Location: Toronto, Ontario
Highlights: Dangerous Lagoon, Pacific Sea Nettles, Kelp Forest
Children Friendly (10): Virtually every exhibit has some sort of interactive element around it, and through that interaction you learn more about the species. Many tanks also have crawl spaces or inner viewing areas great for kids. A play area in the middle of the aquarium lets children blow off some steam part way through the day. Most tanks are also low to the ground allowing children to get great views of the animals. In terms of size it is quite reasonable – children would be able to walk the whole thing and wouldn’t be bored halfway through.
Animal Diversity (6): An amazing variety of sea life throughout the aquarium and in terms of aquatic life it does very well in showcasing a lot of variety. In terms of variety of a zoo in general obviously it is lacking in a number of areas. Also, this is not an aquarium which also showcases the mammalian aquatic species.
Animal Viewing (9): I was very impressed with how easily the majority of the animals were to see. Often times in tanks it can be hard to see the species due to an abundance of hiding spots, poor lighting, or low numbers of actual specimens. All tanks had plenty of individuals – including sharks, cuttlefish, and rays. I only had one brief viewing of the sea turtle despite going through multiple times. Obviously this is poor timing however the opportunity is there for guests to miss out.
Animals Happiness (9): Myself not being a marine biologist or aquarist, obviously I can’t judge with certainty in this field. However, the exhibits were large with plenty of room for the species to move around. Many tanks held multiple species and allowed interactions between individuals. Touch tanks did allow animals to be out of reach of guests giving them a break, however in general I don’t feel that guests are as respectful as they should be causing some stress to the animals.
Photography (8): Seeing as virtually every exhibit in the aquarium requires taking pictures through glass and water photography can be difficult. I was impressed with the ease of good shots I was able to get. I did see workers cleaning the glass periodically which helps (I feel this is going to be an issue during the busier months). Lighting was done right at the aquarium, which greatly helped with photography. Many of the tanks were curved in design which is great for viewing but does distort the picture in many cases.
Layout/Map (5): This is a tricky category. In terms of a map we were not provided with one upon entry or a list of times for their two feedings/shows. Not having a map did go along with their ‘surprise at every turn’ goal, and we did pass every exhibit without getting lost. The layout is designed to be one continuous path through the aquarium, passing the visitor by every exhibit. On one side this is great – you don’t miss anything, you don’t have to worry about which direction you’re going, not needing a map is more ecofriendly. On the other side this has some issues – some people would rather only see certain exhibits or do them in a different order, can cause traffic jams of people at the beginning or at show times at certain exhibits, restaurant is in the middle making it harder to eat either at the beginning or end of your trip.
Hours (10): Open 365 days of the year, with the same opening time every day. For the majority of the year it is a full 12 hour day (9-9) with still lengthy hours during their off season (9-6). This allows guests to come after work/school as well as during the day which is great.
Price (6): Admission prices are a little on the high side with general being $30 before tax. Child, youth, and senior discounted prices are all offered as well. In terms of memberships the prices are decent if you are just getting on for yourself or as a gift for a child, saving money after three visits. Buying a membership as a family is a little outrageous as they don’t have lumped memberships, you would need to buy for each individual (a family with 2 adults and 2 youth would be $320!).
Food (3): Extremely disappointed with the restaurant. I’m really hoping the food portion was just because we went on the third day it was open. No menu signs posted – one small one once you got up to the cash but wasn’t a complete list. Had one cooler with a small variety of sandwiches, wraps, and salads. Chips and muffins were also available. In terms of hot food the only options were pizza or chicken fingers and fries (which I wouldn’t pay for again). The fountain drinks were unavailable (which happens sometimes…I understand), so the only drink options were orange juice, apple juice, or milk. The most disappointing aspect was the lack of seating! Only 18 tables, which were spaced very close together. Many guests were sitting on the floor against walls to sit and eat their food. Very poorly planned out, I would have thought being part of the Ripley’s brand it would have been better!
Website (10): Website is colourful and informative. Shows pictures of the animals you will see and activities you can do. Offers options to buy tickets online before you go. Overall gives all the information needed in a beautiful package. I was also impressed with how well it was done even before the aquarium was open – really heightened the anticipation for the opening.
Gift Shop (10): Amazing gift shop! Has plenty of souvenirs for children with a wide variety of stuffed animals and toys. Also has great gifts and souvenirs for adults – great home décor, with most of it made in Canada locally. Great quality clothing for children and adults – t shirts, hats, sweaters, jackets, etc. I was also very impressed with the wide variety of books, not just for children but also beautiful coffee table books and educational encyclopaedias – all underwater themed.
Quiet Areas (4): Another disappointing category for me. There were very few areas to just sit and admire the tanks. There is seating in front of the one jellyfish tank as well as rainbow reef, however they are set fairly far back and unless you go on a very quiet day it wont be much of a view for you. I understand that they are limited in space due to their location however one of the great things about aquariums is their calming effect, which you can’t fully appreciate here. As well, with it’s continuously path layout, it doesn’t really allow for areas to step to the side to take a break or get out of the way.
Safety/Cleanliness (7): In terms of cleanliness for the most part it was very clean. It definitely helped that my visit was only on its third day open, however from what I saw I feel it will be well run. As long as they continue with the constant cleaning of the glass it shouldn’t become a problem – however the potential is there. Some tanks were open at the top which as a guest I don’t have a problem with but with the amount of interactive displays going on throughout the aquarium this could become a problem with guests also thinking they are allowed to interact with the species within these tanks. Lastly, the touch tanks – they are awesome for guests to get a hands on experience with the species they have been seeing however the potential for injury is always there. Also, they do not provide a way to dry hands/arms after the touch tanks which I deducted points off in the cleanliness category.
Extras (8): They do provide a number of extras at the aquarium. They do birthday parties and corporate events, behind the scenes tours, and a sleepover program that allows children to sleep in the dangerous lagoon tunnel with the sharks. Some shows are put on throughout the day as well as the touch tanks are a great bonus feature with no extra costs.
Overall (7.5): Overall I feel the aquarium did an exceptional job in many areas, and needs a little help in others. The exhibits were beautiful, with a great variety of sea life to see. The price is a little steep but I feel you will have a good time and be in awe of many of their larger tanks. A perfect spot to take the children for an afternoon and let them play and learn hands on. I do hope they have the staff for maintenance of their interactive displays as well as the numerous television screens – they provide an abundance of information and I hope they haven’t overlooked the amount of wear and tear that will come to them. I am concerned for their busy summer seasons as I feel the crowds will hinder guests enjoyment, as well as the restaurant is a huge letdown.