Hippo Haven

I had the privilege of accompanying my niece and her three sons on a recent Monday to The Adventure Aquarium, formerly the New Jersey State Aquarium, in Camden. This was my first visit and their second (their first being on a Saturday).

As I entered the building, I was impressed by the number of employees eager to greet and assist us, as well as the fact that we did not have to purchase tickets because my niece held a Family Explorer Annual Pass (good for entry for two adults and four children), which she purchased for $195.00. The pass basically pays for itself in two visits!

We rode the large elevator to the main floor—two adults, one infant, 3-year-old twins, and a double stroller—and exited into the dining area.

The various exhibits branched off and the boys opted to visit the hippos first. Be forewarned, the doors to this exhibit are not handicap/stroller accessible and someone needs to hold the first and second doors for easier access.

The first thing that hits you (besides the door) as you enter is the odor emanating from the habitat, but it is easy to forget about once you see the two hippopotamuses lumbering around on land and in the water. As they move through the water, the silt stirs up and it is difficult to see them if they are far away, but as they come closer, they are a sight to behold. You are able to get right next to the glass on the tank and benches are available to sit on as the children roam back and forth watching the hippos' movements.

From there we moved to the Jules Verne Gallery and viewed jellyfish of all shapes, colors, and sizes, as well as many unique sea creatures, including starfish, seadragons, and eels. All tanks were at a height that allowed the boys to look in independently. At times, it was necessary to lift them to point out a specific fish or animal, but for the most part, they could manage on their own. The shark tanks and 40-foot shark tunnel were absolutely amazing! The variety of species of sharks along with the 850 other animals lurking in the water above you, next to you, and at your feet as you move through the 40-foot tunnel gives you the feeling you are the one in the aquarium and they are ogling you. The water was clear, the views were astounding, and the boys constantly gazed above their heads and put their hands out to touch the glass and they passed through the tunnel.

We continued to explore the many exhibits of sea creatures both large and small, and the boys went eye to eye with Mighty Mike the Alligator, 14 feet long and more than 800 pounds! He was actually right next to the glass and we were able to put his size and weight right into perspective. Because he was sedentary, it was difficult for the boys to comprehend he was real, although they did try to touch him against the glass to get his attention.

Our next stop was Sting Ray Beach and the touch pool. One sectioned-off area is specifically for toddlers and was the perfect height for little ones to reach out and touch small stingrays as they swam by. The larger pool area was filled with older children squealing and laughing with excitement. Directions as well as reminders on how to interact with the stingrays by only using two fingers were given frequently for the animals’ safety. Each touch pool area closes for a period of time to allow the animals to “rest” so you need to check the schedule when you arrive to be sure not to miss out on this opportunity. Hand sanitizers and paper towels are placed in key spots throughout the exhibits and especially in the touch pool areas

We stopped for a quick visit outdoors to see the penguins, but it was a rainy, cool day and not conducive to having two little ones traipsing around for too long. We will have to revisit them on another trip.

Lunch was next, and the fact that we went on an off day helped tremendously. From what I could tell, only one class opted to take their field trip to the Aquarium on the day we were there. The Feeding Frenzy Café rotunda had numerous empty tables to choose from, and this was a real treat because it was not even an option to eat in the outdoor seating area due to the weather. My niece commented that when they came on the Saturday they had to wait over 30 minutes to find a table to accompany their family, which is something to keep in mind.

Sting Ray Beach -Small children’s touch pool

The food was a bit pricey and much of the cuisine was geared to children’s popular choices including chicken nuggets, pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, and grilled cheese. There were adult options, including, but not limited to, salads, meal combos and Philly cheesesteaks. Drinks from the soda machine were unlimited, but carrying the cup around along with the kids, stroller, bags, etc. was not really an option. You are allowed to bring your own food, so that is a cost-saving option.

To end the day we headed up to Kid Zone, an area specifically set up for the little ones (6 and under) to explore and play. The elevator we found to visit this area is small and if there is a crowd, I can only imagine the wait time to get strollers or wheelchairs up. Large instruments, places to crawl and explore, and life-sized characters to climb keep the children occupied for long periods of time. Along the walls are various tanks at the perfect eye level for toddlers that hold frogs, toads, and various fish and amphibians. There is even another touch pool for the children to enjoy.

We spent approximately three hours at the aquarium, and by the time we left, the boys were exhausted. I imagine with older children it would take less time to see the exhibits and take in the sights. We did not watch the dive show (weekdays, 11:15 am and weekends, 11:15 am and 2:30 pm), nor did we view any feedings. Before heading home, a walk along the waterfront of the Delaware River just outside the aquarium would be the perfect ending to a fun water-themed day. Enjoy your visit!