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“Good Place”
Review of Tennessee Aquarium

Tennessee Aquarium
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$75.59*
and up
Historic Downtown Chattanooga Segway Tour
Ranked #1 of 148 things to do in Chattanooga
Certificate of Excellence
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Attraction details
Owner description: More than 9,000 animals swim, fly and crawl through this aquarium dedicated to educating visitors about freshwater ecosystems.
Florence Al
Level Contributor
11 reviews
4 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 9 helpful votes
“Good Place”
Reviewed January 15, 2008

Went there on 1-8-2008 and it was good. A little prict but good. Took about 1 and 1/2 hours to go through but the Penguins and the butterfly room were well worth it. I was somewhat disipointed in the exhibits. Ripleys Aquarium in Gatlinburg is much better and the same price if I remember correctly. On a scale of 1-10 it was a 6.5.

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Thank MrCSwindle
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Southwest Virginia
Level Contributor
231 reviews
107 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 407 helpful votes
“Excellent - A must for Visitors”
Reviewed December 18, 2007

The Tennessee Aquarium is one of the best aquariums in the country. It has a wide variety of exhibits ranging from River Otters to Penguins. There is also a butterfly garden and a number of exhibits the river animals of America. There is ample parking on site in an attended lot. The cost for parking was $8.00 and does not include admission to the aquarium or IMAX. We chose to bypass the IMAX Theater and purchased the $19.95 Aquarium Only Ticket. While the Aquarium is excellent our visit was less than enjoyable because of a large number of rude and unruly elementary/middle school age children. I have been to a number of other attractions where a large number of children were present on a school trip but I have never so many rude and unruly children as were present during my visit. Several times myself and other visitors were physically pushed out of the way by rude children who either side nothing or “Move Please.” Myself and a few of other guests did approach a member of the aquarium staff to express our concerns. To her credit did approach a school chaperon and politely ask her to have the children be more respectful to other guest. The chaperone’s only reply was “this is a big event for the kids and they are having fun.” Nothing was ever done and the rude behavior continued. I would recommend the Tennessee Aquarium for any visitor to the Chattanooga Area. The Aquarium is worth the price of admission.

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4 Thank SneakinDeacon
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Channahon, Illinois
Level Contributor
16 reviews
3 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 30 helpful votes
“The Best in the U.S.!”
Reviewed November 27, 2007

We just came back from a fun-filled trip to Chattanooga. The aquarium is spectacular! You do not want to miss this one! I went with my husband and three children. We live in Chicago, and I always thought that the Shedd Aqaurium downtown was the best, but Chattanooga has this one beat! The architecture is fabulous! All of the exhibits are top notch! They even have a whole floor dedicated to sea horses! I never even knew that there were that many! Please make sure that you plan out a whole day for this place! You will not regret it! Extremely entertaining for every age! I wish that we went during the summer to be able to see the foun tains!

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5 Thank IllinoisChilipepper
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Boston, Massachusetts
Level Contributor
47 reviews
38 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 325 helpful votes
“Two fins up!”
Reviewed November 25, 2007

The 12-story escalator to the top of the River Journey building begins a visitor's journey. This journey is one from the mountains to the sea, one that millions of people have taken. I myself have experienced it one to possibly two score times, taking back family and friends to enjoy it with me. It is a journey that has revitalized a city, setting an example many people wish would be mimicked in their own towns. It is a journey through a world-class aquarium, which can be (some say surprisingly) found in downtown Chattanooga.

Gazing at the Tennessee River off the overlook at the top of the escalator, I often wonder if the eager tourists passing around me know just how much this attraction has changed my city. Before the early nineties, few people (neither tourists nor locals) had much reason to visit the downtown area. It was a classic example of urban withdrawal; the suburban Hamilton Place Mall at the same time was booming. A few visionaries had an idea, though, and backed by powerful private donors, their vision became a reality. The 45 million dollar Tennessee Aquarium became the trademark of the Chattanooga skyline. Over the next seven years, Chattanoogans saw 500 million dollars of growth in restaurants, hotels, and other development. Today, it is both a tourist attraction and a place for locals to visit.

Leaving the overlook, I pass through a revolving door into Cove Forest. It is a recreation of an Appalachian highland forest under glass, with songbirds flying freely in the living trees and river otters playing beneath waterfalls. In autumn the leaves turn colors and fall; in winter it can snow. This is my favorite part of the aquarium; I like to take my time to just watch and listen. It is best in the early mornings (around ten when the aquarium opens) when the birds are out and the otters are most active. The journey continues downstream through a cave into the Canyon, a huge open space in the heart of the building. Pathways meander along exhibit windows and into galleries. With one set path, one does not have to figure out where to go next, or worry about missing something important.

The path continues in southeastern waters with a frigid fifty degree sturgeon touch tank, and enters another living forest, Delta Swamp, with an alligator, water birds, snakes, and snapping turtles. The journey ends with the 75,000 gallon Gulf of Mexico tank starring barracuda, stingrays, and a three legged sea turtle named Oscar that the aquarium rehabilitated.

It would make sense for the trip to end here, but there are two more galleries and then more exhibits at the canyon bottom. With the Rivers of the World and Tennessee River galleries, the “wow factor” settles around zero, with smaller tanks and a more museum type experience. To enjoy this, one should read all the information (actually well-written) just like one would in a museum. I still enjoy it, but for the educational value, not the excitement. That is one of the best qualities of the aquarium; its genuine mission to educate the public about the environment.

As I pass through the expansive gift-shop, I feel as if the $20 entrance fee has already been pretty well compensated. In 2005, though, the 21st Century Waterfront Plan brought a new expansion to the aquarium: Ocean Journey. One should take a break for a while first to avoid sliding into “fish shock” (eyes glazed over, wondering how many more exhibits are on the checklist) which can happen if one sees one building right after the other.

A great idea is to get the “Rollin’ on the River” package, which includes an I-MAX movie, a ride on the water taxi, and a carousel ride at Coolidge Park. The water taxi starts at the Chattanooga Pier, stops at Coolidge Park on the North Shore, and then loops around McClellan Island back to the pier. Consider a stroll along the riverfront up the First Street Steps, to the Passage, across the Walnut Street Bridge, or to the Bluff View Arts District. I like to grab lunch at one of the nearby restaurants like the Blue Plate or 212 Market Street. Another idea is to visit one of several high-quality museums downtown, or visit the Chattanooga Zoo. To see what happens behind-the-scenes, take the $7 behind-the-scenes tour, which shows the inner workings in both buildings, and gives participants the opportunity to feed fish in the Gulf of Mexico exhibit.


Whether as preparation for the opening of the many times larger Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta or simply as a colorful addition to the twelve year old freshwater building, in 2005 Ocean Journey opened. Two years later, the $30 million salt-water expansion still fells new and has opened a new gallery. The traditional route is to start in River Journey then “continue the journey in the oceans,” but crowds tend to be lighter if they are seen in reverse. It is also always best to come in the morning or evening. When I get stuck in a school group on a weekday, I just wait by an exhibit for them to pass.

Again finding myself rising on an escalator, I look out through Ocean Journey’s glass facade at children wading in the winding stream below, escaping the summer heat. I don’t have such luck as I enter Tropical Cove and am greeted by huge blue Hyacinth macaws and (ironically) fresh-water stingrays. After drying my hands from touching sharks and rays (always fun, even with the droning narration), I enter Butterfly Garden. Take out your camera for the hundreds of butterflies alighting on lush Costa Rican vegetation. Pheasants patrol the ground for butterflies whose flying is done while people remark at the stunning chrysalises and thumb-sized cocoons in the release window.

The core of Ocean Journey, like that of River Journey, is unique. It is assembled like a shell, with the 600,000 gallon Secret Reef in the center and room for six galleries to branch off from it, so the building can expand over time. Two galleries have already been installed, Boneless Beauties and the brand new Penguins’ Rock. Some complain that the six viewing windows and tunnel at Secret Reef are overkill, and they will be until broken up by the new expansions.

Stepping off yet another escalator, I enter a cooler-themed area. Much has been made of the nineteen new Chattanooga residents, but the gentoo and macaroni penguins have not disappointed. When I finally break myself away from their jumping and diving, I round a corner to meet Secret Reef (eight times larger than the Gulf of Mexico tank). It is a recreation of the Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary, a deep water coral reef a few hundred miles off the coast of Louisiana. I love how fish in a habitat this large show different behaviors; like how they mill about individually one day and congregate in swirling schools the next. There is always an odd stillness as one of the ten foot sand tiger sharks glides past, though. Bathed in the color-changing ambiance of the four moon jelly columns in the center, Boneless Beauties seems more like an art gallery than anything else. Everything moves in slow motion; the austere octopus, the swirling sea nettles, the knobby giant crabs. Leaving the Undersea Tunnel and entering bright day light again, the journey comes to a close.

Many people, myself included, feared that with the opening of the Georgia Aquarium (by far the largest in the world) in nearby Atlanta, the Tennessee Aquarium would be blown out of the water. While there was a small 10% decrease in attendance in 2006, it was easily regained after the opening of Penguins’ Rock. For some reason or another, people apparently feel that my small town’s tourist attraction has something special to offer. Between the low crowds, good value, educational approach, and the not-for-profit programs it runs, I think I understand why.

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13 Thank 7_14_142014
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Marietta, Ga
Level Contributor
3 reviews
3 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 15 helpful votes
“Excellent Aquarium Experience”
Reviewed November 14, 2007

This is a very well designed aquarium with well thought out exhibits. It is housed in two beautiful buildings - the original River Journey's exhibit that focuses on freshwater fish and the new Ocean Journey that focuses on saltwater exhibits.

I spent about 1 1/2 hours with my 4 yr old son who is wild about fish. He probably prefers the Georgia Aquarium but likes this one as well.

We first went into the smaller Ocean Journey building. In both buildings you take an escalator to the top and then do what my wife calls the aquarium death spiral down. At the top of the Ocean Journey is a simulated tropical forest with macaws and touch tanks with rays and sharks. It also houses a small butterfly house. You then descend down a level to where the real aquarium exhibits start. There is an exhibit hall with various saltwater creatures - spider crabs, jellyfish, nautilus and then you start going around the large saltwater tank. They do a dive show in the big tank. THere is also a cavern that goes underneath. As is typical the end of the tour drops you in the gift shop.

We then went to the Creative Discovery Museum (see separate review) and came back later to do the River Journey. In River Journey you actually go down first to see the Seahorses. You then go to the top with replicated a high woodland forest with otters, snakes and trout and start following the minimalist design corridors down. Many species of freshwater fish are on display (note that freshwater fish are not as colorful). You pass through a number of interior halls that have exhibits on various lakes and rivers from around the world. There is also a turtle exhibit.

All in all this is an enjoyable and well laid out aquarium.

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5 Thank RamblinRedMarietta
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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