The New Jersey State Aquarium is a real treasure. One of the highlights of the Camden Waterfront, the Aquarium is world-class and one of the most visited attractions in the region.
A local treasure
The Aquarium was one of the first attempts at restoring the Camden Waterfront, and it still remains one of the best reminders of how beautiful this oft-troubled city can actually be. Located on the Delaware River, the Aquarium is home to more than 8,500 fish and aquatic animals across nearly 200,000 square feet of space and in over 2 million gallons of water. Over 800 species are represented in the 80-plus exhibits that are located throughout the building.
"May I touch a stingray? Please?" Max, my four-year old, always asks upon entering the Aquarium. Certainly the "please touch" tank, located right within the front doors, is one of the kids' favorite attractions on site. Here, they can dip their hands into the water and "pet" a stingray as it swims beneath their fingers. (For the curious, they feel surprisingly smooth, like wet velvet.)
Ocean Base Atlantic
The main "fish tank" at the Aquarium is the Ocean Realm, a 760,000-gallon open ocean tank that is immense in beauty as well as size. More than 1,500 fish call the tank home, and certified divers who are Aquarium members can sometimes swim amongst the two dozen sharks and other fish that live there.
But Ocean Base Atlantic isn't the only place to find sharks at the Aquarium. My younger children always grab my hand before entering the Shark Realm, where shark jaws -- and teeth -- are prominently on display. The daring among you can touch a sandbar or tiger shark in the accessible small tank, and experts on duty will be happy to share stories about shark habits, characteristics -- and attacks.
More touch tanks
Nearby is another touch tank. This time, you and the kids can (gently, please!) handle sea stars and sea urchins and (if you're daring) maybe even a crab or two. "Hey, they pinch more than our hermit crabs!" Sean said, pulling away a finger just in time. (You've been warned.) And talk about teeth -- nearby is the Coypu, a South American bird with bright orange teeth... even after he brushes!
The fun doesn't stop when you leave the Aquarium building, because you step out into the four-acre interactive horticultural park known as the Camden Children's Garden. Kids will love running by the giant chimes and listening to the sound or visiting the garden areas, with themes such as Dinosaurs or Storybook Gardens. There are also a few old-fashioned amusement rides, such as a beautifully painted carousel and a train that will chug you around the grounds. My kids' favorite, however, is the holes in the ground which periodically shoot up water (like a man-made Old Faithful). Note to parents -- this is a great spot to cool off on hot summer days but do it right before leaving the park!
Also on the outside you can visit the seal showcase, where seals and sea lions perform shows on a regular basis. You can see one do a back flip, or applaud along as you watch the animals perform.
Adventure Aquarium details
Address: 1 Riverside Drive, Camden, New Jersey 08103
Photo by John Donges