The Good: Well-organized, Affordable, Fun
The Bad: Small compared to most aquariums
The Basics: Generally enjoyable and educational, the Aquarium Of Niagara is a small, clean aquarium offering something more to do in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
As part of my recent honeymoon, my new wife and I went to Niagara Falls. We were married within sight of the natural wonder of the world (gawked at by international visitors whose visit we either spoiled or enhanced) and after a brief ceremony, a great meal and a couple days of gambling, we awoke on Easter morning and decided we wanted to do something a little more consistently enjoyable than the gambling. So, we headed for one of the few things we knew would be open on Easter: the Aquarium Of Niagara.
Getting married, I learned something pretty exciting about my partner; she had never been to an aquarium before! So, it is admittedly with some sense of nostalgia for the time we spent together there that I am most likely rating what would otherwise be an "average" aquarium "above average." In other words, this is a great aquarium to go to if you're already in Niagara Falls, NY, but not one that is a sufficient enough draw to those thinking of going to Niagara Falls.
The Aquarium Of Niagara is located just outside of downtown Niagara Falls, meaning just off the main strip of tourist attractions related to the Falls on the United States side of the border. The Aquarium Of Niagara is a squat blue building located at 701 Whirlpool Street, Niagara Falls, NY (14301, for those wanting to get precise directions). The Aquarium is easy enough to find when one uses directions from MapQuest or even signs around Niagara Falls. In fact, it was driving to the Rainbow Bridge section of Niagara Falls that we saw the Aquarium Of Niagara from a main road that we made our decision to go there (or, in my case, return, as I had visited it when I was ten). This is a very easy building to find, despite the fact that it is located about two miles away from the main hustle and bustle of Niagara Falls.
Ease Of Local Transport/Parking
Niagara Falls, at least in the section that the Aquarium Of Niagara is located in, is very easy to get around. Whirlpool Street is a sidestreet off two well-trafficked streets and it is easy to get on and off. As for parking, there is a parking lot at the Aquarium Of Niagara which can easily accommodate two hundred cars. Parking is free at the Aquarium and the parking lot is monitored by video surveillance and local police (anyone thinking of setting free the seals ought to think again, as police were camped out in cars just off the parking lot at least twice while we were in Niagara Falls. That the Aquarium has free parking and plenty of it makes for a decent value on that front.
The purpose of an aquarium is education, enlightenment and the simple enjoyment of experiencing undersea life without having to go undersea. There is cheap entertainment value in watching undersea life as well as the obvious entertainment of things like the sea lion show that is presented in a central amphitheater with a huge tank as the "floor." Admission to the Aquarium is $9.00 for adults and less for children and that grants the visitor access for the entire day to the two-story Aquarium Of Niagara. My new wife and I took a little over three hours to get through the entire establishment and I suspect most visitors who have been to other aquariums will take significantly less time.
The Aquarium Of Niagara is essentially one big cylinder organized around a giant tank of water in the center. The central tank is at eye level when on the ground floor and it makes up the "floor" of the amphitheater that is the second floor. At various times throughout the day, the sea lions are brought in to perform in the tank and on its adjacent stage with workers from the Aquarium Of Niagara. These events change daily and may be found on the Aquarium's website, so those looking for specific events ought to plan ahead accordingly.
When arriving at the grounds for the Aquarium Of Niagara, one parks and walks to the front doors. En route to the entrance, one passes an outside environment featuring seals. There were four seals when we arrived (the same number when we left, so that's a good sign, I suppose!) and they swim, frolic and play among the rocks in their cool environment, which is basically a pit with a pool in it. The seal tank has plaques which inform visitors about each of the seals, their breeds, names and personalities. This begins the educational aspect right away and seeing these intriguing mammals right off the bat sets a tone of excitement for visitors.
Upon entering and paying, one begins a journey around the many tanks inside the Aquarium which are filled with various fish and other sea life. The Aquarium Of Niagara boasts an impressive collection of oddities, including at least five breeds of shark, one large, solitary octopus, and hundreds of types of corals and anemones. Mixed in with the living aquarium tanks are displays which show off ancient shark jaws and equipment used to collect the many forms of sea life on display in the Aquarium Of Niagara.
In addition to the impressive array of salt water tanks which display creatures like urchins, clown fish, puffer fish and lionfish, there are several tanks of fresh water fish. The fresh water tanks recreate local environments where pollution has now disturbed the natural order or distant fresh water environments filled with the likes of piranha! As well, there are simple tanks that include immense fish that the Aquarium has saved from loss or extinction by having the means to take care of them. The Aquarium Of Niagara boasts one mammoth fish that is only present in eight aquariums worldwide and saving it was a pretty big deal (the placards in front of that tank document the experience and significance of it quite well).
There is also a single penguin environment as well as a tank that has sea turtles. My new bride spent over half an hour camped out at one of the shark tanks, which mostly featured tiger and nurse sharks. The tank was large enough that we would see sharks at the back of the tank and then still be surprised when they finally came around to make a pass in front of us! Equally impressive was the small cave with the lone octopus and watching it move against the water blower was fascinating.
As one finishes the bottom floor, they progress to the upper level, which is basically a stadium seating theater where one may look down on the central aquarium tank for shows. While we were there, the sea lions were being trained and they played and entertained. This is simply fun more than informative or educational in any way. Still, it is impressive how smart these animals are and the show and subsequent training we had the opportunity to watch left us feeling like we got our money's worth.
On the upper floor of the amphitheater are a few tanks and a lot of trivia about the denizens of the Aquarium. There was a tank of sea horses and the rest of the upstairs was dominated by small fish and boards of trivia games. There was also access to a deck so one could birdwatch, I suppose.
All in all, the Aquarium Of Niagara has a few good hours of entertainment and education value to it that many people of all ages are likely to find valuable and insightful.
There is a freezer of ice cream products in the Aquarium Of Niagara, but otherwise the only food we saw while there were the fish being fed to the sea lions.
There is a gift shop filled with surprisingly little outside Aquarium Of Niagara swag. My wife was surprised they had no shells or shark teeth for sale and there were pretty generic things like colorful polished rocks being sold by the bag. There were the usual touristy snowglobes and magnets advertising the place. There was little of educational value - i.e. books - in the gift shop and as a result, it was generally easy to escape without buying anything.
That said, my wife has a love of stuffed animals and we ended up bringing home a very cute stuffed sea horse. Things like the stuffed animal were surprisingly reasonable in terms of price and I did not leave feeling like the point of the place was the merchandising.
The Aquarium Of Niagara is a lot of fun, but with less than a hundred tanks, it is hard to plan a trip around this one. Still, it has value and for those looking for a good "starter" aquarium, this is a great way to inexpensively gauge a family's interest in aquariums without anything too intimidating.
For other cool places to visit, please check out my reviews of:
Chittenango Falls State Park
Isle Of Capri Casino
For other travel reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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