Author: Lauren Goldenberg
Tags : California, Museums & Culture, North America, USA
Interactive aquarium programming for children makes the Monterey Bay Aquarium a cut above the rest.
A trip to California's Monterey Bay Aquarium (886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940; 831/648-4800) turned out to be an unexpected adventure for our 9-year-old daughter, Anna. On arrival, we discovered that the aquarium offered more than just tanks and fish. The Aquarium Adventures programs provide marine lovers young and old with an array of unique experiences (at an additional cost).
The options include Sailing Adventures: Day Sails (ages 10+), which invites guests to ride along on the Derek M. Baylis, a 65-foot ocean research sailboat. Help the marine naturalists gather plankton and test water samples, and stay on the lookout for whales, dolphins, and sea otters. Morning Rounds (ages 8+) is another great adventure, where you can help the staff prepare food and feed animals. Learn the history of this interesting town on a 1.5 mile Cannery Row Walking Tour. This tour provides the historical background of the town, ending with a stop at the Maritime and History Museum of Monterey, near Fisherman's Wharf.
But what caught Anna's interest was the Underwater Explorers for ages 8-13. Since our trip was in celebration of her upcoming birthday, we couldn't resist. The price was $59/child for members while non-members pay $79/child.
Underwater Explorers gives children the opportunity to surface scuba dive and interact with the sea life in the aquarium's Great Tide Pool. From start to finish, we found the program to be safe, well organized and professionally run. Children and parents are first shown an introductory slide presentation as a preview to what the children will see and do. Then the children are broken into small groups of no more than 12, with 4 instructors.
They are led outside to get more details about the dive and get fitted for their diving equipment (dry suits, masks and regulators). In full gear and with a tank affixed to their back, they make their way into the aquarium's tidal pool and are taught how to flip over from one side to the other. This way they will be able to enjoy both the underwater life as well as listen to their dive instructor's descriptions and stories.
Once everyone is comfortable with their equipment and surroundings, the groups take turns exploring various parts of the pool. Their guides dive down and bring up lots of different creatures to explore. Anna's group came face to face with crabs, algae, sea stars and even a monkey-faced eel. The groups spent over an hour in the water. At the end of the dive, the children were given a logbook to write about what they experienced as well as the details of their day, much like a certified diver would complete after a dive.
Overall, Anna truly enjoyed the marine interaction. "The water was freezing, but it was still really cool," Anna described after her adventure. "To get up close and personal with the marine life was really fun." The program is available four times daily from June-September.
For families with younger children, the Behind the Scenes Tour offers an exclusive look at the beautiful exhibits, interaction with the staff, dive shows, and feedings. This 50-minute tour is open to ages 6+.
Our overall experience at the aquarium was extremely positive. The aquarium has an abundance of exhibits, tanks and hands-on activities as well as special programming to make your day both educational and fun.
To save time in line on busy travel weeks, tickets can be purchased at the Monterey Bay Aquarium online in advance, or families may opt for a yearly membership that provides unlimited free admission for a year, express entry, special evening hours, bookstore discounts and more. Membership rates range from $90-$250.