Standing in the new Vancouver Aquarium entryway, just past the admission desks, I spy a critical new addition: a dedicated coffee bar attached to a new cafe. How did they know I needed caffeine upon entry to get prepared for an afternoon of shepherding my five-year-old around the tanks?
Upside Down World
he new cafe opens out onto a large outdoor courtyard linking the entry gates and the main aquarium. In the summer, the courtyard houses rotating displays about aquarium activities such as the Oceanwise program and the Great Shoreline Cleanup, as well as giving small people an open space to let off steam.
The first thing that catches the eye upon entering the new Teck Connections gallery at Vancouver Aquarium is the giant glowing globe hanging upside down. This places the Arctic front and centre, with a removable glass surface that will reflect the current level of the ice pack up north.
Vancouver Aquarium Bat Cave
There are new tanks with local aquatic life around the edges of the gallery, including local decorator crabs (any Octonauts fans take note) and the incredible jellyfish. Down the large spiral staircase under the globe is another big open space that will be used for education talks and screenings, as well as functioning as a great place to take toddlers who need some space to swing their arms.
The Tropics galleries have been given a facelift too, with some new beautiful tanks incorporating above and below the water views, and a super cool new bat cave. Infrared cameras show the bats in action, though even in the low light, if you get close you can see them fluttering about.
New Clownfish Cove
One of the biggest changes for families visiting the Vancouver Aquarium is the new Clownfish Cove area. This new space is much bigger, and fenced off by decorative half-walls and a gate. My son was completely in love with the Animal Health Centre, where he consulted a laminated instruction card on how to care for his ‘rescued’ stuffed seal, sea otter, or dolphin. He weighed and measured his rescued animal, listened to its heartbeat with a stethoscope, x-rayed it, fed it, and then let it rest. The number of stuffed animals is finite, so if it’s really busy, your child may have to wait awhile.
There’s a great little section that imitates the underside of a pier, with fish tanks in the shape of tunnels that children can walk through. Real fish, sea urchins, starfish and more float around in those tanks too, it’s pretty neat. In the back corner, there is a pile of pillows that look like stones for children to curl up on and hang out. The touch and feel tanks are there too, with giant starfish and sea cucumbers oozing around inside, ready for Aquarium staff to pop open. Two good-sized washrooms are located right inside the Clownfish Cove too.
Birthday Parties and Sleepovers
For a truly amazing birthday party, the Vancovuer Aquarium will organize a special tour, birthday room and the birthday child even gets to take part in a special animal feeding session. These parties are definitely on the pricier end of the scale, but it looks like an amazing time. If you’d rather not host your child’s entire friend group, there’s also the sleepovers. I went to one of these when I was young, and it was incredible. Visit the Tropics gallery at night, sleep in the beluga underwater viewing area, and have breakfast before exploring a quiet aquarium in the morning. All participants should be six or older, and a parent needs to accompany any visitors under 16.
This is the biggest expansion in the history of the Vancouver Aquarium, and it shows. It’s definitely worth going to check it out.
Erin McGann is the former Managing Editor for Vancouver Mom and Toronto Mom Now. She drinks just a bit too much coffee, is a bit obsessed about sourcing local food, plays the cello moderately well, spends too much time on Twitter, keeps honeybees on a rooftop, and has a thing for single-malt whisky. Erin is working on a novel set in turn-of-the-century Vancouver, which her husband, son and dog have to hear about all the time, and also blogs at Erin at Large.