Stingrays, Penguins and Hurricanes, Oh My! Audubon Aquarium, New OrleansMay 19, 2011 No Comments
Established in 1914 as the Audubon Commission, the Audubon Nature Institute operates 10 parks and attractions throughout the city of New Orleans, Louisiana. Opened in 1990, the Audubon Aquarium is located on the edge of the French Quarter where Canal Street meets the Mississippi River. The Aquarium was one of the first attractions to establish the Quarter as a family-friendly destination. On a plot of land 15 feet above sea level, it also demonstrates New Orleans’ sense of irony. In a city known to be gradually sinking into the swamp, the highest ground is occupied by fish!
Visiting the Audubon Aquarium
The Aquarium is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10-5. Basic admission to the exhibits is, as of 2011, $19.95 for adults, $15.95 for seniors over age 65, and $12.95 for children aged 2 to 12. Combination tickets include significantly discounted admission to the attached Entergy IMAX Theatre. If you plan to visit other Audubon properties, ticket packages save a great deal of money. For long-term visitors, Audubon memberships offer a variety of discounts and benefits.
Parking is available at multiple lots near the Aquarium. Although discounts are available for Aquarium visitors, parking in New Orleans is notoriously expensive. Traffic is often quite heavy, and roads are often blocked for parades and special events. If you are staying in the French Quarter or along a streetcar line, consider walking or taking public transportation.
We arrived at the Aquarium around noon on a Sunday. It was absolutely packed with the after-church crowd. Although we were able to see everything, if you have a flexible schedule, choose a weekday instead.
We decided to take in both the Aquarium and the IMAX. We chose the last show of the day and headed into the Aquarium. Actually getting inside may take awhile, as there are frequently street performers and food vendors in the plaza outside the building. Leave time in your schedule to hang around for a bit, as many of the musicians are surprisingly good.
There are seven main exhibit areas, each featuring numerous types of sea life. Special programs throughout the day allow you to observe animal training or feeding. The main entrance tunnel is eerily reminiscent of the tunnel in Jaws 3-D, but aquarium staff assured me that there are no Great White sharks anywhere in the vicinity!
Creatures both large and small are represented, from delicate sea horses to playful sea otters. The massive Amazon exhibit consists of a highly realistic walk through a simulated rainforest complete with wildlife from anacondas to piranhas. As expected, the exhibit is significantly hotter and more humid than the rest of the Aquarium.
The Mississippi River exhibit provides an extensive, highly detailed look at the animals that make the area home. The crown jewels of the collection are the almost mythical-appearing leucistic white alligators. Unlike the better-known albinos, leucistic alligators have brilliantly blue eyes. They are also unbelievably rare. The Aquarium’s pair was transferred from the Audubon Zoo, where 18 white hatchlings were raised following their discovery in a nearby swamp in 1987. Only two other captures of leucistic alligators have ever been recorded, both in the Louisiana swamp.
Parakeet Pointe, opened in 2011, is the newest addition to Audubon Aquarium. For just $1, you can purchase a treat stick before entering the massive aviary, filled solely with parakeets. The friendly, docile parakeets are happy to settle on your outstretched hand or arm to enjoy a snack. An educator is available inside the exhibit to answer questions and provide more information on the colorful birds.
Hurricane on the Bayou
Although the Entergy IMAX Theatre screens a variety of films, we strongly recommend that you take in Hurricane on the Bayou. To our knowledge, this is the only place the film is currently showing. Debuted on the first anniversary of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane on the Bayou is the true story of then-14 year old Amanda Shaw.
The film begins several months before Katrina. Amanda is a rising fiddle prodigy determined to use her talent as a platform to spread a message of wetlands conservation. Ironically, Amanda is in the middle of a school project focused on the importance of the wetlands as a hurricane buffer when Katrina hits. The rest of the film follows Amanda’s evacuation, rare footage from the storm, and her attempts to rebuild her life when the family returns home.
Hurricane on the Bayou is an excellent jumping off point for helping kids make sense of the storm. It also draws attention to many of the factors that helped create the disaster without ever sounding preachy or inauthentic. Even the more disturbing aspects, including the total loss of Amanda’s grandparents’ home, are handled in a sensitive manner. Appropriate humor helps to defuse the more intense emotions.
Tips for Parents
Adventure Island is the Aquarium’s indoor playground for small kids. The area features climbing equipment and a variety of interactive displays, as well as informational signs describing pirate life in the Caribbean. Special kids’ programs are sometimes held in this section.
Take a moment when you arrive to sit down with the activity schedule. Feeding sessions, training sessions and educational programs are available throughout the day. Arrive early for any program that interests you, as large crowds often gather.
A reasonably priced food court is located outside Parakeet Pointe, and street vendors sometimes set up outside the Aquarium. If you want to leave and return, let the attendant at the door know. We had no problem coming and going at our leisure. The Aquarium is fully accessible, and a few wheelchairs are available free of charge at the Information Desk. Small strollers are allowed inside.