on January 5, 2011
On my first visit to New Orleans, this place had just opened. The area around it has changed substantially since then, with a Harrah’s hotel/casino that feels like it was just dropped in the middle of Canal Street (especially when approaching Canal from the south). Back in 1990, the Aquarium was easily visible from nearly all directions, but the construction in this area evidently hasn’t affected its popularity.It’s $18.50 for adults ($2 off with AAA), which seems a little steep, but I tried to forget about the ticket price and enjoy the show, which was easy enough to do. The exhibits are built around four regional habitats: the Caribbean, the Amazon rainforest, the Mississippi, and the Gulf of Mexico. Right at the start, you walk through one of the featured exhibits: a 25’ tunnel through a 135,000-gallon tank filled with Caribbean creatures, giving you a full senssurround experience of sealife. Manta rays swarm back and forth across the glass, and the other denizens also give you nice closeups of their bright colors and unusual features. The Amazon exhibit reproduces a swath of rainforest, which explains the high clear class construction on the Aquarium’s southern end, which soars over the entrance and lobby. It includes an elevated loop through the treetops, which is where the birds hang out—at least those who are free to fly. Three beautiful species of parrots are back down on the rainforest floor, who remained mute despite the countless entreaties from younger visitors, few of which sounded like parrot calls to me.Other features include a penguinarium, where I sighted about 15 residents, most of whom were content to stand on the rocks as if they were striking poses. Thankfully, there were two exceptions who spent their time swimming in the tank, where they could be viewed from below the waterline. I also enjoyed the extensive sea horse exhibit, which featured a number of different species, two of whom were paired in a manner evidently typical for these creatures, cruising around the tank together with their tails intertwined.Not surprisingly, the Aquarium has lots of features aimed at kids, and most visitors were families with young children. The kids play area featured a ‘pet the manta’ tank, which pulled in two of my family members, as well as some nice playground options for blowing off a little steam. The Audubon Institute operates several facilities throughout New Orleans, including the IMAX theatre here at the aquarium. The new Insectarium, whose positive reviews were not enough to overcome a family-wide aversion to bugs, is just north of here on Canal Street, in one of the old US Mint buildings. Audubon Park, one of the city’s two large green spaces, is owned by the Institute and is home to Audubon Zoo. (In case you’re wondering, John James Audubon was a New Orleanian.) Combination tickets are available to all of these attractions, or to more limited combinations. The largest combo ticket is $35.
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