The renovated aquarium at Toledo Zoo recently opened, and it is a great place to spend an hour during your zoo visit this year. Or two hours. Or three — because there’s plenty to see at the new aquarium, and unlike the old aquarium, there’s plenty to do, as well.
Aquariums, as a rule, have not historically been interactive, but that’s not the case here. My children were able to touch a stingray as it gently glided by in a large, shallow pool designed just for such interactions. Touch Tank and Ocean Lab allows kids (and adults) to get up close and personal with sea creatures and learn about the creatures at the same time. While not everyone gets to touch a stingray, everyone patiently waits for the fluid-like stars of the show to arrive at the eager fingertips of visitors. Even if a child isn’t lucky enough to be chosen by a stingray, they will be delighted they even got close to one!
Sisters Ellina and Raeghyn Bockelman, 10 and 6, came from Napoleon to check out the new aquarium. Both got lucky and touched one of the stingrays, though their three-year-old brother was scared.
“It was soft and it was really cold,” exclaimed Ellina.
“It was fluffy,” Raeghyn said.
Another exhibit allows kids to change the lighting color inside a tall, circular tank filled with moon jellies — tiny jellyfish that glide about ghost-like, picking up the colors from tank lights, which could be blue, purple, green, orange or red, depending on a kid’s whim.
The new attraction features other interactive activities, with one that parents of smaller children will really find excellent: Many of the large tanks have waist-high sills that are perfect for young children to sit on as they gaze on the many fish in wonder.
The Reef is a massive 90,000 gallon tank that features hundreds of saltwater fish, in addition to sharks and turtles and allows visitors to get up-close and personal with fish at eye-level, including a large glass bubble which juts into The Reef tank, that people can lean into to create a sensation of immersion. The huge saltwater tank also hosts scuba divers each day.
The new aquarium is still located in the original 1936-37 WPA-era structure, and is neighbors with the zoo’s penguin population. A gift shop features a variety of merchandise. The aquarium has plenty of cool fish and other animals to check out, and there are plenty of environmental lessons and information for inquiring minds to absorb.
If the aquarium comes up short for little ones, consider a break at Nature’s Neighborhood, just a two-minute walk away. It features a petting zoo, playgrounds of various types, an indoor science center with nature labs and even an outdoor stream. My 10-year-old still found a secret mountain slide very entertaining after the aquarium. In fact, so did her 13-year-old brother. A few minutes later, they found themselves inside, curled up inside giant honeycomb formations along a wall.
There is no extra charge for aquarium admission, it is part of the zoo. Helpful tip: It just opened recently, and is crowded on the weekends. For less people and more time to explore, check it out during the weekdays.