One of the advantages of traveling outside of Houston, Texas is that when we arrive at our vacation destination the thought of an hour drive just does not seem all that bad; after all, it can take my husband that long to get to work some days. So, when we planned out trip to Williamsburg, Virginia one of our vacation destinations during our visit there including a trip to the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, in celebration of our daughter’s 5th birthday.
Our day started with a visit at the other end of Virginia Beach to visit the Cape Henry Lighthouses. One of the lighthouses is fully accessible, but be sure to visit it early because during the heat of the day the trip up the cramped stairwell can get pretty tight. Leaving the lighthouses we take a short trip to the beach where we could see dolphins off the beach, making an excellent start to our marine life and aquarium adventure for the day. You could even pack a lunch and eat at the gazebo before you make your way to the aquarium.
The Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center is located on Virginia Beach, not far from the resort district. If you are staying in the area, you may want to consider using local trolley system wherever you see the VB WAVE sign. You need to get there early if you plan on parking in the main parking lot; if not there is additional parking across the street. The hours are 9am-5pm and you will need every minute of that time to take full advantage of the exhibits available. Ticket prices range from $17.00 for adults and $12.00 for children to approximately $25.00 when you add the IMAX ticket price which is optional. Children under three are free and children 12 and older are considered adults.
There are two pavilions, we started our adventure at the Bay and Ocean Pavilion then walked the Nature Trail to visit the Marsh Pavilion.
Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center Exhibits
Exhibits at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center include thousands of animals and over 300 species. Among the exhibits are many interactive opportunities to feed the animals, get up close and personal with the fish and wildlife exploring through sight and sounds as well as the only aquarium in the United States where visitors (with reservations and only a few opportunities are available) can get into the water with the harbor seals. Harbor seal tours are only available to children 8 and up and the prices are $110.0 for children and $125.00 for adults.
Among the many exhibits a few of them were stand out memories even for our youngest at the age of 4. Our must see list includes:
The Great Horned Owl is available in the Marsh Pavilion. While there the children were able to see Owlex feed and he seems to enjoy the attention just as much as the children do, turning his head this way and that as the whole family learned about great horned owls, their habitat, eating habits and dangers from man.
Sand Tiger Sharks can be seen in the Norfolk Canyon Aquarium. These creatures prefer temperate climates, such as the Gulf Coast region where we live. The whole family learned of the dangers of oil rigs to their sand tiger sharks environment and the children were especially captivated by watching them swim with the other marine life, they expected something much more frightening.
The Indonesian Volcanic Island is designed to recreate a period of history where volcanic activity was dominant. As you first approach the Komodo Dragons they are so very still it appears almost as if they are statues, but the crawl through space with pop up dome allows children to see the Komodo Dragon up close.
Two other favorites include the Chesapeake Bay Touch pool, which can get pretty busy as children rush forward to explore of the different creatures that inhabit the Chesapeake Bay. My personal favorite exhibit was the Red Sea an 8,000 gallon aquarium “tunnel” filled with beautiful coral and colorful marine life.
Boat excursions are also available all year long with Dolphin watching and during the winter Whale watching with a trained Aquarium guide. Though sightings of animals are not guaranteed you will also have the opportunity to see other sea wildlife, both fish and fowl, as well as get another look at the Cape Henry Lighthouse, Old Coast Guard Station and Dewitt Cottage. Prices for the boat excursions are an additional $28.00 for adults and $24.00 for children. Bring your binoculars because you won’t want to miss a thing!
The Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center also offers special event planning, group visits, school field trips, summer camps, and discovery days. It is an interesting, fun and educational place to include in your next family reunion, and reservations for group rates are required at least 24 hours in advance.
The best part of the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center is that so many different species are represented and so many different periods of history. As a family we didn’t simply walk through and get a good look at the animals, marine and wildlife but through the many engaging and interactive exhibits we learned more about their habits and habitat and the dangers that are a part of their natural (and not so natural) environment.
Need more travel and vacation planning ideas? Then try:
Creating a Countdown Calendar to your Disney Vacation
The Children’s Museum of Richmond VA
Trips for Traveling with Two: Single Parent Air Travel
Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center