Restaurant guide

A guide to eating out and all the best restaurants.

Virginia Aquarium is a Hands-On, Heavenly Experience

Posted on | August 17, 2011 | 1 Comment


I went to Virginia Aquarium (formerly called Virginia Marine Science Center) expecting to get in for free, using my ASTC Passport Program card (which gives you free admission to participating science museums around the nation).

Oops. Despite the “science” in the name, Virginia Aquarium is really considered an aquarium (gee, maybe that’s why they changed the name?). So they don’t honor science museum membership cards.

But for what it offers, Virginia Aquarium is not expensive, and it’s well worth the price.

The highlights:


700,000 gallon tank(s)
300 hands-on exhibits and buttons to push
“Alligators Alive” exhibit (through May) featuring a live albino alligator
3D IMAX movies
Touch tanks where you can touch and/or pick up horseshoe crabs and starfish
1/3 mile nature trail where you can view bald eagles, ospreys, and other wildlife on the trail or from the 30-foot observation tower


At .95 for adults, it’s half the price of the Baltimore Aquarium, and about 60% less than the new Georgia Aquarium. (Plus, there are ways to save on tickets. See below…)

So does The VA hold its own with other fishy museums? Absolutely.

My favorite part? Their mesmerizing, two-story, floor to ceiling fish “wall.” The rest of the room and floor is dark, and a natural hush seems to fall on visitors as they enter.

Sit there quietly, and you can imagine you’re at the bottom of the sea (with plenty of oxygen, of course). It’s amazingly relaxing to watch the fish swim gently by, and feel your cares wash away.

My kids especially loved the touch tanks (if you’re a touch tank type, you might want to check out the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News). You’ll find enough to keep you (and the kids) occupied for hours. And on a hot day, it’s blissfully air-conditioned.

The excitement at Virginia Aquarium doesn’t stop at its walls. They also offer a variety of truly unique “extra” programs you’ll find it hard to match elsewhere:



(End of Dec. through March) – Narrated by a specially-trained VA educator, these excursions let you search for humpback and fin whales off the coast of Virginia Beach. Cost: per adult, ages 1-11.
(April – Sept.) Embark on a 50-passenger pontoon boat for a 35-minute cruise of nearby Owl’s Creek Salt Marsh, the last undeveloped salt marsh in Virginia Beach. Cost: .50 members, non-members.
(May-Oct.) These 90-minute excursions let you see bottle nose dolphins in their natural habitats, plus learn about VA’s dolphin research. Cost: per adult.
(all year) This is the only program in the U.S. where you can actually interact with harbor seals. Cost: 5 per person.
Visit the southern tip of Virginia’s barrier islands to see the wildlife and learn about this important ecosystem. Ages 12 and up only. Cost: for members ( for nonmembers).
On this 90-minute boat tour of the ocean, staff will bring up samples of sea life for you to see, learn about, and maybe touch. Cost: per adult, (ages 1-11).


Virginia Aquarium has “a la carte” pricing.

Adults: .95; Seniors: .95; Children (3-11): .95

Adults: .95; Seniors: .95; Children (3-11): .95

Adults: .50; Seniors: .75; Children (3-11): .50.

*Note that feature length IMAX tickets may be extra.

Active military (but not their families or guests) get 10% off combination tickets (admission + IMAX® movie) with military ID.

Hours are 9 am to 5 pm daily (Sept.-May 25:); 9 am to 7 pm (May 26-August). It’s closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

Last time I checked, Vacation Market had a Virginia Aquarium “Happy Hour” coupon on the bottom of its brochures. The coupon allows you to buy one ticket and get the second one at 50% off if purchased between Noon and 2 pm (good daily).

Visitor guides-like the “Sunny Day Guide,” available at restaurants, hotels, and in stands along Atlantic Boulevard and Virginia Beach-often have coupons good for off a combo ticket, or off exhibit admission.

One of the best things about Virginia Aquarium is that it is so convenient to the Virginia Beach oceanfront, thanks to the Virginia Beach Trolley (known as “The Wave.”) You can catch the trolley from various stops along the oceanfront and stop right outside the museum.

The Virginia Aquarium is located at 717 General Booth Boulevard in Virginia Beach. For information, call 757-385-FISH (3474) or go to

Elizabeth Pellicane is a travel writer and the creator of, an insider guide to planning a Virginia Beach family vacation getaway. It features money-saving tips, secrets for discount tickets, reviews and “inside” info on Virginia Beach, Williamsburg, Jamestown, Yorktown, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Richmond and beyond. She also edits the Virginia Beach Fun Blog.

For her reviews of other Virginia Beach area attractions,