Thursday, August 30, 2018

Road Trip ~ Wonders of Wildlife Aquarium

Have you ever been lost in a maze, but were having so much fun you did not care? That could be one way how I describe our family's trip to Johnny Morris' Wonders of Wildlife National Museum Aquarium. This place is massive, and awesome, and we all want to go visit again!

If you have been following along on Instagram, you know that we went to the Wonders of Wildlife Aquarium over Memorial Day weekend. It was so much fun! Normally I would have posted this Road Trip feature sooner, but I was struggling to figure out how to describe this adventure to you - it was just so overwhelming - in a great way! It most definitely is an adventure destination!

First off, the Wonders of Wildlife Aquarium is located in Springfield, MO. It is attached to the Grandaddy Bass Pro Shop that has been there for a really long, long time. Hopefully you remember our road trip post about the Wildlife Galleries. If not, pause, go read that one, and then hop back in here.

Don't worry, I'll wait for you.

We heartily suggestion get the combo pass so you can see both the Wildlife Galleries and the Aquarium. If you are seeing both, plan for 6-7 hours. I know, the website says the average journey time is 3-4 hours for both, but I just know you are going to want to spend the day, so get your tickets ahead of time online and choose an early start time so you can enjoy yourselves! They are open 10 a.m. - 8 p.m. daily through Labor Day, then 10-8 on Fridays and Saturdays, and 10-5 the rest of the week. The Wonders of Wildlife Aquarium will be closed on Christmas Day, but they will have extended hours the rest of Christmas vacation.

If you can still swing a road trip for this upcoming weekend for Labor Day- super - do it - you'll really enjoy it! If not, start thinking ahead to when you can visit, because this is definitely a destination you want to visit. The Combo ticket for both the Wildlife Galleries and the Aquarium is $39.95 for adults and $23.95 for children 4-11. There are discounts for seniors and military veterans, while children 3 and under are free. FYI - they offer memberships as well, and if we lived closer, we would definitely get one and go often!

If you had been touring the Wildlife Galleries, and were continuing your adventure to the Aquarium (like we did) you would have finished with the African animals and gone out the door into a cool, dark blue room, with all sorts of aquatic things, where you would go down the ramp, some illuminated steps, and enter through the front of the Aquarium (top left picture in the collage below.) Don't worry if steps are not your thing, there are elevators!

When you first enter the Wonders of Wildlife Aquarium, you enter what our family has dubbed the cylinder tank room. I'm sure the staff has an official name for it, but I forgot to ask. ;)

Imaging standing inside of a giant tin can. The walls are made up of a giant aquarium, and the fish can swim wherever in it they want. Up to the top, down near the bottom, switch directions, whatever they want. The top right picture in the collage below is looking up at one of the upstairs windows from the middle of the floor of the room. I could have stayed in this room for at least an hour. So cool! Please go watch this video I posted to get an idea of how amazing this room is!

Right now I am going to let you know that I had to be highly selective when choosing photos for this post because there were SO MANY of them, and if I tried to show you even 10% of them it would take forever for this post to load, so feel free to go check out our posts on Instagram to see more! Really, I've been sharing photos all summer long - there are plenty more to see, and even if you saw all (probably 500) of the ones I took, know that you still missed a lot of what the aquarium has to offer, because it's just that full of awesome fish, and animals, and other neat things! (35,000 animals from 800 species!)

This aquarium is a delightful maze of seeing various huge tanks from multiple viewpoints, plus a whole lot of smaller ones, plus other animals. You naturally are drawn to the next spot, so you don't even realize you're in a maze until you see the same tank from a second (or third) vantage point. While this makes it even cooler than expected, it also makes it a little harder to keep this virtual tour in order. (So if you're one of the lovely staff from the Wonders of Wildlife Aquarium, don't cringe if I get something out of order, just send me a helpful little comment.) Thx!

The other two photos in the above collage are of the wall tank outside the Fishing Hall of Fame, and the rays at the bottom of the shipwreck room.

We actually visited on Arlene's 18th birthday, and she said her favorite part was "That it was so big and kept going on and on with more cool stuff." She liked all of it!

In the collage below you can see the moon faintly shining in the background when we finally exited the Aquarium at 8 p.m., just a part of the awesome room of shells, a pretty pink and black fish I really liked, and just one example of some of the really expressive sculpture work from the museum.

Soon after you exit the cylinder room, you will see this amazing wall aquarium outside the entrance to the Fishing Hall of Fame. I'm not great at guessing sizes, but it must be about 40 feet tall. This is another one of those areas where you will want to linger. I appreciate how this aquarium was designed to make it accessible for everyone. Look again in that first collage and you can see how even the littlest visitors can walk right up to the window and 'see the fishies.'

In the Fishing Hall of Fame you will see all sorts of cool awards, fishing equipment and photographs. We all really liked the wall dedicated to US Presidents and fishing. Included on the wall is this quote from President George H.W. Bush "It is with a rod and reel in my hand that I tend to count my blessings."

Next you will travel to the outside, upper deck level of the cylinder aquarium. This is a unique experience as you can watch the fish and rays from the outside windows of this aquarium feature, and see into the main room where you started. It was really cool to stand just a few inches from rays and fish that were circling the tank. Mesmerizing!

Just in case you were wondering, yes, your little (or not so little) kids will see sights that remind them of Dori and Nemo. There is a medium-fish tank with those little silver fish. You know, the ones that made the arrows in Finding Nemo? You get to see them from up above, and again from below. Super cool to see them swirling and moving as a school from both perspectives! Yes, there are clownfish, and anemones, and even an octopus!

Next you are going to get your first view of the Shipwreck room. And this is where my memory gets a little fuzzy, because while there is this MASSIVE tank in the middle of this room that you see from every possible height and angle, there are also all of these off-shoot areas, and so, just enjoy your time here, look to your hearts' content, and then call your teens (or your spouse) on their cell phone to find out where they went while you were watching the rays in the main tank or the sparkly piranhas from the pop-up tube!

In the collage above (middle right) you can see what I mean by pop-up tube. There are several of these throughout the aquarium so kids (and brave adults) can go underneath the smaller tanks and get a really close look at the various aquatic life. Emily and I both enjoyed these sparkly piranhas. I have had a picture of this particular tank as my lock screen on my phone all summer.

The Wonders of Wildlife Aquarium has several tanks that would be considered large at any other aquarium, but because of the massive size of the cylinder, wall tank, and shipwreck room tank, we will now refer to these as medium-sized tanks. You get a lot of viewing time for the medium sized tanks. There are ones with brightly colored tropical fish like the parrot fish above (bottom left) and others with freshwater fish, and turtles. 

This aquarium adventure needs a break/snack point somewhere, and you will be happy to know that a part of the Shipwreck room has a snack bar. Unlike most other aquariums, the snack bar is roughly the middle of your journey, not right before the gift shop, so if you're hungry, take a few minutes and have something from their menu. It is reasonably priced, and much cheaper than eating at a sporting event. :)

As you are looking across the way from this upper level of the Shipwreck room, you'll see all sorts of fish and rays in the center tank. You'll also look down and wonder "Hey! How do I get down there where people are petting the rays in the bottom pool?" That is a part of this deliciously fun maze mystery!

As you finish up your snack and decide to open those doors into the next area, you will find conveniently located bathrooms... and an entire section of other animals. Folks, this place has more than just fish! This might have been one fo Kurt's favorite parts because there were birds of prey (an eagle and some owls), flamingoes, beavers, alligators, turtles, some kind of medium-sized sharks in a tank, and more! 

This area winds gently downhill and you end up visiting the National Bass Fishing Hall of Fame. This museum part has quite a bit of the history of competitive bass fishing, a room full of lures and memorabilia, and a couple videos. There was a boat too. It was a nice side-stop for us, but if you're really into bass fishing, you'll want to add an hour to your time estimate just for this side-area.

Then, on to the jellies! I love watching jellyfish float around. It is so relaxing. I posted a video of just one of the tanks in this area. If I had had more time, I would have spent some of it in here, and let Kurt go on to shark alley without me, He wanted to spend a lot of time in there with all the shark things (jaw bones, videos, etc.) I prefer jellies, but shark alley was really cool too.

Maybe you remember the picture up in the second collage of the wall of shells. That is actually a hallway/ room with shell collections on both sides. If you have ever wanted to know what that one shell was that you found at the beach on vacation... it is probably here!

Then there are the caves. A really cool walk underneath of tanks that let you look up at fish that you hardly ever see anything but the tops of. You can see the bottom of a longnose gar, a huge catfish, and other cave or bottom dwelling fish. You can also walk alongside the tank with the arapaima, an Amazon freshwater fish that Emily has liked for years. The arapaima in the tunnel part of this caves area was only about 6' long, but it will keep growing!

Just when you thought you might be underground forever, you turn a corner and find yourself looking out a cabin window. And looking at the fuzzy face of a bear! I told you there were more than fishies here! I'll have to go find that short video and post it on Instagram or Facebook for you to see soon!

Shortly after the bear encounter, you arrive back at the bottom level of the Shipwreck room. Here you can talk with the staff and ask them your questions about the fish and rays in the main tank, or you can pet the rays swimming in the bottom pool. These rays have all had their barbs removed, so just follow the instructions from the staff and be gentle when you pet them.

Are we done yet? Almost!

The very last area before your adventure at the Wonders of Wildlife Aquarium ends is an interactive area with a green screen wall. You might have glimpsed this from the upper level and wondered about it. It s a fascinating area for kids (and those brave adults) who want to draw a picture of one of the aquatic animals they saw today. Then the staff scans your picture into the computer and your creature ends up in the virtual tank along with the other sea life drawn by today's visitors. 

You get to take your drawing home, but everyone gets to enjoy watching your sea life swim around the virtual tank wall. The technology to have this happens is way beyond my understanding, but super neat! Your fish, shark, turtle, seahorse, jelly, etc. gets to join in this screen tank adventure and you can watch it travel all around. 

How much fun was this road trip? Tons! We were probably only halfway through when Em called one of her friends and said, "you will not believe how cool this place is, we need to get (their other friends) together and make a road trip out here!"

By now I hope you can see that this aquarium adventure is worth way more than the cost of admission. All of the staff were super friendly, from the admission desk to the horseshoe crab petting tank to the final virtual aquarium wall and everywhere in between. I could tell they enjoy working here, and that always makes it more fun!

If you are looking for a place to stay while in Springfield, Bass Pro Shops has a hotel called the  Angler's Inn. We did not know about it before this trip, but we have decided to check it out for our next adventure to Wonders of Wildlife. The rates are comparable to other local hotels, but this one is right across the street from Outdoor World and the Wonders of Wildlife experience. The rooms are done in Bass Pro Shop style decor. Plus, I want to see their pool, where the walls were painted by some of the same guys that did the paintings for the museum!

If possible, plan to visit Wonders of Wildlife on a weekday, when the crowds tend to be smaller, and you can spend more time gazing at the wildlife and sea life! If not, know that the timed entry is a great thing so everyone can enjoy their adventure. Buy your tickets online and choose your start time.

Get ready for your next road trip, and head to Springfield, MO, to visit the Wonders of Wildlife Nation Museum and Aquarium. Tell them you heard about them from Carol @ Home Sweet Life. 

Enjoy your adventure!

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