Fun at the Downtown Aquarium, Denver

denver aquarium signage’twas the afternoon of Black Friday and all through our family, not one person was shopping, no-one even was online. Instead we decided to head to Denver for lunch at our usual haunt — BD’s Mongolian BBQ — followed by our first visit in a while to the Downtown Aquarium, Denver.

The full party consisted of my two girls (18, 10), my youngest’s friend, also 10, and myself. My son? He and his friend wanted to join us, but last time he and my younger girl K- came to Denver with me, the drive back was a disaster, with them fighting and screaming at each other. So he got the short end of the stick this time since the Aquarium is one of her favorite places to go. The fun of parenting…

A good size group and lots of photo opps because, well, they’re all really photogenic, as you’ll see, and my oldest, A-, is quite a photographer and spent the entire time looking through the lens of her beloved Canon DSLR. She took the best photo of the bunch, as I show at the bottom, so make sure to scroll through and see them all!

If you don’t know much about the aquarium it actually started out life as the Ocean Journey Aquarium and was purchased by Landry’s Restaurants in 2003 (yes, the aquarium is owned by a restaurant chain, and no, they don’t serve sushi!). The Aquarium has over a million gallons of underwater exhibits and over 500 different species of animals.

It costs about $17 per adult, $11 per child for admission and it can be zipped through in an hour if you aren’t engaged and interested in the exhibits, and can also take the better part of an afternoon if you and your children are using it to learn about the many exhibit areas and creatures.

I’ll also say that compared to the Monterey Bay Aquarium or the National Aquarium in Baltimore, well, the Denver Aquarium is a nice facility but it’s also smack-dab in the middle of the country, so the vibe is a bit different than one that’d be on a coast or major commercial harbor. Still, it’s the best aquarium I’ve visited that’s not on the coast, and we have fun every time we go.

Here are my favorite pics, with commentary:

sea otters

This is the sea otters exhibit (you can see one swimming near the gal with the pink vest). The two 10yo girls are peeking into the secret den on the left. The otters are usually out and about, swimming and interacting with people, but when they are in the den, it’s quite cute!


interesting fish

The younger girls talking about some particularly interesting fish. In a lot of ways, this is the quintessential moment at an educational venue like the Denver Aquarium, where the kids are caught up in the exhibit and comparing notes on what they see and observe.



Peeking at a rockfish from one of the viewing bubbles, the fish gets distorted and, well, rather scary looking, as you can see from K-‘s reaction!



First time I’ve ever seen a baby seahorse. This is maybe 3-inches long and really cute.



Jellyfish. Dreamy and fascinating, and the four semi-circular elements are their reproductive organs. Yes, jellyfish reproduce, which is completely obvious if you think about it. But how? Well, that wasn’t part of the exhibit. 🙂



You can always tell the kids who haven’t seen Jaws yet when they are happy to stand extra close to the shark tank. There are some big sharks in the tank too, including a sawtooth shark that seems to be de facto proof that there probably isn’t any such thing as “selection of the fittest” because, seriously, what’s its evolutionary advantage?



Our friend gazing in fascination at one of the tidal pool areas.



All three of the girls were quite excited about the aquarium tunnel, a highlight of the Denver Aquarium. It leads to the obvious question of who’s in the fishtank? And it’s also where A- took one of her favorite photos, as featured just a bit further down…



There are non-stop photo opportunities if you have decent camera gear and a steady hand, the trick is to think about illumination before you take the shot. Since I like silhouettes, this sort of background lighting works quite well, and as you can see, my 18yo was quite enthused about the photo opps too.



The Aquarium also has two beautiful tigers in a decent sized enclosure. Still, this is one of the exhibits I don’t like so much: they’re lovely animals and I’d rather see them in the wild. Problem is, there just aren’t that many tigers left in the wild and if we want to have more experience with tigers than just photos on a Web site or computer animation in a movie, then zoos and enclosures are a necessary evil. I will say that the girls were all entranced by this particular exhibit, and it’s always quite popular with visitors.

Why an aquarium has tigers? That I don’t know. But they are popular…



One of the themed areas feels like something out of an Indiana Jones movie, with jungle rivers, vines and even an orangutan (not real!)



Love the rainbow colors of the starfish. What a marvelous range of colors!



More jellyfish, under blacklight. How cool is this?



At the end of the “aquarium” exhibits is a play area that features a huge ray touching tank (below), a palm tree climb, face painting and various other entertainments. There’s also a snack bar area and outdoor seating (weather permitting).



The girls enjoyed petting the rays and they’re so tame, they rush over hoping the kids will have food. Kind of like how my kids are when I go into the kitchen, actually. Hmm…



All of my kids have enjoyed their stint on the climbing palms, and for A-, my daughter’s friend, it was the first time she’d tried climbing something like the palm tree. She did make it to the very top, which was great!



Just like every other entertainment facility in the world, the Downtown Aquarium is laid out so that everyone has to exit through the gift shop. On the bright side, it’s adjacent to the main restaurant and the theming is terrific, as you can see in the above photo. I love the plastic seaweed and lighting in this area.

And finally, the terrific photo that A- took of the girls:

aquarium tunnel (C) 2014 by Ashley Taylor

So that’s it, our fun day at the Downtown Aquarium Denver.  It’s a great place to spend an afternoon with your children and with a bit of prep work studying undersea life, most any kid — and parent! — is going to find it highly engaging and entertaining.

Disclaimer: The Downtown Aquarium Denver gave us tickets for this visit through its PR team, which we sure appreciate!

One comment on “Fun at the Downtown Aquarium, Denver

  1. Aquariums aren’t my cup of tea, but I really enjoy visiting Denver’s Aquarium for all the reasons mentioned here. We often will buy a yearly pass and that ends up being a steal. The facility stays open longer than many other kid-friendly haunts, and that’s great flexibility for parents. And yes, the tiger is a head scratcher … but why not??

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