that?), Moray Eel, Nemo (Clownfish), Lionfish, and Starfish. The Shark Walk takes you to a room with a glass floor so you can stand over the shark tank as they glide silently under you like a 007 movie.

Oh yeah, I would have better pictures but you can’t use a flash or you become lunch in the Shark exhibit. But check out the website….I’m guessing the shots they got were with a flash.

What is cool is that they’ve done a pretty good job of making it kid friendly. Most of the exhibits are at eye level for little people and don’t require parents having to hold the kids up to windows, or what have you. There are exhibits where the little guys can crawl into the bottom of a tank and look from the inside like a deep-sea diver to watch the fish. There’s supervised “tidal pools” where they can touch or pick up a sea urchin. There’s always a kid activity in the area like one of those climbing play places like McDonalds to burn off some energy. At the end is a video where Sea Life Inc. tells their story of saving turtles, breeding programs and beach clean ups and how you can get involved at the local level.

Dianna contemplating the Rays

All in all a really worthwhile field trip if you don’t mind the crowds. The wife and I agreed that it was so crowded, you really couldn’t spend a lot of time at each exhibit or languish in the tunnel to wait for your favorite fish to go by. There was a kind of “keep up with the flow” sense of movement because of the crowding that took place whenever there was a bottleneck or stoppage. Probably better during a slow time or coming during the week could have avoided this. I wouldn’t mind going again at a more serene time.

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