Recently, my family had the opportunity to do a private Seattle Aquarium behind the scenes tour. Let me tell you: It was fantastic and my kids are begging to go back!
May contain affiliate links.The Seattle Waterfront is one of my favorite places to spend time with my family!
We love riding on the Seattle Great Wheel and experiencing the Wings Over Washington.
And Miner’s Landing has yummy restaurants and a vintage carousel and carnival game area.
But, one of the centerpieces of the Seattle Waterfront is the Seattle Aquarium.
My husband and I had our second date here and we even did our engagement photos at the aquarium!
So, partnering with the Seattle Aquarium was a perfect match!
Seattle Aquarium Behind the Scenes Tour
We had the pleasure of meeting up with Margaret, a Marine Science Interpreter who led us on a one-hour Seattle Aquarium tour.
WINDOW ON WASHINGTON WATERS
Have you ever wondered how the divers get into the big 120,000-gallon Window on Washington Waters tank near the Seattle Aquarium entrance?
It’s probably the most iconic spot at the aquarium and kids are immediately drawn in by the 20×40 feet floor to ceiling tank.
And it’s no surprise, especially since the tank is angled to make you feel like you are actually inside!
The kids had lots of questions about what was inside the tank, so I’m glad Margaret was able to point out the rockfish, sea stars, sea anemones and more!
As soon as we got there, Duncan (one of the divers) swam right up to the kids and waved!
That led to more questions about where he came from and if there was an “upstairs” where the divers jump into the tank. Even my 2 year old was asking Margaret if he could go upstairs.
Turns out, that was the next stop on our tour!
MEETING A DIVER!
We took the elevator upstairs to the second floor and met Nicole, a Seattle Aquarium diver.
She was in the work space at the top of the Window on Washington Waters tank, where they keeps all the diving equipment.
Nicole showed us a lot of what she uses when she’s in the water and what it’s like to be in the tank.
The kids were definitely curious about her mask. See, Nicole and the rest of the divers use special masks so they can talk to each other as well as interpreters outside the exhibit.
That’s how they are able to answer questions from the audience!
Nicole even let them push the button on her mask!
She also showed them her fins, the oxygen tank she wears like a backpack, her watch and other gadgets.
One of the most important things she uses is her dry suit! It can get really cold in the water (it was 41 degrees when we were there!) so the dry suit keeps her warm.
Having never seen a diver outside of the water, the kids thought this was pretty cool!
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ACTUAL SEA FOOD
After saying goodbye to Nicole, our guide Margaret walked us to the other side of the room where there were big refrigerators.
That’s where they keep the food. Not, not their lunches. It’s food for the fish and sea life!
There were containers of lettuce, seaweed, fish, and other items sea creatures love to eat.
The coolest part was seeing the tub of krill. Apparently Blue Whales (the largest animal on Earth) can eat up to 40 million krill each day!
Then Margaret asked the kids what color Salmon are inside. When they said “pink,” she explained it’s because they each so much pink krill!
The kids got a kick out of seeing the huge tubs of krill and talking about how “stinky” they were!
Then, Margaret grabbed a bowl of fresh seaweed and said she had a fun activity for us!
FEEDING THE URCHINS
We headed back downstairs and walked over to the Life on the Edge tide pools exhibit area.
Here, families are encouraged to get their hands wet and explore sea life through touch!
We headed straight for the sea urchins and Margaret showed the kids how to tear a bit of seaweed and put it on their prickly spines so they can eat them.
The kids took turns feeding the sea urchins and even my toddler got the hang of it!
Our last stop was the Octopus Exhibit where we met CJ, an octopus currently living at the Seattle Aquarium.
What’s super cool is that Seattle Aquarium releases their octopi back into Puget Sound every 6 months or so.
Join Seattle Aquarium February 16 – 24, 2019 for their annual Octopus Week!
Each day, there are hands-on kid activities and special events like Diving with an Octopus and an Octopus Weigh-in.
Plus, on February 16 and 23, you can witness an octopus release into Puget Sound!
See the full schedule here.
EXPLORING THE AQUARIUM ON OUR OWN
At this point, the official tour ended and we were encouraged to explore at our own pace.
The kids were fully fascinated by the sea life and were excited to check out the rest of the space.
Some of the hits were looking at the jelly fish, playing dress up with the scuba gear, and watching them feed the seals.
What We Thought of the Seattle Aquarium Behind the Scenes Tour
Our family loved it! There’s no better way engage kids in learning than surrounding them with people who are genuinely excited to share their passion!
It was clear that the staff at the Seattle Aquarium love what they do! And that made our kids much more interested in what they had to say!
I’m really happy we did this tour because I was actually a bit anxious about the whole experience for two reasons:
- I didn’t want to deal with the whole Viaduct mess.
- My kids aren’t into animals.
Thankfully neither of these were actual issues!
EASY TO ACCESS
So, if you live in Seattle, you’re probably freaking out about the whole Viaduct situation. I know it’s keeping a lot of families away from the Seattle Waterfront.
But, that’s good for you!
The construction doesn’t come near the Seattle Aquarium until sometime in March. And even then, no one knows how it will affect traffic.
I planned for heavy traffic but we ended up arriving 30 minutes before the Seattle Aquarium even opened! It was a breeze to get to.
Plus, there were tons of parking spots available in the garages across the street.
If you’re already in Downtown Seattle and don’t want to deal with parking, you can always take the free Seattle Waterfront Shuttle. It has a stop right in front of the aquarium.
SEATTLE AQUARIUM PLAY DATE
We ended up inviting a friend to go to the Seattle Aquarium with us to turn it into a play date. That was a smart idea for our family because they kids were much more engaged.
And the staff running the behind the scenes tour of the Seattle Aquarium made the animals much more interesting to my kids and they were eager to explore the rest after the tour ended.
Plus, there was a lot of Paw Patrol talk that was actually relevant to what we were learning at the aquarium!
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5 Ways to Make Your Seattle Aquarium Trip Special
While this Seattle Aquarium behind the scenes tour isn’t readily available, there are plenty of ways to make sure your trip is special.
1. DIVER SHOW
Make sure to hit up the Diver Show at least once during your visit. Families can sit on the benches in front of the huge tank and ask questions directly to the divers inside the tank.
The shows are at 10am, 11:30am, and 12:15pm. And if you are there on the weekend, there’s also a 3pm show.
2. STORY TIME
Families with younger kids might enjoy sitting down an listening to an ocean-themed story read by Seattle Aquarium staff.
This happens on weekends at 11am at the Family Activity Center.
3. MEET MARINE ANIMALS
People bond over food. Why not bond with a marine animal while they enjoy a tasty treat?
Families can learn all about marine mammals through their daily talks and feedings at 11:30am, 2pm, and 5pm in the Marine Mammal Exhibit area.
4. MEET AN OCTOPUS
Every day at Noon and 4pm, families can watch staff try to feed a giant Pacific octopus!
5. TODDLER TIME
From October through February, families with toddlers and preschoolers can participate in this hands-on program during select mornings.
It’s free with your Seattle Aquarium admission. You can find the current schedule here.
What You Might Not Know about Seattle Aquarium
I’ve been going to the Seattle Aquarium since elementary school. It’s a popular field trip spot.
But there’s so much I didn’t know about, here’s what I learnt during our Seattle Aquarium behind the scenes tour:
IT’S THE 9TH LARGEST AQUARIUM IN THE U.S. BY ATTENDANCE
More than 27 million people have visited the Seattle Aquarium since opening in 1977. And staff have educated more than 2 million kids about marine conservation.
It’s also one of the top 5 paid visitor attractions around Puget Sound.
IT USED TO BE RUN BY THE PARKS & RECREATION DEPARTMENT
Up until 2010, the City of Seattle’s Parks and Recreation department ran the Seattle Aquarium.
Now, it’s managed by the Seattle Aquarium Society, a local Seattle nonprofit organization.
THE SEATTLE AQUARIUM IS MOSTLY RUN BY VOLUNTEERS
While the Seattle Aquarium has almost 100 staff members, they have more than 1000 volunteers.
These volunteers do everything from talking to families in the exhibit areas to feeding the animals.
And about 100 people are volunteer beach naturalists, who meet families at Puget Sound beaches to show them cool stuff like exploring tide pools!
Find a beach naturalist program near you.
INCLUDING YOUTH VOLUNTEERS
High school students can apply to be Youth Ocean Advocates and earn volunteer hours by teaching visitors about marine life and conservation, plus creating social media content.
AND THE SEATTLE AQUARIUM NEEDS YOUR HELP
Their entire $12.6 million operating budget comes from tickets, concessions/gift shop sales, memberships, grants and private donations.
So, next time someone asks what your family would like as a gift, consider asking for a Seattle Aquarium membership or tickets for your family.
It’s guaranteed fun for your family and you’ll be supporting marine conservation. It’s a win-win!
FIRST AQUARIUM IN THE WORLD TO…
Have a sea otter conceived and born in captivity. And it also lived to adulthood.
They now have a Sea Otter Conservation Program focusing on research, husbandry, education, and raising money through retail products.
AND IT’S WASHINGTON’S ONLY RECOGNIZED SEA TURTLE REHAB FACILITY
Seattle Aquarium staff are able to nurse sea turtles who are stranded along the Pacific Northwest coastline back to health.
What’s Next for the Seattle Aquarium?
I’m pretty excited about what Seattle Aquarium is currently working on!
Their Ocean Pavilion project will connect an expanded Seattle Aquarium to Pike Place Market and Downtown Seattle through a waterfront park.
The expansion will add 48,000 square feet to accommodate an increase in visitors, more public open spaces, and reinvent the way families experience the Seattle Aquarium.
Planning Your Trip to the Seattle Aquarium
But, there’s so much to do and see before the future expansion. Let me help you plan your family trip to the Seattle Aquarium!
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT THE SEATTLE AQUARIUM?
Anytime is a great time, but if you’re hoping for smaller crowds, you’ll have the best luck in the fall or winter (just not around the holidays.)
Or late afternoons in the spring and summer.
Their busiest times are spring and summer, weekends, and days around the holidays.
The Seattle Aquarium is open 9:30am–5pm daily, except Christmas Day and their annual fundraiser on June 7, 2019.
IS THE SEATTLE AQUARIUM STROLLER-FRIENDLY?
CAN I BRING MY OWN FOOD AT THE SEATTLE AQUARIUM?
Yes! You can totally bring in snacks or lunch. Just make sure you are eating in a designated area like the Life on the Edge exhibit or on a bench. Ask a staff member if you are unsure.
And Waterfront Park is another option if you’d like to eat outside. Just be sure to get your hand stamped if you want to come back to the Aquarium.
You can also purchase food in their Aquarium cafe.
HOW LONG DO I NEED TO VISIT THE SEATTLE AQUARIUM?
It really depends on your family. My kids (ages 5 years old and 2 years old) are good after about two hours.
But, if your kids are really interested in sea life, they might want more time.
If you are spending the day on the Seattle Waterfront, get your hand stamped so you have the option of coming back to the Aquarium later in the day.
ARE DISCOUNTED TICKETS TO THE SEATTLE AQUARIUM AVAILABLE?
If you live in Seattle (or will be visiting more than once a year) consider a Seattle Aquarium membership. It’s pretty affordable and it pays for itself in less than two visits.
They also offer discounted tickets to senior citizens, people with disabilities, active military members and their dependents, and school groups.
Finally, if you have a Seattle Public Library card, you can get free tickets through their Museum Pass program. Just know there are limited tickets available and you’ll need to request them weeks before your visit.