The Shedd Aquarium – Chicago – Travel Guide
Overview: Probably our most favorite place in all of Chicago is the Shedd Aquarium. You can technically get in to the aquarium for about $8 but are limited to the most basic areas and would miss out on everything that makes this place special. The Aquarium is EXTREMELY popular and one of the most visited attractions in Chicago, at least by our observations. The line to get in can stretch all the way to the Field Museum at peak visiting times and even when it’s slow there is still a line. Expect 20 minutes to an hour wait just to get in the door (unless it’s the off season). You can avoid this by purchasing an express pass (HIGHLY expensive) or getting yourself a CityPass The CityPass costs about $100 but includes VIP admission to 5 of Chicago’s best attractions (skip the line access, discounts, and shows included). We prefer the CityPass because it covers everything we want to visit while in Chicago and saves us both time and money.
The Main Entrance Aquariums: Split into 3 wings off of a giant central aquarium, each section has a theme and showcases different species of fish and their habitats in different tanks. The three themed areas are: the Caribbean Reef, Waters of the World, and Amazon Rising. This is the only area the general admission ticket has access to and you will typically find these areas quite crowded and difficult to view at times due to it’s cheap price. There is one “hands-on” exhibit where you can touch some fish in a large tank display, souvenir photos, and naturally a gift shop.
The Abbott Oceanarium: With your upgraded ticket (anything above general) you get access to the Abbott Oceanarium. This is where they keep the dolphins, beluga whales, penguins, seals, and otters. You can view the animals from both above and below the water… and even grab a bite to eat while watching the dolphins swim. There’s an aquatic themed play area for the kids here and even a place where you can dress your child as a penguin and take their photo in the mock-penguin exhibit. Often you will see the trainers interacting with the animals here even when there is not a show going on.
The Aquatic Show: This show is an upcharge for every ticket level except the “total experience pass” (even with CityPass there is a $2 charge). All we can say is that it is totally worth it! The dolphins and beluga whales come out to play with their trainers and show off their stuff a little. It runs about a half hour and actual content varies by the animals willingness to cooperate lol.
Special Exhibits: There are a few special exhibits such as the “Jellies”, “4D experience” and the “stingray touch” that are included with select ticket levels or with an upcharge. The CityPass, however, gets you into all of them and almost pays for itself on this stop alone.
The Visit: This was our first stop in Chicago. We jumped ahead of a pretty long line at the door thanks to the CityPass and got in with little time wasted. The top level was considerably less crowded than the last time we had been here so we were able to see more of the tanks with an unobstructed view. There were a few school field trips going on at the time so kids were running around acting crazy all over the place so we saw what we wanted to see then headed to the Oceanarium away from all the little kiddies.
We saw the Jellies, and watched the dolphins swim for a little. Shopped in the gift shop and ate lunch at one of the 3 places to eat there (you also get 10% off with the CityPass). We decided against seeing a 4D show this visit because we had a lot to do in one day and didn’t want to burn up our time watching a movie. We also completely missed out on the stingray experience as it is outside and we apparently didn’t see the signs for it. Before too long it was time to find a seat for the Aquatic Show…
The Aquatic Show is by far the best attraction in the whole place. We gladly paid the $2 as it is worth it for sure! The show wasn’t quite as spectacular as our last visit… they explained that there were “sibling tensions” between some of the animals and thus they weren’t being as cooperative. It’s essentially the same show every time and our narrator sounded as if she had went over the script one too many times and was about to lose her mind lol. Either way we left the show happy and satisfied with our visit to Shedd. We quickly made our exit as we had plenty more sights to see out in Chicago-land before the day was up.
If you are planning a visit to Chicago:
Be sure to check out the CityPass by clicking the affiliate banner below to view all that you get with the Chicago Pass! This was our second time using it and wouldn’t visit Chicago without one.
Or if you prefer, Check out the GoChicago Card from Smart Destinations. We have used them before in Miami which was awesome but not in Chicago -also an affiliate link:
I would be very interested in trying out the Go Chicago card one of these days. They have a lot more options to choose from but there are also some restrictions (not valid after 5pm for one)… it would take a bit of planning in order to get the most out of this card so we’ve been avoiding it for the time being. One things for sure though… we will not be traveling to Chicago without using one of these 2 options.