Bella’s Girl Scout Troop arranged an outing to the Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center in Riverhead, NY. We decided to tag a long and make it a family adventure.
The Long Island Aquarium is small in size. However, it underwent an expansion a few years back that added a new exhibition center and some new outdoor exhibits that make it a pretty big experience.
The Long Island Aquarium is located on Main Street in downtown Riverhead, NY. The name of the town comes from being located right at the head of the Peconic River.
The Peconic River splits Long Island into its two famous “forks” at the east end. So, the Aquarium’s location makes it convenient for visitors and also gives the staff access to marine wildlife and resources.
The aquarium opened its doors in 2000 as “Atlantis Marine World”. The Atlantis name is still part of the aquarium. The exhibits are themed to look like the ruins of an ancient city.
The Aquarium expanded and changed its name to the Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center in 2011. It is currently #8 on the list of TripAdvisor’s top Zoos/Aquariums in New York State. The top 7 spots all belonging to Zoos. That makes it the highest ranked NY Aquarium. It’s a popular destination for field trips by local schools and groups. Lisa has been there about 6 times with her school, and we’ve gone as a family 3 times.
“Wait, you’ve only been there 3 times?”
While it’s about the same distance from us as Manhattan, it can be a PITA to get to. That’s because it seems like NOTHING in Long Island is ever convenient. On top of that, it’s a bit pricey and doesn’t belong to the family of Zoos/Aquariums in our area that are all backed by the Wildlife Conservation Society (Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, NY Aquarium, etc.). Those zoos and aquariums have a membership program that lets you go to all of them for one price.
For comparison, the NY Aquarium at Coney Island costs $12 per person. The Long Island Aquarium is $21 for kids/$28 for adults.
In fact, this was the second attempt at putting together a trip to the Long Island Aquarium for the Girl Scout troop. Last year’s attempt fell through due to concerns about the cost, and Bella was upset because she is very interested in working with marine animals. We’re glad this year’s trip did not meet that same fate.
That being said, there’s A LOT to like about the Long Island Aquarium. Here are the Highlights from our visit:
Atlantis Explorer Tour Boat
The Atlantis Explorer Tour Boat was the most surpirsing highlight of our day. It costs an extra $20 per person (separate from aquarium admission). But the group rate for the troop included the boat tour at a good discount.
First, the boat ride began with some rules and safety demonstrations by our very energetic guide, Tammy. Then, She gave us some interesting facts about the river, Ospreys and Mute Swans that we saw along the river. Next, we played a game of “Fear Factor” with the kids. The kids came up, closed their eyes, and held out their hands. Tammy then pulled out a “frightening creature” from a cooler and place it in their hands. The kids felt the creature and tried to guess what it was.
Before we knew it, we had reached our destination. We arrived at a tiny island where we were told we would be getting off the boat. We had no idea! It was cool to explore this little island in the middle of the river. It’s a place we’d never have ended up on our own.
We walked along the beach, exploring and looking at shells. Then Tammy recruited children to assist her in fishing using a large seine net.
After taking off their shoes and rolling up their shorts, Tammy and the kids dragged the water with the seine net. They did this a few times and collected some various creatures to bring back on to the boat.
During the ride back, Tammy talked about the various creatures they found. She shared interesting facts about each one before ceremoniously dumping them overboard. She even recruited the help of the kids when it came time to return the spider crabs! Jackson and Bella both got to participate. We also tried to make mud snails dance by singing to them. We played some trivia and more “fear factor” on the way back to the Aquarium.
Butterflies, Bugs and Birds
The second biggest highlight was the Butterfly exhibit. The new exhibition center was designed to change every so often so it could offer new things. Since it opened 5 years ago, it has remained the Butterfly exhibit, and it’s very cool.
This was the best butterfly house I had ever been to. It wasn’t too big and the way the walkway snaked through the exhibit really added to the experience. We crossed paths with the butterflies constantly.
The butterflies were large and easy to spot. Unfortunately, the close contact with them is a danger for the butterflies. We were warned before going in to watch our step. I saw a butterfly who had been stepped on as soon as I entered.
We also some some interactive puzzles and informational signs throughout the exhibit.
We also checked out some interesting insects in tanks along the path. These stick bugs were very active and very cool-looking!
On top of all that, there was also a bird exhibit. It felt like stepping into a giant birdcage. I found it a bit disappointing in comparison to the butterfly section.
Our final highlight was Ray Bay. It was the first AND last thing the kids did at the Aquarium. The kids had fun trying to touch the rays as they swam by.
Jackson finally touched his first ray just before we left. (It’s tough having short arms!) We had to drag them away from the rays!
As you can see, our favorite parts of the aquarium that were the ones that were hands-on. Being able to do more than look adds to the experience and really engages the kids more than just looking through the glass.
More Long Island Aquarium Fun
That all being said, there was a lot of cool stuff to just look at.
We saw Clownfish and Tangs, which the kids love from watching “Finding Nemo” and “Finding Dory”.
The otters were cute and playful…
The Sea Lion show was short but sweet…
The penguins adorably waddled and swam in their pen. There was even a dome for the kids to get a closer look…
And of course, there were the sharks! I have seen these sharks up close and personal thanks to Lisa getting gifting me the Atlantis Shark Dive Experience!
Some interactive elements had also been added since our last visit, such as the Pirate Snorkel Adventure. We hadn’t planned on that because it costs extra. But when we walked by, a Mermaid greeted us and talked to the kids for a few minutes.
We explored the interactive Atlantis dig site…
We pet some alligators…
We saw some reptiles…
And we saw more and more fish!
The Long Island Aquarium is pricey. But sometimes it’s worth paying the extra money for the value you get in return.
The local boutique analogy is a good one. You pay a bit more, but you get a unique experience. Your money not only supports the local economy, but also the local wildlife. While some of the bigger name zoos and aquariums are supported by large conservation organizations, the Long Island Aquarium works directly with the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation.
The aquarium did more than just add value to its exhibits with its recent expansion. The Long Island Aquarium is now a place for weddings and events. You can rent out various areas of the aquarium. There is also now a hotel right next door. You could plan your Long Island visit around staying there. Then you could visit the Aquarium, and branch out to hit the nearby wineries, parks, and Splish Splash Water Park!
The Long Island Aquarium has a small cafe along with some snack and beverage options. Lunch for our family of 4 at the cafe was $50. Bottles of water were $3.50 (That’s more than Disney charges!) We will most likely try one of the many lunch options in town on our next visit. The Farm Country Kitchen down the road looks interesting and budget-friendly. There are also some chain restaurants like Applebee’s, TGI Fridays, and Panera Bread near the Tanger Outlet Mall only minutes away.
For more information on ticket prices, exhibits, and special events and other offerings, check out the Long Island Aquarium website!