Because my husband had to work on Mother's Day (he is the Clubhouse Manager at a local country club and Mother's Day is one of their biggest events of the year) it was up to me to plan something if I wanted to get out of the house. Since moving to the Charlotte area, we haven't ventured out much aside from a couple of trips to Carowinds and a local spring festival. So I was very excited when I was contacted to take a tour of the SEA LIFE Charlotte-Concord Aquarium. I was provided free entry to the aquarium, but was not compensated for this review, and the thoughts and opinions in this review are my own.
When we walked into the mall I could see a line of people waiting to get into the aquarium that wrapped out and around the entrance. For Mother's Day, they ran a special where all moms could get in for $10. With ticket prices at $21 for adults and $17 for kids (2 years and under is free) that was a significant savings, so they were very crowded.
There is no guaranteed admission unless you purchase your tickets online. “Ticket availability is subject to the capacity of the attraction. SEA LIFE Charlotte-Concord reserves the right to close admissions once attraction reaches capacity. Buy online to guarantee your entry.” I eyed the line and thought, “This will be fun with 5 kids” but when I mentioned to guest services who I was, they let us right in. I would definitely recommend purchasing your tickets online to save your sanity!
All the staff we encountered at the aquarium were helpful and extremely nice. The kids were given cute dive masks to wear and Dive Log Books to collect 8 stamps along the tour. (After all 8 sections are stamped show the Dive Log to the cashier at the retail shop to receive a small prize.)
When you first walk in you are brought into the introduction room, designed to look like a submarine, to watch a quick video. My kids were excited to view the sea life so they weren't exactly captivated by the short cartoon.
Once we were admitted into the aquarium the first zone we visited was the Catawaba River exhibit. We didn't realize at the time this was a local area exhibit. But then we discovered the interactive kiosk (these are placed throughout the aquarium). You choose the photo of the fish you are interested in and will learn about their habitat, size range, and if they are a threatened species.
One of my girls' favorite exhibits was the Interactive Touchpool. Everything in the Touchpool is safe to handle: Sea Stars, Hermit Crabs, Sea Anemones. The girls were a little hesitant to touch them at first but with a little encouragement from the staff they gave it a try!
After walking through a few more exhibits, we came to Stingray Bay, just in time to see them feed the sharks and the Stingrays. This was an amazing exhibit and we ended up staying there for quite a while watching the Stingrays, the Sharks and Green Moray Eel. The attendant at Stingray Bay was very informative and upbeat and continuously asked if anyone had any questions about the exhibit. We saw a Nurse Shark and a Green Moray Eel play tag, and the Stingrays gave us a show flapping around waiting to be fed.
After the feeding was over and my kids had some fun looking through the porthole bubbles into the Stingray tank, we headed over to look at the Giant Pacific Octopus. Unfortunately, he wasn't very social and all we saw of him was the underside of his tentacles on the glass of his aquarium. The girls' were a little disappointed that the “giant” octopus was so small.
Next we passed through the awe-inspiring Tropical Ocean Tunnel.
The kids loved walking underneath the Sharks and Stingrays and we spent a lot of time in the tunnel before heading into the fascinating jellyfish exhibit! This was my favorite stop on our tour! There is something so relaxing about watching jellyfish swim around their tank. Don't get me wrong, if I met one at the beach I wouldn't be very happy, but watching them in captivity was very appealing. We really liked the jellyfish shaped light fixtures throughout the room.
At the end of the tour we discovered the Kids' Soft Play area outfitted with coloring stations and a large climbing structure crafted to look like a submarine. My three youngest immediately ran to take off their shoes and start climbing. My 9 YO was stopped by a staff person and told she couldn't play, due to health codes all children must wear socks in the play area. Thankfully socks are sold behind the counter in the retail store for only $1. Once she was properly outfitted she joined her sisters.
While we were hanging out at the play area, one of the staff approached us and asked if we would like to attend a free trial of their upcoming “Behind the Scenes” tour. We jumped at the chance. It was interesting to learn how the water is filtered, how the sea life is fed and what happens when one is sick. When the full Behind the Scenes Tour is available you will also get to walk around the top of the Tropical Ocean tank. That will be really cool to experience, but will be an additional charge on top of your admission price.
We spent a couple of hours exploring and playing before the girls were ready to leave. It's a small aquarium, I'd say a normal visit would take an hour to walk through the exhibits. The entire aquarium was sparkling clean and, as mentioned before, the staff members were extremely helpful and friendly. The visit was fun and entertaining for all ages.
Because the aquarium is located in a mall, we didn't anticipate it to be in the same league as the Mystic or Atlanta aquariums, but we were somewhat disappointed by what was presented for the price of admission. We enjoyed our time at The Sealife Aquarium Charlotte – Concord, but the biggest downfall is the cost. I have a family of 7 (4 adult tickets/3 kids') so the cost for a day pass for all of us currently is $135. That's a lot of money for a 2-hour tour. And it says on their website that the prices would be going up on the 26th of May (which just happens to be Memorial Day and the kick-off to summer).
There is a promotion going on now through June 15th to save $5 off admission… “Bring any used or unused PEPSI product (PEPSI, Diet PEPSI, Mt. Dew, Aquafina, etc.) between May 5 and June 15 and enjoy $5.00 off a Regular One Day Admission. Simply present the used or unused can or bottle to any SEA LIFE ticket counter to receive discount. Offer is valid up to 4 admissions per can or bottle. All used and unused product will be donated to charity or recycled on behalf of SEA LIFE Charlotte-Concord!”
Annual passes are also available at the cost of $212 for a family of 4 (and $50 for each additional person). That cost would still be prohibitive for us at $362.
While I really enjoyed my Mother's Day at the Aquarium, and I will definitely keep my eye out for any new promotions to make this trip more affordable, at the current regular-priced admission we would not be returning to the aquarium.