North Georgia Trip Report — Chattanooga, TN: Tennessee Aquarium
Situated on the south side of the Tennessee River in downtown Chattanooga is the Tennessee Aquarium.
The aquarium itself is divided into two separate buildings and experiences. The original aquarium is known as River Journey and it is the world’s largest freshwater aquarium. The second, and newer, building is Ocean Journey, and it focuses on saltwater creatures and fish. Admission to the Tennessee Aquarium includes both buildings and requires a few hours to see and appreciate all of the fascinating exhibits.
Arriving at the Tennessee Aquarium, you’re treated to two creative and imaginative structures that house both primary exhibits. Although the glass pyramids on top of both buildings may feel more like the Journey into Imagination pavilion in Epcot at Walt Disney World, the rest of the building is a massive, multi-level complex filled with dozens of exhibits and literally thousands of animals that live above and below the water. Long escalators take you to the top of each building, and a self-guided tour takes you back down to the street level, seeing many interesting exhibits along the way.
Outside of the buildings is a creative display of various water features in the sidewalks. It’s fun and imaginative, and I’m sure that the kids love to splash around in them during the summer months.
Tennessee Aquarium: River Journey
Billed as the world’s largest freshwater aquarium, the River Journey at the Tennessee Aquarium takes visitors on the story of a drop of water, starting up in the Appalachian Mountains and descending down the Tennessee River and to the Gulf of Mexico.
Our experience in the River Journey started by descending an escalator and seeing a temporary exhibit area full of . . . . . shrimp. Yes, the small, bottom-dwelling creatures that often find their way into kitchens and ultimately stomachs of seafood lovers. Boiled, fried, dipped in chocolate, cooked in the microwave, roasted in a toaster, people love eating shrimp in a variety of ways. I don’t, but others do. No worries. But yes, there are shrimp right now in the River Journey along with a new display of piranha. They still have piranha in an Amazon River exhibit in the aquarium, but now they have more of them at the very beginning of the tour.
After touring the temporary exhibits, we found the main escalator and went up to the top of the building. Basked in plenty of natural sunlight from the glass roof, we were in a forest environment with trees and animal species similar to those living in the Appalachians. Tall trees, snakes, and large freshwater fish were on display here.
After the forest you enter the main part of the building. Looking over the railing and down the ramps, you really appreciate the massive size and layout of this building in the Tennessee Aquarium. The paths take you down along large viewing windows and in and out of separate animal exhibits. The whole thing is pretty neat and has a really nice flow to the aquarium.
One of my favorite exhibits was the swamp. Here you can see a variety of creatures that live above and below the water including birds, snakes, alligators, lots of fish, and even a great big snapping turtle.
One of the more interesting aspects of the River Journey in the Tennessee Aquarium is that it doesn’t focus completely on the Tennessee River and the southeastern U.S. The aquarium journeys to other rivers around the world and gives brief examples of the wide variety of freshwater fish and creatures throughout the world. One moment you’ll be staring down a monster fish from the Volga River in Russia, and the next you’ll be looking at an example of the Zaire River in central Africa.
The final part of River Journey takes you to an ordinary stretch of the Tennessee River that you may encounter a mile or two upstream from Chattanooga. Here you’ll see plenty of bass, catfish, and every other ordinary but still cool fish found in the local water. The tank itself is a massive display complete with a simulated boat dock and plenty of large river rocks.
Tennessee Aquarium: Ocean Journey
Located right next to the River Journey and in a similarly designed building is the Ocean Journey, part two of the Tennessee Aquarium grand experience.
Instead of a forest, upstairs in the Ocean Journey is more of a tropical experience with palm trees and ocean creatures more fond of the warmer seas.
The Ocean Journey also has penguins. Yes, those funny and loveable birds walk around and can go swimming in their own separate aquarium. Most of the penguins just stood there, but one finally decided to take a dip in the cool water.
Descending through Ocean Journey, you’ll come across a variety of exhibits and displays with a wide variety of creatures found in the world’s oceans. From deep beneath the sea to those without bones, there are many creatures to see and learn about in the aquarium.
Perhaps the most impressive display in Ocean Journey is the massive ocean tank itself. Lots of sharks and interesting fish can be seen in the first viewing area. After that you’ll walk through a simulated rock tunnel and be surrounded by sharks and fish swimming above and right next to you. It’s a great experience, especially near closing time when the aquarium is peaceful and quiet.
As a whole, my girlfriend and I had a great time going through both the River Journey and Ocean Journey aquariums at the Tennessee Aquariums. We visited them later in the day and some of the animals were not on display (not everybody stays on display through closing time), but the buildings were peaceful and quiet, and we saw about 95% of the animal exhibits.
This concludes the North Georgia & Chattanooga, Tennessee trip report.
I hope you all had a good time reading the articles and seeing the photos. The trip was a fantastic experience, and hopefully we’ll have just as much fun next time in the mountains.