As your kids grow and interests morph, and you add numbers to your brood, it can sometimes be hard to find an activity that appeals to the whole family. One fail-proof option is a day spent at Shedd Aquarium. With more than 32,000 amazing animals, a 4-D experience theater and a chance to explore the world’s oceans, rivers and reefs right in the heart of Chicago, there’s no way you’ll be battling boredom. Read on to learn why Shedd Aquarium should be checked off your family bucket list ASAP.

The can’t miss experience
We’ll just jump right in and tell you that no trip to Shedd is complete unless you’ve seen the aquatic presentation highlighting the Pacific white-sided dolphins, beluga whales and a changing lineup of other favorite animals. The animal care experts do a really great job of leading exciting performances, while educating the crowd on these magnificent animals. The presentations are free, but you must reserve your time slot at one of the North Lobby kiosks in front of Surroundings Cafe.

Special encounters
Stringray Touch – Get up close and personal with stingrays May through October at the Shedd Aquarium’s Stingray Touch exhibit. Dip your hand into a shallow tropical pool to find out what a stingray feels like. Feel their unique texture as they glide through the water in Shedd’s first outdoor environment.

Shark Feeding Tour  This is a little something for the older kids, as you have to be at least 10 to experience mealtime with Shedd’s sharks. For those that meet the age requirement, spend 90 minutes on a guided exploration into how Shedd’s experts care for one of the aquarium’s most diverse and fascinating animal groups. The tour starts with meeting reef residents – from corals and sea stars to sharks and rays – and learning how each one eats and avoids becoming lunch for a predator. From there, you’ll go behind-the-scenes to experience a feed in the 400,000-gallon tank.

Penguin Encounter – Get close enough to touch the sleek, slick feathers of an irresistibly cute penguin. During this 30-minute encounter, you’ll be introduced to one of Shedd’s penguins, learn about their natural habitats and dietary requirements and even take part in a mini training session. Warning: your little penguin-enthusiasts can’t take one home, but they’ll most definitely try.

photo: Sea Star Touch via Maria Chambers

Sea Star Touch – Blow your kid’s mind with the news that, although their name is deceiving, starfish are not actually fish at all. Discover the variety and textures of sea stars at the sea star touch pool in the Polar Play Zone where five species of sea stars make their home.

Behind the Scenes – Take a peek at Shedd from the perspective of their animal care staff during a 50-minute guided behind-the-scenes tour. At the animal healthcare center, participants will see how preventive care and innovative water-quality practices keep the animals healthy. Then they’ll go behind the galleries to view the aquarium from a new angle, see where nutritious meals are prepared for over 32,000 animals and witness Shedd Aquarium at work.

For the little ones
For the younger kids, be sure to check out the Polar Play Zone where they can slip into a penguin suit and try being a bird in the Icy South play area. From there, they can waddle on over to the Icy North to explore the Artic waters in a kid-sized submarine. They’ll learn about polar opposites — big and small, fast and slow, shallow and deep, even north and south — while they play.

Once they’re done birding for the day, they can take a closer look at the whales, dolphins and sea otters in the underwater viewing space.

Go glamping at Shedd
Fall asleep to visions of jellies and fishes in your head as you snuggle up in your sleeping bag for a night out at Shedd Aquarium’s Asleep with the Fishes offered just a few times a year. Dive into a marine-filled wonderland through games, hands-on activities, and special animal interactions with your favorite Shedd residents. Rise and shine and munch on a continental breakfast while you watch the aquarium critters go about their morning routines.

photo: Washed Ashore via Maria Chambers

See it before it’s gone
A 500-lb sea lion pup, a 13-foot eel and a 150 lb. sea jelly. See those and more in Shedd’s special exhibition, Washed Ashore, featuring larger-than-life sculptures of aquatic animals, created entirely from plastic beach trash. The exhibit was created to illustrate how plastic pollution has become one of the gravest threats to both ocean and freshwater animals and help the public become a part of the solution.  Since this not-for-profit project began, roughly 10,000 volunteers have removed over 38,000 pounds of plastic trash from over 300 miles of beaches, with 90 percent of the debris going into creating more than 60 massive sculptures to date.

Make this exhibition even more fun for kids by participating in a scavenger hunt to find unique items buried in the art.

New and notable
Opening May 25, Shedd’s newest exhibit, Underwater Beauty, celebrates the unbelievable beauty living in our oceans, lakes and rivers. You’ll catch a glimpse of the grandeur beneath the waves as 100 species from around the world come together in an evocative new space consisting of five distinct rooms that display a variety of adaptations and characteristics of aquatic beauty including: Shimmer, Color, Patterns, Rhythm and a final room featuring ample seating and beautiful fresh water fish/plant life. As you explore, feel the rhythms, embrace the colors and savor the patterns found only underwater.

It’s not all fins and scales
There are plenty of things tucked behind the main exhibits at the Shedd, some of which you might not see unless you look very closely. Pay attention when you’re in the Amazon rainforest and you’ll notice some furry friends, Titi and Goeldi monkeys. Nestled amongst the plants and habitats of the Amazon rainforest, the furry creatures bounce and climb while stingrays, tarantulas and anacondas mingled nearby. The forest, built to mimic the rise and fall of the river during floods and draughts, also includes churning river channels, still lakes and flooded treetops.

Become a member
The family/household membership is $195-$249 a year and includes two adults and any number of children living in the house. Shedd also offers an Advocate membership for $250 a year, which includes access for 2 adult cardholders, 2 adult guests and any number of children in the household. Members get free admission to all exhibits and can skip the long line and go straight to the members-only line. They also score free tickets to the daily aquatic show, discounts on the 4D shows and the seasonal Stingray Touch exhibit, and discounts at the onsite restaurants and stores.

Getting there
From Lake Shore Drive, exit at 18th Street. Follow Museum Campus Drive around Soldier Field where you’ll see signs indicating visitor parking. Shedd is just north of the parking garage and The Field Museum. There is limited on-street parking on Solidarity Drive. The pay-to-park boxes operate Monday through Sunday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Parking is $2 an hour, payable via coins and credit cards.

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Shedd Aquarium
1200 S. Lake Shore Dr.
Museum Campus
Online: sheddaquarium.org

— Maria Chambers

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