I recently found myself a journalist embedded at the Mall of America. Ok, I wasn’t on assignment, it was a pleasure trip for my boyfriend’s birthday, but our goal was to stay at and in the mall for 48 hours. We had a great time between shopping, entertainment and dining, and that on its own is worth a trip just for fun. But did you know that you can do some learning and exploring the natural world while you’re there? We took a trip to the SEA LIFE: Minnesota Aquarium during our time at the mall and found a fully realized, interesting and educational aquarium that’s more than worth a trip.
The aquarium originally opened at the mall in 1996 after 18 months of building. It went through a few rebrandings and rearrangements over time, but eventually, in 2011, became a Sea Life Centre, which it remains today. Once taken over by SEA LIFE, the aquarium updated and added many new and wonderful features, including an interactive stingray exhibit, a Caribbean tank and a fantastic giant octopus.
Though the Mall of America is a behemoth, my initial thought on entering the aquarium was, “Just how much can they fit in the space they have here?” It turns out, it’s a lot. The aquarium spans several floors at its space near the North entrance to the mall, and we were surprised at how interactive, content rich and well maintained it was. Upon descent into the basement entry, we were immediately entranced with the Stingray Adventure exhibit, which since 2015 has allowed visitors an up-close view of these beautiful creatures as they glide through the shallow pools. For $3, you can also choose to feed them.
Just around the corner from that is a light show unlike any other we’d seen. Jellyfish Discovery takes advantage of the darkness and a few mirrors to light up visitors’ worlds with these translucent beauties. It was unexpected and honestly, breathtaking to see them light up the room in brilliant colors as they floated in their various tanks. Travelling on, we encountered seahorses, shrimp and the Coral Caves, a great exhibit where clownfish, angel fish and blue tangs, all pretty popular with the kids thanks to Finding Nemo and its successors, swim around a circular tank with a small middle dome children can stand in to be surrounded by the sea life.
Shortly after this comes The Tunnel, which was likely my favorite part of the adventure. It’s 300 feet long, features four tanks representing four different environments, and brings you nose to nose with all sorts of amazing sea creatures, from its seven species of sharks to the adorable sea turtles. Figuring this was the main attraction and there wouldn’t be much else, I was again surprised to find an elaborate zoo-like setup for Mysteries of the Rainforest, which again brought me closer than I’d expected to the animals, including a few caimans, some glittering piranhas, and the always amazing Poison Dart Frogs.
SEA LIFE: Minnesota Aquarium shines in more areas than just exhibit design, though, as its focus on conservation and the environment is clear throughout. They discuss the effects of climate change on sea life, track sea turtles live and explain their efforts to preserve the species, and have even adopted two sawfish, Duke and Dutchess, who are an endangered species due to overfishing, in hopes of becoming the first aquarium in the world to successfully breed them.
Staff at the aquarium were friendly without being overbearing and incredibly knowledgeable, even at the gift shop, where we learned that tortoises are fussy about their food and won’t eat a plate that isn’t colorful enough or attractive enough. Our time at SEA LIFE: Minnesota Aquarium was definitely worth the price of admission, and we’d definitely dive back in on future trips to the area, especially considering the array of different adventures offered- from snorkeling in the tanks to sleepovers for lucky children, and even Valentine’s Day adventures featuring hor d’ouevres and wine as you stroll along the exhibits.
SEA LIFE: Minnesota Aquarium may not be as big as the Shedd Aquarium, but it stands in a unique position to reach people who may not go out of their way to head to a museum or aquarium, and with exhibits focusing on conservation and an interactive, up-close experience around every corner, we think it’s a worthy stop if you’re ever on the road near Bloomington, Minnesota and the Mall of America. For more information on SEA LIFE: Minnesota check out their website.