If you haven’t been to the Greater Cleveland Aquarium in a while, it is definitely time for you to visit again. The aquarium celebrated its fourth birthday last month, and they definitely have a lot to celebrate. Jacobs Entertainment took over the aquarium in 2014. Under their ownership, the Greater Cleveland Aquarium has definitely undergone some fabulous transformations.
Yes, at approximately 70,000 square feet, it is still on the smaller side. No, it is still not the Shedd or even the Newport Aquarium; but the Greater Cleveland Aquarium definitely is using the beautiful space to its full potential. Housed in the FirstEnergy Powerhouse, it offers an experience that is uniquely Cleveland by blending the architecture of the former power station with a state-of-the-art aquarium.
The first gallery at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium is appropriately Ohio Lakes and Rivers. If you have visited the aquarium before, you will immediately notice this area has undergone some fabulous upgrades not only in decor but also in the quality and number of exhibits. You truly feel as if you are deep in the forest surrounded by Ohio’s beautiful water animals. Newts and salamanders have joined the fish. They have also expanded the turtle exhibit. Did you know the box turtle is a turtle that lives on land but is not a tortoise? You will have to visit the aquarium and find out why.
One of the staff spend a significant about of time explaining the differences between turtles and tortoises to us. I was completely blown away by all the staff on this visit. They were all extremely friendly and not only approached us teach us about the animals on exhibit and asked if we had any questions, but they waited patiently as my youngest daughter slowly formulated and quietly asked questions. The staff truly made this visit special and very educational! In addition to the informative staff, the aquarium has added simple interactive educational activities such as this trivia block game. My 5-year-old loved trying to answer questions about what fish do in Ohio during the winter.
The next gallery is Lakes and RIvers of the World. This is where Toby, our favorite Giant Gourami lives. One of the fabulous things about this aquarium is that the majority of the exhibits are at a level that are easily viewed by little ones. Other than a few smaller exhibits (mostly in the Ohio gallery), little ones don’t need lifted in order to fully experience the beauty of the galleries. The Lakes and Rivers of the World gallery also is home to numerous other fish including archerfish. Unfortunately, we had to leave before the archerfish feeding, but I would love to experience it on a return trip.The biggest exhibit in this gallery is the interactive African Tortoise exhibit. This exhibit houses many large African Tortoises from Noah’s Lost Ark animal sanctuary in Berlin Center, Ohio. All the tortoises were rescued or donated to Noah’s Lost Ark because they were abused, neglected, or unwanted pets. You are encouraged interact with the tortoises by touching their shells. Next you enter the Discovery Zone which is divided into 2 distinct sections. The first is devoted to educating visitors about the effects pollution on our water and beaches. In the second section, you can learn about the life cycle of moon jellyfish and observe jellyfish in many of their stages of development. One of the most unusual ways the original architecture of the Powerhouse is incorporated into the aquarium is when you look up to see moon jellyfish swimming in one of the original smokestacks.
The Indo-Pacific Gallery is next. This is one of the smaller galleries with 3 large cylinder exhibits. The lion fish are truly beautiful. If you are lucky, you will see one of the snowflake moray eels swim out from the rocks. Don’t worry if they don’t decide to take a swim. The snowflake eels are clearly visible lying in the rocks. At the end of this exhibit, don’t forget to pick up the large conch shells to “listen to the ocean.”The Northern Pacific Gallery is another smaller gallery with exhibits incorporated into arches in the Powerhouse walls. At the end of the Northern Pacific Gallery is the Giant Pacific Octopus. When we first walked under the arched octopus exhibit, the octopus was asleep in the corner. However, this exhibit is build so that even when the octopus is asleep, he is still visible. We decided to walk back to the octopus after the touch pool and he was awake and actively swimming. My 5-year-old had a blast pretending she had an octopus hat while following him around the exhibit.
In contrast to the previous two galleries, the Coastal Gallery is huge! The highlight of the Coastal Gallery is the large Stingray Touch Pool in the center. Visitor learn the “two-finger technique” to interact with the 3 different types of stingrays in the pool. There are numerous stools around the perimeter of the touch pool so smaller children can easily interact as well. Visitors can also purchase tickets to feed the stingrays daily at 3pm.The Coastal Gallery also has 2 large tanks of beautiful fish and coral as well as several smaller tanks with unique fish including upside-down jellyfish and, one of my personal favorites, seahorses. They have added a Coast Playhouse and stocked it with lots of sea life puppets to the gallery. There is also a second smaller touch pool where you can interact with smaller sea creatures such as sea anemone and starfish. Restrooms are also located in this area.
After another small gallery, the tropical reef, which consists of 3 exhibits. You enter the 230,000 gallon Shark Sea Tube. The Sea Tube houses 4 different species of sharks along with numerous other sea creatures including eels. You can often watch SCUBA divers cleaning the sea tube. My daughter loved that some of the fish in the tube were eating lettuce. This area has also undergone some fabulous renovations with new interactive educational areas.
The biggest negative to the Greater Cleveland Aquarium, in my opinion, is that you must exit through the gift shop. This always puts a negative spin on a wonderful visit.
On our visit the 2nd Floor Exploration Station was closed due to an event that evening. However, it is home to the electric eel which is really a cool and unique-looking animal, and some hands-on activities.The Greater Cleveland Aquarium is open daily from 10am – 5pm, with the last ticket sold at 4pm. Our visit took just over 2 hours, so I would recommend arriving by at least 3 pm in order to appreciate the aquarium with feeling rushed.