When a senior thinks about things to do with the grandkids in a Midwestern town like Cincinnati, taking an afternoon to see ocean creatures isn’t likely to make the list. But just across the Ohio River from the Queen City, in historic Newport, Kentucky, an undersea adventure is what awaits. The Newport Aquarium, in the riverside Newport-on-the-Levee entertainment complex, is a 100,000-square foot vision straight out of Jules Verne.
So many habitats. So many creatures.
The Newport Aquarium currently features fourteen galleries focusing on a different type of salt or fresh water ecology and featuring the wildlife endemic to each. In a few hours’ stroll, one can travel from the wilds of the Amazon rain forest to shark-shadowed tropical reefs to the ice shelves of Antarctica.
Here are a few of our favorite habitats:
In the largest exhibit of its type in the region, you’ll see frog species from around the world and learn about how amphibian species the world over are becoming critically endangered (arguably the branch of the animal kingdom most susceptible to environmental changes). On the lighter side, grandchildren will love crawling through jungle gym-styled tunnels where they will find additional tanks not visible to adults. You can also play a game of Frogger together or take pictures next to the Aquarium’s 3-foot tall “singing” frog statues (each of which, when tapped, emits the represented frog species’ call).
If you’ve ever wanted to know what it’s like on the underside of the world, this is your chance. The Newport Aquarium hosts five penguin species in a habitat design to mimic their natural environment. Time your visit to feeding times or the daily penguin shows (held between 11 am and 3 pm) and catch all the slip-sliding fun!
Delicate. Exotic. Mysterious. Serene. This exhibit is consistently rated most popular among visiting adults who bring children. Have a seat and enjoy the subdued lighting, quietly bubbling tanks and ghostly jellyfishes dancing in the Midwest’s largest marine invertebrate exhibit. Grandkids will love to imagine swimming among the moon jellies along the giant, interactive tank wall.
The climax of any trip to the Aquarium is always a visit to the sharks. Kids and adults alike can pet and interact with real shark species (the docile, harmless, small kind, of course), including Leopard sharks, Small-spotted catsharks and Spotted Gully Sharks. If that’s not enough of a thrill for you, a walk through the shark tunnel will be: overhead and to both sides, you’ll be in an acrylic enclosure below the Aquarium’s massive, 380,000-gallon shark tank where Whitetip Reef Sharks, Zebra Sharks, ferocious-looking Sand Tigers and many specimens of sharks’ cousin species, rays and skates, glide silently by.
But the real stars of the show are the Aquarium’s four Shark Rays (also known as Bowmouth guitarfishes): Sweet Pea, Scooter, Sunshine and Spike. The Newport Aquarium made history in 2005 by becoming the first aquarium in the Western Hemisphere to host these rare and bizarre-looking fish.
Try to time your visit so that you can see the Shark Rays being fed. This happens Monday-Friday around 1:15 pm, subject to the fishes’ needs.
After your tour, stop by Sharky’s Café for a quick bite. (Get it? “Bite!”)
All that walking and marveling is sure to help you work up an appetite, and the Aquarium has you covered. Sharky’s Café, just after the penultimate shark tunnel, is the perfect chance to pull in to drydock, rest your feet and grab some grub from the galley.
The Newport Aquarium is open for extended hours during the summer (until August 30th), from 9 am-6 pm, and tickets for visitors 13 years of age or older is $23 while children 2-12 years old are $15 and young ones under 2 are admitted free. Passes can be bought online and printed at home, letting you skip the ticket window queue (it can get lengthy in the summer and on holidays) and get right to the underwater magic.
The Aquarium also offers daily dive shows, behind-the-scenes tours and even Aquarium / Cincinnati Reds ticket combo packages— stick around after your Aquarium visit, ride the World War II-vintage Duck Trucks over the river and take in a ballgame to cap off your night.
There are plenty of fun activities for seniors on the Cincinnati and Newport riverfronts this summer, so gather up your friends, your grandkids, your friends’ grandkids and go!