What do you do when you’ve got a weekend in Chicago? If you love aquariums like I do, definitely visit the Shedd Aquarium!
It was really the one thing I wanted to see, although it turns out that Chicago is quite a pretty city. It probably helps that I happened to visit on a summer weekend when the weather was amazing (I’ve heard some horror stories about winter in the Midwest). It almost seemed a shame to spend the day indoors, but I’ve had Shedd near the top of my “aquariums to visit” list for a while.
We arrived around 10:00 and the lines were long. It was a 45-minute wait to the door, and another 10 or 15 from there to actually get inside.
Skip the lines, save some money
1. Buy your tickets online before getting there! You’ll want to get this a few days in advance; I tried checking the night before we went and passes were sold out. Getting the Total Experience online will save you $5 versus buying it at the door.
The Chicago CityPass is $96 for adults, $79 for kids. It gets you VIP entry to Shedd Aquarium (similar to Shedd’s Total Experience pass, valued at $39.95), as well as Skydeck Chicago (Fast pass version, $45), and the Field Museum (all-access pass, $31). You also get a choice of either the Museum of Science and Industry ($27) or 360 Chicago ($19), and either the Adler Planetarium (all access, $34.95) or the Art Institute of Chicago ($29). Just the first three will pay for the pass, and if you get the most expensive choices, you could save up to $82. Not a bad deal.
The Go Chicago card has several types.
The All-Inclusive Pass is an “all-you-can-do” pass that you use for a certain amount of time: 1 day ($85 for adults, $60 for kids), 2 days ($120/$84), 3 days ($149/$99), or 5 days ($175/$119). Basically you buy the card you want, then use it as entrance for as many of the 26 attractions on their list as you have time for. If you’re on the go during your vacation and want to see a bunch of things, this is probably smart since you don’t have to buy entrance to every single attraction (just show the QR code at the entrance) and you also get to skip lines at most if not all attractions. You’ll have to mix and match to get the best dollar value, though.
The second type is called an Explorer Pass. This one is a little simpler: pay $72 and pick 3 attractions, or pay $110 and visit 5. If you don’t have a lot of time, or if you are overwhelmed by all the choices from the all-inclusive pass, this is the card for you. As above, you’ll have to pick the attractions that get you the best deal, if you care about that.
We bought the 3-attraction Explorer Pass right when we got in the line and realized how long it would take to get inside. Then we skipped up to the front, showed our QR code, and paid an extra $5 to visit the Stingray Touch, which was not included in the pass.
Shedd Aquarium is quite large. As can be seen from this map, the exhibits are laid out like a wheel, with a central area (the Caribbean Reef) and exhibits radiating outward. The big draws here are the beluga and dolphins, as well as the massive Wild Reef tank that houses many sharks and other deep-dwelling ocean animals. They also have sea otter and penguins. Then there’s the small section on Great Lakes, which I found particularly interesting since it talked about the local area.
I also liked their exhibit on saving the coral reefs of the Philippines. Here’s something to note: many aquariums have a Philippine reef display. This is because of the vast variety and beauty of the fauna in those seas. Yes, I’m from there and possibly a little biased, but I think that the best thing about aquariums and zoos are their contributions to conservation efforts, and any awareness that is raised toward saving natural resources can only be a good thing.
There are two café should you need to rest your feet (and there are not many places to do so). Soundings Cafe opens out to a terrace, from which you can enjoy a wonderful view of Chicago and Lake Michigan. Bubble Net Food Court is great for grabbing a mac & cheese to go and then sitting by the Polar Play Zone to watch the dolphins swim about.
Georgia Aquarium is still my favorite, but Shedd was very impressive and I definitely enjoyed my day there. If you like aquariums and you’re in Chicago, you can’t miss it.