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Shedd Aquarium: Chicago’s top museum attraction is the ideal family destination

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Shedd Aquarium attracts more visitors each year than any of its surrounding sister museums – all world-class institutions in their own right - and we can tell you why.

Planning a multi-generational family outing that interests each participant in equal measure can be daunting. What captivates a two-year old may not thrill her great-aunt, and vice versa. The result is members of your party ending up bored, tired, hungry, crying or in constant search of restroom at all different times during the outing. Not so at the Shedd.

Whether you’re observing the divers in the Carribean Reef tank - which might be considered the aquarium’s signature exhibit – the dolphins and Beluga whales in the Oceanarium, the many fresh-water galleries, the penguin habitat or simply the vintage splendor of a historic Chicago monument - young or old, nature-lover or tech junkie – you’ll find something to fascinate at the Shedd Aquarium.

Popular year-round and worth a visit in any season, the aquarium strikes us as an especially good choice for the winter months, when the indoor humidity and wide-open natural settings offer a hint of that “great outdoors” feeling we’ve been missing. We’re particularly fond of the Oceanarium’s glorious lakefront vista - its towering floor - to- ceiling windows perched on the edge of the lake itself, an infinity pool creating the illusion that its waters empty directly into Michigan’s great blue beyond.

A nonprofit institution dedicated to public education and conservation, the Shedd was once the world’s largest indoor aquarium, and remains on the top tier to this day. Listed on the National Historic Register, the facility has practically doubled in size since its 1930 opening and is now home to more than 32,600 aquatic animals representing some 1,500 species of fishes, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, birds and mammals from waters around the world.

Shedd Aquarium is committed to a number of projects designed to preserve threatened or endangered aquatic species, in keeping with its mission to enhance public understanding and appreciation of the aquatic world. It also advocates for the aquatic environment surrounding our home town through its “Keep the Lakes Great” program which is dedicated to protecting the Great Lakes by conducting science and research through collaborative efforts with other Great Lakes organizations.

Now that the Shedd is the city’s number one museum attraction – a distinction it has held for the last several years – a certain amount of advance planning can help you make the most of your visit.

Here are some tips for family fun:

  • Best time to visit: Arrive before opening– if there’s a line at all, it will likely be pretty short – and then you’ll be on hand for the day’s first aquatic show or dive time.
  • Parking: Pull all the way up to the building to unload before you park. A ground floor, side door entrance for strollers and wheelchairs admits you to the building’s lower level where you can ride up to the first floor, sparing the little ones and old folks a grand yet challenging climb up the stairs to the main entrance. The concept of “accessibility” wasn’t on the public radar in 1930.

    Then pull into one of the open lots adjacent to the Field, which is much closer than the enclosed Soldier Field garage all the signs will direct you to – that’s a bit of a hike with the wind whipping off the lake.

  • Passes: Order online in advance – passes range from the $8 general admission on up to an $84 Citypass, a good deal for tourists doing the museum circuit. We were perfectly satisfied with the exhibits we could access with our general admission pass in the 2 ½ hours we had to devote prior to naptime.
  • Research your options: Visit Shedd Aquarium online.
  • Keep the Great Lakes great. The Great Lakes comprise the largest surface freshwater system on the Earth, containing 84% of North America’s surface freshwater and 21% of the planet’s – all right at our front door. Ever hear an out-of-towner exclaim “That’s a LAKE?” when catching their first glimpse of our shoreline? “Why yes,” we say, “though this isn’t the big one.” Love them and protect them.

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