Bringing aquatic creatures from the extremes of the earth to a colorful and child-friendly environment is the goal of Shedd Aquarium’s newly remodeled Oceanarium, opening May 22. At the new Polar Play Zone, kids can don a penguin suit and slide over a simulated penguin habitat while viewing real birds just a few feet away. In Deep Ocean, they can watch Pacific white-sided dolphins swim past them and the Shallow Ocean lets kids splash in a tide pool and touch shallow-water animals.
The Polar Play Zone provides an interactive experience for kids while keeping their parents comfortable. “We’re really excited about our first permanent kids’ exhibit,” says spokesperson Melissa Kruth. “It’s something we tried to create for one of our biggest audiences: families.”
Making the new exhibits even more family friendly are additional changing stations, seating areas and food service booths. In the Polar Play Zone, parents can enjoy a meal at one of the snack bars while they watch their kids play in the exhibits or touch creatures while supervised by a professional. Many barriers that kept kids from the animals have been removed, without sacrificing safety for either child or critter.
Other renovations are focused on function, as Shedd works to accommodate more than two million visitors per year. Exhibit designer Brian Schuetze says exhibits have been specifically designed to work for children with special needs as well as a high volume of guests.
The crown jewel of the renovations may be the new Marine Mammal Amphitheater. Seating around the giant pool has been improved for better sightlines. A curtain now falls over the panoramic window, darkening the theater for illumination by spotlights and serving as a backdrop with projected images. Shows-which will begin at a yet-unspecified date later in the summer-will feature the dolphins, belugas, sea lions, penguins and even some birds of prey.
Also new this year-up-close meetings with beluga whales in the Grainger Beluga Encounter Habitat. In a special private program, guests can meet, pet and try their hand at helping to train the magnificent whales.
The Oceanarium at Shedd Aquarium
The Oceanarium re-opens May 22. Some programs will not be available immediately. From June 14-19, admission to the Aquarium is free, with a discount on the Oceanarium and on other special programs.