Tennessee Aquarium and Other Chattanooga Water Adventures

leslipeterson's picture
1 year
5 years
2013-09-11 to 2013-09-12

My two young boys and I packed the car and headed two hours north of Atlanta, GA to Chattanooga, TN.  This small Tennessee town is non-stop kid action, from the aquarium to the zoo! Our mission on this particular visit was water-based.  We visited the Tennessee Aquarium and watched a shark-themed IMAX movie.  We stayed at the city’s only 4-diamond hotel, which includes a gem of a pool, and then visited Coolidge Park, complete with water fountain fun and a carousel. Finally, we ended our trip with a walk over the Tennessee River on the world’s longest pedestrian bridge.

Day 1

We were at the Tennessee Aquarium when they opened at 10am to purchase tickets for the tour and IMAX (a package purchase will save you a few dollars.)  One of my favorite things about this aquarium is the self-guiding layout.  Visitors begin in the Ocean Journey building, taking an escalator to the top floor housing a touch tank and butterfly display, then make their way down the escalator to the penguin exhibit, and finally to the bottom floor with a gift shop.  We spent about an hour exploring this building. 

After Ocean Journey, we trekked across the aquarium campus to Ben and Jerry’s for a small ice cream snack, and then headed next door to the aquarium’s IMAX theater.  Shows change on a regular basis, but the gorgeous theater is a stunning constant.  High ceilings in the atrium lead your eye to a small garden in the back.  It is the perfect place to eat a hotdog or popcorn, should you arrive a little before your seating time.  We watched The Great White Shark on the IMAX 3D theater’s Certified Giant Screen. It is almost 90 feet wide and 66 feet tall! Not only is that large by IMAX standards, but it almost doubles the size requirements needed to meet this certification. 

After a hot dog lunch and IMAX movie, we headed back across the campus to the second building at the aquarium, River Journey.  Again, a self-guiding walk through the building helped corral the kids and made our adventure more fun.  On the top floor, we gazed out floor-to-ceiling windows at the Tennessee River. We meandered our way down four floors via a series of ramps to see a glow-in-the-dark jellyfish room, sea dragons, alligators, and more.  As you descend the floors, moving from room to room, you pass through the center of the building, which houses a 3-story talk filled with “river giants” – one of my son’s favorite parts.

After completing this building, my boys played on the aquarium campus grounds.  There is a makeshift “stream” running between the buildings in which children are encouraged to splash and get their feet wet.

By this time the boys were exhausted.  We piled back in the car and drove about 10 minutes to the edge of City Center, as it connects with Southside.  The Chattanoogan, the city’s only AAA Four-diamond hotel, welcomed us.  After a swift dinner at the hotel’s Broad Street Grille, the boys and I headed to the pool on the roof.  This pool is stunning! It is a heated indoor pool, surrounded on three sides by full-length windows. It is also a lap-pool, only 3.5 feet at the deepest end.  A young child’s oasis!

Day 2

We started the morning with the breakfast buffet and another swim in the pool.  After checking out, we drove to Coolidge Park.  This is a local favorite, just on the other side of the River.  Admittedly, it was difficult to find parking; it took several turns around the block.  The effort was worth it!

Art and trinket stores, and restaurant and snack shops line the streets around the park. After grabbing a bite to eat, we found ourselves within the park standing in a circle of over-sized turtles, lions, and elephants.  Water would periodically spring forth from fountains hidden in the floor, but the dozen so swimsuit clad children in the area revealed their secret.  A gorgeous carousel set to the side of the water fountains; its music taunting my boys.  We choose to ride before the water-play.

Once the boys were sufficiently stuffed with cupcakes, damp with fountain water, and dizzy from the carousel, we walked to Walnut Street.  Here is the beginning of the world’s longest pedestrian bridge, at 720m.  Children will love taking a hike across (or partly across) the bridge that connects North Shore (where the park resides) with Downtown Chattanooga (near the aquarium.)

I have two boys; I carry spare clothes in my van at all times for occasions such as this.  The boys changed into dry gear and climbed into their car seats.  They were asleep before we left the city, the sign of a successful road trip.


Article Type: 
In-Person Impressions


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