We joined the scouts for an overnight at the Adventure Aquarium in Camden. This was our fourth overnight, so we’ve had lots of experience seeing how they’re run in different facilities. This one was very well organized, and we slept better than at others. Even if you have no intention of sleeping over at the Adventure Aquarium, read on because there’s lots of great information about the animals in this post, and some awesome pictures too, if I say so myself.
You should arrive at the sleepover between 6-6:45. They lock the garage at 7, and that’s the only secure place to park. The garage is only two blocks away, but they run shuttles back to the aquarium. If there are 2 adults in the car, you can leave 1 adult and the kids with the luggage and the other drive can park. Otherwise, you can just drive to the garage and take your stuff with you in the shuttle.
You might be treated to some gorgeous views of Philadelphia across the river, and also the Ben Franklin Bridge. Right inside they’ll check you off and tell you where to get more information (upstairs, which is technically the first floor). They have you grouped by letter, and they rotate groups through the schedule. There are three official talks in the evening, plus time for a stingray touch tank. There was plenty of free time to explore on your own. The schedule also shows the other touch tanks operating times. While there’s no official snack time for each group, snack ran from 8-10, so you can stop in when it suits your needs/schedule.
Our first program wasn’t until 7:30, so we pet some small sharks and spent a lot of time at the touch tank below. I haven’t been to the aquarium during the day, but others have said these tanks are mobbed during the day. We had it to ourselves several times. We loved the sea apples (below), which looked to me like colorful human hearts with plants coming out. They release toxins if disturbed (you can touch them, but only gently), so they’re not eaten in the wild.
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This tank also had some sea stars. This is a red knobbed sea star, but they also had ones with similar knobs, called chocolate chip sea stars – the knobs were brown, and the star was tan. The shrimp on top is a magenta one, I believe. They were fun to watch.
We joked that the room next to the other touch tank was full of good cocktails – they had some other funky shaped containers with other colorful liquids. This room raised some kind of shrimp that became fish feed. they looked so pretty though!
While the touch tank with the colorful shrimp and sea apples was relatively warm, the one above, with the orange and pinkish sea stars was frigid. They also had anemonies, but touching them was brutal.
The second floor had a lot of play areas for the younger kids, including the turtle above, plus large frogs and hippos the kids could climb and sit on. There was another interactive area with different gongs the kids could hit, plus a room for nursing moms to use.
My son really liked the Frogger game (super loud), Unfortunately it was not the original game. You push a button and the frog takes three leaps and ends up in the water – you have no control over moving it to logs versus water. So it seemed kind of silly. That didn’t stop my kid from wanting to play though.
The portholes looking into the big tank was a very popular place for the kids to hang out and for parents to take their pictures. The middle porthole (this one) goes in pretty deep, so you can fit a couple of kids in there, and get an interesting view.
We love jellyfish and there were two jelly tanks near the shark and hippo area.
The guides giving the talks were excellent – especially our shark guide. The shark tank is 550,000 gallons, and 31 feet deep. There’s also a 40 foot long tunnel where you can walk through the tank and get pictures like the one I got below. The tank holds 30 sharks and 750 fish. The fish don’t get eaten because the sharks are well fed. You’ll see sand tiger sharks, sandbar sharks and nurse sharks. Did you know you’re more likely to be crushed by a vending machine than to be bitten by a shark?
While there are three ways that sharks reproduce (they do different things with their eggs), one way is for the egg to develop inside the mom, in the uterine horn. Each horn has eight eggs, but only two baby sharks are born. Why? One of them eats the other baby sharks. This way they don’t get 16 teeny sharks, they get two that are strong and larger. It’s called intrauterine cannibalism.
Most sharks keep swimming because that’s how they get their oxygen – with water flowing through their mouth. They can’t swim backwards, which is why shark tanks are round. The sharks in the tank below were caught off the New Jersey coast, most of them are female, because that’s where they pup.
Toward the end of the shark tunnel, we saw the Currents ballroom, which was being used that night. What a fun place for a party! They can look in and see fish and sharks while they eat, and we could smell their delicious food during the shark talk. The view below is from the shark tunnel.
Next we headed to Stingray Beach Club, a very cute room where they have a stingray touch tank. These do not have the stingers, so no worries. They are friendly and feel kind of rubbery. Our favorite was this spotted one, the Leopard Whipray. We called it the Jersey stingray, and the name stuck with those in our group. It was HUGE.
There was one stingray who loved to be touched. It kept going back and forth along the same spot where it had some willing petters. It came out of the water to turn around, and went back and forth and back and forth. It was funny to watch.
We had fun checking out the crocodiles. You’ll see another picture of one of them later, but I had fun getting some close-up pictures of one of them.
Our next talk that evening was in the Ocean Realm, the same tank where you saw the porthole picture earlier. This tank extends into several viewing rooms. Volunteer divers came down and helped with the presentation (one of them had a mask allowing him to talk). Bob the turtle, who you can see in the middle, joined in during the discussion and would not leave. It was hilarious because he kept swimming around the middle of the tank showing off. And she (yes, she) does this all the time, apparently.
This tank is 760,000 gallons, and the acrylic glass in front is only held in by water pressure. The acrylic is 30,000 pounds and is one foot thick. At one point, they have the diver put his hand on the inside, and a volunteer do it on the outside, and you can really see the difference.
The tank has rays, hammerhead sharks, Bob the turtle, and other creatures. The turtle can hold its breath for five hours!! We played a multiple choice game (with help from the audience members), with some facts about the animals.
We had time after the tank talk to grab a snack. You’re allowed two snacks and an apple juice, plus adults can have unlimited coffee and tea. By this time the adults were pretty tired, so that came in handy. Snacks included goldfish crackers, Quaker chewy bars, Smartfood popcorn, Rice Krispie treats and Nature Valley bars. They also had a few vending machines in there with candy, ice cream and water ice. No food can leave the room.
Our last tour of the evening was a tour of the top of the ocean realm tank. I’ve seen a number of tank tops, but this one was extraordinarily large. What you’re seeing is maybe 20% of the whole thing. We learned that Bob came to the Adventure Aquarium when she was the size of an Oreo. Now sh’es 4 feet long and 550 pounds. They didn’t know her gender for a long time, so they named her Bob and the name stuck.
We also saw an interesting zebra shark, which is born with stripes like a zebra. However those stripes change to spots later! The largest ray in the tank is a roughtail stingray, which is 11 feet x 4 feet. But it’s still growing and can grow as large as 16×6 feet! The tank is kept clean by a 14 teams of volunteer divers
At 10:30, everyone meets in the cafe and they bring you by group to your sleeping area. You can’t go to sleep earlier than that. Also, you can request an area, but they don’t guarantee it. We were happy to be sleeping with the fish – and had a decent amount of space to spread out. We were also happy to be on the far side of the bathroom, because it meant fewer people walking through our area at all hours to go to the facilities. I felt badly for those sleeping in the round room outside the bathrooms, because they were crowded and I can imagine they got a lot of traffic.
The lights went out at 11:15 (no warning), and it was decently dark, which made us happy. I’d recommend bringing eye shades if the light bothers you, and maybe even ear plugs. It got pretty quiet (not our experience at other sleepovers). And I’d recommend that if you wake up before the 7:00 wake-up call, please stay in your sleeping bag and DON’T PACK UP. Even you do it quietly and whisper softly, it is so easy to hear and it’s disruptive. Do your neighbors a favor and stay quiet and in bed.
While we didn’t bring our phone cords, there were enough outlets that you could easily find a place to plug in and charge your devices (just turn them off first so they don’t ring at night!).
One of the highlights for the kids was watching the crocodile take a morning poop. We didn’t know that’s what was happening. We saw the croc up on its hind legs, and stopped to watch, because it was a funny position. Soon after we saw this brown cloud below, and it looked like it was kicking up dirt, but nothing was moving. Then we saw the poop come out (between the hind legs, and little back). After all that brown dirt, the poop wasn’t even that big. It then turned around and laid back down.
In the morning, almost everyone is supposed to eat breakfast, then pack up there things. Shuttles run from 7-9:30, to the garage. Even though we were to pack up later, most people deflated their mattresses and put everything in bags before heading to breakfast, making it easier later to just come back for the luggage to move it. The bathrooms were not as busy as I expected, I guess because people staggered going in.
Those sleeping in the shark area have to be packed and moved by 7:30, and then get breakfast later. Breakfast consisted of cereal (Cheerios, Golden Grahams and something else), milk, orange juice, Danishes, Trix yogurt and coffee/tea. It was a little hard to find a table in the eating area, but there are some tables in adjacent rooms – so check there if you can’t find one.
We didn’t have anything scheduled until 9:30, so we had plenty of free time in the morning, even after dealing with the luggage. I retrieved the car (they take credit cards and cash), and stopped by the aquarium drop-off area to get the luggage. Then there’s parking in an outdoor lot very close by. You get a parking permit as part of the program. You can stay as long as you’d like that day.
A lot of the animals are fed in the morning, so it’s fun to see them. I was told that the frogs were fed that morning, and more active than later in the day. The little turtle in the tank with the frogs was munching away. An associate said that the turtle is often hiding during the day, so getting to see him eat was fun. The frogs were constantly hopping across his back and he didn’t care or seem to notice.
We had fun watching the turtle below eat its breakfast.
At 9, the penguin area opens up, though they warn that if it’s cold, the penguins may not come out. Turns out that there are 18 species of penguins, but only 2 of them live in cold weather year-round. The aquarium’s African penguins don’t like the cold. We didn’t bother going out to see.
The staff does a hippo talk in the morning at 9:30, and the program officially ends after this, though you can stay around longer.
They have two female hippos (and the other animal in the background). Hippos are territorial, but females are less so, so they have two females. They get fed in the morning and then they go into the water to sleep all day, coming up for air briefly. They don’t actually swim in the water, just bounce there. They can’t swim. They stay in the water to avoid sunburns (not at the aquarium, but elsewhere) and to keep their skip cool. They eat 80-150 pounds of vegetation a day. The females weigh around 3,500 pounds (males weigh 5,000).
Overnights are run twice a year, with around 12 offered each of those seasons. They sell out quickly, so if you’re interested, act fast. The cost is $65/person, which includes evening snack and morning breakfast, day time parking (there’s an additional $10-12 fee for overnight parking) and admission. It’s run by the New Jersey Academy for Aquatic Sciences, which is not actually a part of the aquarium.
Even if you don’t go for an overnight, they do have scout weekends, with discounted tickets and an educational program or 4D film. Plus scout workshops to earn badges.
I was impressed with the aquarium (even though I kept getting lost). The exhibits were really nice and well done. There were activities for all ages. And lots of excellent touch tanks.
Other sleepover reviews on JerseyKids.net:
Overnight at the Philadelphia Zoo
Overnight at the Liberty Science Center
Overnight at the Connecticut Maritime Aquarium