When we were planning our trip to Chicago, we knew we wanted to hit Shedd Aquarium. As we were scheduling our visit we were so excited to discover that our trip lined up perfectly with one of their Jazzin at the Shedd nights! For the normal ticket price, we would get to visit this famous aquarium during extended evening hours while enjoying live jazz. This was music to my ears as someone who loves aquariums and live music. Overall, our visit was amazing.
We chose to walk to the aquarium from our hotel on Michigan Ave. This meant crossing through the large parks that run along the waterfront area, and the city has really designed this to be as accessible as possible. The walkways all have gentle ramps and signs along the way directing you where to go, but we also had google maps up just in case. Major obstacles like the train tracks and freeway were handled with a bridge and wide underpass. The last bit of the walkway approaching the aquarium includes one big fairly steep hill, and although they’ve built in some flat resting spots along the way, I was glad my mom was there to help give me a boost. This would be a great spot to use a power assist on a wheelchair.
The front of the museum has an impressive flight of stairs, but have no fear! There are easy signs directing you to the right of the building to find the accessible entrance just past the fish fountain! This is also where you’ll find the closest spot for a vehicle drop-off.
So far this is one of my favorite aquariums I have visited! Like other aquariums, there are various wings dedicated to regions of the world and different types of aquatic life- Rivers, Islands & Lakes, At Home on the Great Lakes, and Oceans. Plus lots of other exciting exhibits. We started by touring through Amazon Rising, which did not disappoint! Lots of fish, spotted stingrays, and water birds made this area a great place to start.
We then talked to some staff and asked what were some of the things we should make sure not to miss. They directed us towards the whales and the sharks! YES! The aquarium is overall very wheelchair friendly, and I didn’t encounter any displays or exhibits that were out of reach, but since it’s such a large space there were times we had to backtrack a little to find the right elevator to get us to the right place. Luckily, one of the staff members we talked to was a wheelchair user herself, so she did a great job of explaining the “down, then go left, then down again, follow that path across, then go up on that elevator” directions.
This led us to Lower Level 1 and the Oceanarium, home to Dolphins, Belugas, and the Sea Otters. Again we encountered some awesome aquarium staff who spent time telling me all sorts of cool Beluga Whale facts!
After exploring the above-water views, we headed down another level to explore the underwater viewing area and check out the penguins! It was such a calm and peaceful space but got a bit chilly, so if you’re visiting during warm weather I’d bring a layer to wear inside the aquarium. After watching the dolphins play underwater for a while we got too chilly to stay any longer! It was great to get up close and personal with the Beluga Whales because it helped me realize how big they are! When you’re above the water looking down they definitely look smaller!
Once we were done exploring underwater, we retraced our path back to the main hall of the aquarium so we could visit the Wild Reef. For now, they’re limiting the numbers accessing this area at a time, but we were able to enter right away and take another elevator back down into the deep for this special exhibit. While lots of aquariums do an impressive job of helping you feel like you’re underwater for parts of their exhibits, the Shedd Aquarium makes you feel completely immersed in the exhibit! There are times you’re under, beside, and even on top of exhibits- making it feel like you’re really a part of things.
One of the coolest parts of the Wild Reef was an area explaining the aquarium’s coral breeding program, and their efforts to help rebuild coral habitats. You won’t want to miss that section!
After finishing the Wild Reef loop, we continued exploring the rest of the halls of the main aquarium. Checking out fish native to the Great Lakes, Rivers, and Oceans.
Jazzin At The Shedd:
We’ve decided that jazz night is our favorite way to see this aquarium! Not only did we get to enjoy the live jazz, but they had other special things as well! They had trivia and special shows, and even special food to purchase and enjoy. We shared a bowl of jambalaya ($14) while we sat in front of the Caribbean Reef exhibit watching the sea turtle swim by!
Being a ticketed evening event also meant that the museum was less crowded and that most of the visitors were adults. This made it a safer event for me compared to many crowded museum experiences. Sometimes when we’re at aquariums or museums it’s impossible for me to ever get up close to exhibits or there are too many kids running around rough-housing, which can lead to an injury for me so it makes me really nervous- hard to enjoy what you’re seeing that way. So this event was a perfect, chill way for me and my mom to explore the aquarium.
If you stay long enough, you can also catch the fireworks display from the Navy Pier on the outside patio.
Overall this was a great aquarium visit. The museum staff all went out of their way to answer questions and provide directions to various exhibits. Like many places this year, they’re doing their best to keep things germ-free by providing lots of hand sanitizer stations, digital maps, and updating their touchpad displays to rotating touch-free displays. The restrooms were large and accessible, and the museum offers assistive devices and noise-canceling headphones to guests who may need them.
Anna’s Top 5:
Don’t make a visit to Shedd Aquarium without: