Review of OdySea Aquarium in Scottsdale, AZ
By Meg Brunson
I have been dying to visit OdySea Aquarium ever since it opened, and this past weekend we finally did it! This was our first time to OdySea in the Desert - which is the name of the entertainment district of which OdySea Aquarium is a part. We were immediately impressed by the whole setup, with various family-friendly attractions and dining options.
OdySea Aquarium sells admission tickets for scheduled admission times, and this helps with regulating the foot traffic through the museum, which I really liked. Upon entering, staff took group photos that we had the opportunity to purchase at the end of the journey - we got to “ooh” and “ahh” over the spherical aquariums suspended in the lobby while we had our photos taken and went through the ticket booths. Before embarking on our journey, we all made a restroom visit (since it’s a good 30-45 minute drive from our westside home). I am SO glad we visited those 1st floor bathrooms - above the sinks there is a viewing window into a shark-infested aquarium! It was so fun for the kids to discover, and will make bathroom stops easier (I doubt I will hear, “but I don’t HAVE to go,” again)!
The OdySea Aquarium journey begins upstairs on the second floor. The Aquarium can accommodate strollers - but only single strollers or tandem (front/back) double strollers. The elevators were located in close proximity to the escalators, which is convenient because I needed the elevator with my stroller, but the kids like riding the escalator with Dad.
Upstairs we saw animals such as: crocodiles, freshwater turtles, otters, penguins, and a variety of fish! Aquarium staff were scattered throughout the exhibits offering really engaging information and facts about the different animals. There were interactive displays that the kids (and we parents) enjoyed exploring including learning about the Rivers of the World through tablets, measuring the kids up next to some of the world’s penguins, and an interactive water table that allowed the kids to build a working dam.
The kids enjoyed the touch pool, and I loved that I was also able to pet a stingray. These hands-on exhibits had sinks close by, so after touching our aquatic friends we could wash our hands before moving on to the next exhibit.
While observing the paddlefish, one of the aquarium staff came by to feed the fish, which was a really cool experience for all of us. We have seen fish eat before, but not like this! The mouths of the paddlefish opened wide and they swam around scooping their food in their very wide open mouths.
The Lighthouse Cafe is on the 2nd floor. I wish I could say that we arrived hungry, but we didn’t. The set-up looks great and they serve family favorites like salad, pizza, burgers, and sandwiches. I am sure we will make a point to dine at the Aquarium on a future visit.
When it’s time to make the journey back down to the main level, I HIGHLY recommend taking the escalator. If you have a stroller, it does have to go down on the elevator, but if you have a second adult with you, consider taking the trip back up to ride the escalator down! This Deep Ocean Escalator is surrounded by a view-through tunnel - putting you right in the middle of the exhibit as you journey downstairs. The Great Barrier Reef Tunnel is also on the first floor, and we loved the immersive experience of walking through the tunnel and experiencing the barrier reef all around us, as well!
Downstairs, there was an aquarium staff person with some items the kids were able to touch and learn about including a sponge, a prehistoric tooth (which was huge and very cool to learn about), and shells. My husband and the older 2 children viewed the 3d movie experience. The film was about 10 minutes long, and if 3d movies are not your thing, you can view it without the glasses and still enjoy the experience. We doubted the willingness of my little ones to sit through the movie, so I stayed in the “Bizarre + Beautiful” exhibit, where the kids played with a giant chalkboard and observed eels, shrimp, an octopus, and some other fun friends. I loved that there was a timer posted outside the theatre, so we could easily plan when to go through to the “Reef Jewels” exhibit, where the moviegoers exited.
Probably our favorite part of the visit was the “Living Sea Carousel.” This is not your typical carousel! Strollers do have to be left outside of the Carousel in a designated area. The Living Sea Carousel contained theater style seating, on an incline, so that everyone can see. The Carousel is broken up into five sections and it moves around to each section slowly, pausing for about five minutes at each stop. We experienced: a scuba diver in an open ocean exhibit, sharks, sea lions, and sea turtles before returning to the section with the entry/exit doors.
It was so incredible to experience so many different marine animals at the OdySea Aquarium. We saw fish big and small, of all shapes and sizes. Each exhibit just as impressive as the last, all for different reasons! We were impressed by the number of exhibits and unique vantage points, the opportunities for interaction, and how friendly and helpful the staff was.
The aquarium offers additional opportunities to observe presentations on animals such as the penguins, otters, and sharks at scheduled times throughout the day. On this trip, we just enjoyed wandering and seeing what we saw, but I would love to make it a point to attend some of the scheduled presentations in the future.
The aquarium also offers a variety of add-on experiences, like SeaTrek Helmet Diving, Penguin Interaction Program, and a Behind the Scenes Tour. With our Family Membership, we receive discounts on any of those experiences, as well as a discount at the cafe and gift shop, and we can drop in to play anytime we want (reservations are not needed with your membership pass!).
Before leaving, we picked up a souvenir book, complete with the photos taken when we arrived at the Aquarium. The pictures are fun memories, and there are a lot of fun facts in the book to keep the kids entertained and excited about the next visit!
One last super-cool thing? When we left the aquarium, there was a band playing in the courtyard of the OdySea in the Desert recreation area. There were also members of the Arizona Renaissance Festival promoting their event (in costume and in character, which was fun), and of course the wide selection of dining options I mentioned earlier. Other attractions located at OdySea in the Desert include Butterfly Wonderland, Dolphinaris, and Mirror Maze. With so many restaurant options as well as outdoor areas relax and play, this would be an amazing place to spend the whole day, hitting the aquarium in the morning, enjoying lunch out in the courtyard, and then hitting up one of the adjoining facilities for an afternoon activity. Combo passes can also be purchased if you know ahead of time you want to visit more than one attraction and save money while you are at it!
For up-to-date ticket information, click here.
© 2017 Meg Brunson
Meg Brunson, a mom to four daughters, is Editor of KidsOutAndAbout Phoenix and a KidsOutAndAbout Client Services Representative.