Home Family Travel Our Visit To The Oldest Continuing Operating Aquarium In The United States

Our Visit To The Oldest Continuing Operating Aquarium In The United States

by joeheg

Believe it or not, the New York Aquarium is the oldest continuing operating aquarium in the United States.

It opened in 1896 and was located at Castle Clinton in Battery Park, Lower Manhattan. You might better know this as the location where you now can purchase tickets to visit the Statue of Liberty. There’s a lack of aquatic life at Castle Clinton today, and that’s because, in 1957, the New York Aquarium was moved from its original location to the Coney Island Boardwalk, where it has remained until today.

As a child, I remember visiting the New York Aquarium in the 1980s with my Cub Scout Troop. We took a train from New Jersey to New York and then took the subway to Coney Island. In my memory, this ride took forever. Actually, it was less than an hour on the subway. Sharon says she went to the New York Aquarium when she was in Kindergarten, on a class trip in the early 70s. She knows her mom was a chaperone and she has vague memories of looking at…something…in a big tank (give her some slack, she was 5 or 6).

Those are the memories we brought with us when we revisited the New York Aquarium.

New York Aquarium

602 Surf Avenue
Brooklyn, New York

The New York Aquarium is part of the Wildlife Conservation Society, which also includes the Central Park Zoo and the Bronx Zoo.

Founded in 1895 as the New York Zoological Society, the Wildlife Conservation Society was one of the first conservation organizations in the U.S. The Society began with a clear mandate: Advance wildlife conservation, promote the study of zoology, and create a first-class zoo. In fact we have five: the Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Queens Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, and New York Aquarium.

We made no advance plans to visit, so we paid the full price for our tickets. Adult admission costs $30. If you purchase in advance, tickets online cost $24.95, and I was offered a 10% discount if I provided my email address.

The New York Aquarium isn’t very large. It also suffered significant damage from Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and is still in the process of rebuilding. It is essentially several exhibition buildings connected by a series of outside exhibits.

After paying your admission, you’re led into a run of the mill aquarium. There are several exhibits showing fish from around the world. They are interesting and provide an insight into the different environments that fish live in around the United States and the world. Not surprisingly, the most popular exhibit was the one featuring clownfish and a blue tang with every child yelling NEMO!!! and DORY!!! as they walked towards the tank.  

When reaching the end of the displays, you’re led outside. There are several exhibits including one with penguins


and another with sea otters and seals


The other main exhibition at the New York Aquarium is “Ocean Wonders: Sharks!” which just opened in 2018.


Sharks! is an exhibit built to the highest level of any aquarium in the world. I wouldn’t expect to find anything better at SeaWorld or any other location.

Entering the exhibit, you’re treated to the “tunnel” where you can look at fish on both sides, as well as on top of you as they swim over the tube you walk through. I’ve been in exhibits where this is the main feature.


Not so for Sharks! From there, you’re shown exhibits telling you more about sharks and the differences between species.

Then you get the reveal!


A tank that is bigger than any HD screen you’ve ever seen. It’s quite incredible to take in the vast expanse in front of you. It was one of the most impressive exhibits I’ve ever seen at an aquarium. Sure the tank at Living Seas at Epcot in Disney World is larger, but the uninterrupted view that such a large tank provides is beyond explanation.

You can just stare at the tank, taking in the enormity of it and watching the sharks mingle with the fish and the rays.

And then, you’re back outside, looking at a closed building and a food truck.


Final Thoughts

I want to like the New York Aquarium. I really do.

I just can’t help but think we paid $30 each and saw the entire place in less than 2 hours. We could have stayed longer to see the Sea Lion show in the Aquatheater, but it was October and already getting too cold to be sitting outside on metal bleachers for a show.

The shark exhibit was world-class, no doubt. The rest of the aquarium was well done with a mix of wonder and education. Maybe I’m jaded with the other exhibits because we’ve seen penguins at the Antarctica exhibit in SeaWorld and Sea Lions in San Francisco. That’s except for the turtle exhibition, which looked like something left over from the cold war. We don’t have any pictures; it was that bad. Trust me.

The aquarium was already in need of a major refurbishment before it was almost washed off the map by Sandy in 2012. They’ve put a ton of work and money into rebuilding the site to make it worth of today’s expectations, and the work they’ve done so far is promising.

If you go, understand that part of your admission fee is going towards the experience you’re going to have that day. Still another part of it is going to build an aquarium for future generations. If you look at it in that lens, you’ll be better prepared to see an aquarium that should show an “Under Construction” sign by the entrance.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

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