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10 Reasons to Visit the New England Aquarium

We love visiting zoos, nature centers and aquariums as a family. Years ago I wrote about our trip to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, which was amazing. Recently we were lucky enough to visit the New England Aquarium in Boston, and we had a blast! 
It had been a few years since we had visited and we were excited to see some of our old favorites. I could write pages about our day, but instead will highlight 10 reasons why you should visit the New England Aquarium if you have the chance.

African Penguin Colony

1. Penguins! One of the first animals you encounter upon entering the New England Aquarium are the endearing African Penguins. A bustling, and sometimes boisterous, group inhabits this enclosure that surrounds the Giant Ocean Tank, the four-story centerpiece to the aquarium. Hailing from temperate habitats, you won't see ice and snow here, but you will see a lot of interesting penguin behavior in the water and on the rocks. 

African Penguin New England Aquarium  Photo credit: Vanessa Kahn
Photo credit: Vanessa Kahn, New England Aquarium
My kids love to learn about each of these penguins. It is easy to do as each is tagged with colorful armbands that serve as identification. Interactive screens located around the African penguin exhibit allow visitors to plug in the colors and location of the tags. Each penguin has a "bio" explaining its name, age, sex, and other interesting facts. 

Giant Ocean Tank

2. The Giant Ocean Tank is the amazing four-story centerpiece of the New England Aquarium. This enormous 200,000 gallon Caribbean reef tank holds hundreds of different fish. My kids loved seeing the giant rays taking their laps and discovering the different types of animals they could spot as we spiraled up towards the top of the tank. 

The aquarium educators at the top of the tank are available to answer questions and its fun to watch the feeding divers too. 

Giant Ocean Tank New England Aquarium photo credit: Vanessa KahnPhoto credit: Vanessa Kahn, New England Aquarium

Myrtle the Turtle

3. An enormous green sea turtle! In 1970 a green sea turtle named Myrtle came to live at the New England Aquarium. You can still see her there today! It is such a treat to spot this gigantic turtle swimming around the Giant Ocean Tank or coming up to the top of the tank for some lettuce. She is a beautiful and amazing creature, somewhere between 70-90 years old and weighing in at over 500 pounds.
green sea turtle Photo credit: Vanessa Kahn, New England AquariumPhoto credit: Vanessa Kahn, New England Aquarium

Sea Jellies

4. Sea Jellies! Even in a crowded aquarium, watching the Lion's mane jellies is a mesmerizing and calming experience. Native to colder regions of the ocean such as the Arctic and North Pacific, these jellies have a thick "mane" of hair-like tentacles to sting and catch prey such as small fish and crustaceans.

Giant Pacific Octopus

5. A visit to the New England Aquarium gives you the opportunity to see the largest species of octopus on the planet, the giant Pacific octopus. These super intelligent creatures can grow to be 20 feet long. We were lucky to see it put on a bit of a show right near the glass, as they can be a bit elusive. Stunning! 

Giant Pacific Octopus New England Aquarium photo credit: Vanessa Kahn
Photo credit: Vanessa Kahn, New England Aquarium

Sea Lion Show

6. What a treat to watch the California sea lions show off their skills and learn about sea lion handling and training at the show in the Marine Mammal Center.  Not only endearing, intelligent, and entertaining, they are also talented in nature, able to swim faster than any other type of sea lion and dive underwater for up to ten minutes while they search for food. The whole family shared many smiles and laughs during this part of our aquarium visit. 

Please note if you do visit the New England Aquarium that the Marine Mammal Center is an open air exhibit area. It's open year round and if you come during colder months (like we did this time) you'll want to bundle up! 

California sea lion training show New England Aquarium

Greeted by Harbor Seals

7. Before you even enter the aquarium you can observe the Atlantic harbor seal exhibit for free. The harbor seals are located in their enclosure in the front plaza. Get up close and personal with these playful creatures and even learn about them during feedings and training sessions before you even enter the aquarium. 

atlantic harbor seal new england aquarium photo credit: vanessa kahn
Photo credit: Vanessa Kahn, New England Aquarium

We enjoyed watching them swim and play in the morning when we arrived, and got a chuckle at them apparently asleep floating in an upright position when we left later in the afternoon. 

atlantic harbor seal free exhibit new england aquarium

Shark and Ray Touch Tank

8. Unfortunately during our visit the Shark and Ray Touch Tank was closed. However, we did stop in the exhibit area to learn about sharks from an aquarium educator. I know if the touch tank had been open that day we would have really enjoyed it, it is a great space and one of few opportunities, unless you purchase a special Animal Encounter, to touch the ocean animals. 

shark and ray touch tank new england aquarium photo credit: vanessa kahn
Photo credit: Vanessa Kahn, New England Aquarium

Aquarium Timed Admission

9. The timed admission system at the New England Aquarium was great for planning. We could see how many people had purchased tickets during each of the 20 minute intervals the aquarium was open. We were able to plan exactly when we wanted to go in the night before. Admission was smooth and we entered the aquarium quickly without waiting in line. 

Parking in Boston can be tricky, however, there are several parking garages in close proximity to the aquarium. Several of them participate in parking validation at the visitor's desk in the aquarium. We used SpotHero and would highly recommend it. You can reserve a spot in a garage ahead of time, in some cases at a discounted rate, no searching for parking once you arrive! 

Location, Location, Location: Central Wharf

10. The New England Aquarium is located on Central Wharf, right on Boston Harbor. A great locale for a summer stroll on a part of Boston's Harborwalk, good eats, duck tours, lots of history, and close proximity to other great museums such at the Boston Children's Museum and the Boston Museum of Science. A great area to visit for a lot of learning and family fun. 

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