It is a solid attraction in Chicago for older kids and adults, but what about with little kids? Is the Shedd Aquarium good for toddlers? It is, but don’t pay full price, visit when it’s crowded, or stop in the gift shop.
Is the Shedd Aquarium Good for Toddlers?: Things to Consider
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Is the Shedd Aquarium Good for Toddlers?
1. Where is Shedd Aquarium?
The aquarium is located in downtown Chicago on the water near the Field Museum and Adler Planetarium. It is a beautiful place to walk on a nice day. The aquarium itself is indoors, so you can comfortably visit year-round.
Pro tip: Strollers are allowed throughout the museum.
2. Parking is Easy
There are several places to park near the aquarium including the Soldier Field garage, East Museum lot, and Adler Planetarium lot. Prices vary, but you will win if you arrive early.
The earliest birds will be able to find street parking, and the Adler lot is discounted in the morning ($12 before 9:30 a.m. as of the time of this writing).
If you don’t want to hunt for a spot, SpotHero is always an option.
Pro tip: Check the map with parking options before you arrive.
3. How Much Time Do You Need at the Shedd Aquarium?
You can probably get through the aquarium in two hours. If you want to take your time, play in the play area, see a show, and eat at a toddler’s pace, plan to be there for half a day.
4. What Animals Can You See?
Is it worth going to the Shedd Aquarium for the animals? Absolutely. It isn’t SeaWorld, but it has a ton to see. Try to visit on a weekday and arrive right when the property opens to ensure your short toddler doesn’t have to fight a crowd to experience everything.
Pro tip: Download the Shedd Aquarium app before you go. It has a map and animal directory.
The Abbott Oceanarium is the highlight of the aquarium. Here, you will find beluga whales, dolphins, sea otters, and sea lions. You can view the dolphins and beluga whales both above and below water.
Pro tip: There are free daily shows in the big pool wherein the animals jump out of the water. This may be the only presentation that entertains your toddler at the aquarium. Be sure to check the schedule so you don’t miss it.
At Home on the Great Lakes
The At Home on the Great Lakes section has fish. The highlight is an alligator snapping turtle. Other than the turtle, this section isn’t overly exciting for toddlers.
Islands and Lakes
The Islands and Lakes section has a bunch of small tanks that have fish and turtles. The highlight is a Dwarf Caiman. If you’re short on time, I would skip this section and prioritize others with toddlers.
The Oceans section has sharks, octopi, and terrifying eels. This one shouldn’t be skipped.
Polar Play Zone
Polar Play Zone features penguins, jellyfish, and seastars you can touch. This area should not be missed with toddlers.
The Rivers section has a lot of fish and turtles. If you don’t have time for everything, skip this section.
Stingray Touch has a shallow pool wherein you can pet stingrays.
The Wild Reef area features fish, rays, sea stars, and several species of sharks. This is a must-do section with toddlers.
5. There is a Play Area for Little Kids
Polar Play Zone is a play area for small children with a submarine and water table. This area is best enjoyed without others. Arrive early.
6. 4-D Movies Are Offered
4-D movies are available for a small upcharge. Check the offerings at the time of your visit.
Pro tip: Save these movies for the afternoon when the free exhibits are more crowded.
7. There Are Special Events
The aquarium offers different talks and animal spotlights throughout the day. The majority of these will not hold the attention of toddlers. Check the schedule at the time of your visit.
8. You Cannot Come and Go
The aquarium has an amazing location near the water and several other tourist attractions. It would be great if you could come and go as you please, but you cannot. If you can wait to eat, there are plenty of restaurants near Shedd Aquarium.
9. Does the Shedd Aquarium Allow Outside Food?
You can’t come and go, but you can bring food in.
Pro tip: If you can get seats near the Deep Ocean Cafe in the Polar Play Zone area, you will have views of tanks from your table.
10. There Are Multiple Dining Options
The aquarium has several areas to purchase food. In addition to the restaurants listed below, there are vending machines and popcorn stands. There aren’t a ton of gluten-free options. Consider bringing food if you’ll be there all day.
Bubble Net Food Court
Bubble Net is the largest dining area in the aquarium. You can get things like hot dogs, pizza, and salads. Gluten-free options are limited, but you should be able to find a prepackaged salad.
Deep Ocean Cafe
Deep Ocean Cafe is a small quick-service with things like hot dogs and popcorn. There isn’t a ton of seating,
Soundings Cafe is Starbucks. Period.
11. The Gift Shop is a Rip-Off
The gift shop prices are insane, and I’m not easily shocked. Your toddler will be drawn to the stuffed animals. Avoid the store like the plague. A stuffed animal from Amazon is a much better option.
12. There Are Ways to Save
If your toddler is two or under, he or she can visit for free. The rest of you can’t. The aquarium is expensive, but there are ways to save. Don’t pay full price.
Pro tip: Advanced tickets are required even if you’re going for free. Be sure to reserve your spot.
Some Dates Offer Free Admission and Discounts for Residents
On certain dates, all Illinois residents are free. On others, Chicago residents get discounts. Check the calendar on the Shedd Aquarium website if your dates are flexible.
Visit During the Week
Ticket prices vary by the day. If you can avoid the weekend, you’ll save money. You will also have a more pleasant experience. The weekends are as crowded as Walmart on Black Friday.
Visit with a Group
Traveling with a large group? Be sure to book in advance for a discounted rate.
There Are Passes with Access to Multiple Attractions
Consider a Membership
Visiting more than once? A membership that comes with perks (like gift shop savings) might be worth it.
Teachers, Active Duty Military, and Chicago First Responders Get in Free
Teachers, active duty military, and Chicago first responders get into the aquarium for free. Be sure to reserve your ticket ahead of time.
Association of Zoos and Aquariums Members Get Discounted Tickets
As of the time of this writing, AZA members get 50% off admission.
Kids Museum Passport Holders Get in Free
Chicago Public Libraries offer Kids Museum Passports that give free admission to the aquarium, as well as the Museum of Science and Industry, Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, and the Art Institute.
Book a Hotel Package
A hotel package through a partner hotel is unlikely to be your best option. Using points for a free stay or booking a stay independently will likely be a better deal. However, if you’re coming to Chicago mainly to visit the aquarium and want to make things as easy as possible, check out the aquarium’s partner hotels.
Final Thoughts – Is the Shedd Aquarium Good for Toddlers?
Is the Shedd Aquarium good for toddlers? Hard yes. It has lots of animals, plenty to see, a play area, and a great location. Be sure to buy discounted tickets and arrive early to maximize your visit.