Two weeks ago, just before Christmas, the Saint Louis Aquarium opened. It opened to sellout crowds. Still yesterday, I was able to walk up, buy a ticket and walk in. I guess that the holiday crush is waning. This aquarium is located at Union Station. The train station was built in 1894 and during its heyday served at the city’s main transportation hub. Near the station’s height, in 1948, Missouri native son President Harry Truman held aloft the Chicago Tribune that famously and erroneously declared, “Dewey Defeats Truman.” By the time that we moved to Saint Louis the station had closed. Then in 1985 the station reopened as a downtown mall, but eventually this venture failed, with most stores closing.
Enter the aquarium. This venue represents a cornerstone of the station’s current reinvention. Other recent additions to the station include a Ferris wheel and a multistory obstacle course. These new attractions, plus the many new restaurants and bars have transformed Union Station from a retail space, to an entertainment destination. Much of the station operates as a hotel and convention space.
So how does this aquarium stack up? It is certainly not in the same league as other more famous aquariums are, think Monterey, Shedd and Boston. In a city with one of the best zoos in the country that is free, its $25 adult ticket fee can seem a bit pricey. Still, it is certainly the best aquarium in town by far. The aquarium’s 120,000 sq. ft. footprint is laid out as a pathway. There are three main sections to walk through, Changing Rivers, Shark Canyon and the Deep.
An introductory movie set in a theater that resembles a train car offers a rather juvenile transition from the station’s external setting to the aquarium’s interior. The first third of the aquarium gives an additional Saint Louis tie-in, featuring examples of local river fauna, before transitioning to a selection of worldwide freshwater animals. The quarter-of-a-million gallon fish tank that is Shark Canyon is the highlight of the aquarium, where sharks and rays are featured. The pedestrian path snakes along and beneath this tank, offering many different viewpoints. The low-light Deep houses many of the aquarium’s more exotic species and rounds out the collection, followed by an exit through the gift shop.
I will likely visit this aquarium again. It is certainly not the best aquarium that I have ever visited, but it is the closest. Anne will want to see it. So, after she is done with her current gig, we’ll likely visit the aquarium together. Maybe we’ll ride the Ferris wheel together also.