St. Louis has always been a favorite destination of ours.
With its incredible museums such as the Magic House and City Museum, we’ve never found ourselves bored in St. Louis. But consider adding in some time in to experience the new St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station. It opened on Christmas Day, 2019. What was once a shopping mall recently underwent a $187 million-dollar face lift. The 120,000-square-foot, two-story aquarium and convenient attractions The St. Louis Wheel, 18 hole mini golf, a classic Carousel, mirror maze, ropes course, and fun restaurants.
Here are four reasons why we think the new St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station is worth a visit.
1. The Amusement Park-Like Experience
The team from this aquarium admit it’s not the biggest aquarium out there. But that’s okay because but it has so many modern elements that make it second-to-none. The aquarium is operated by the zoOceanarium Group, based in Dubai. Which makes sense considering all we’ve heard about the amazing, one-of-a-kind experiences in Dubai!
As an example, when you’re walking to Shark Canyon – a 250,000-gallon ocean habitat – you’ll think you’re at an amusement park, as the walkway is “moody blue” to mimic the ocean and has several screens showing the many sharks you might see. It builds so much excitement for kids and parents alike. There are eight different viewing options that peer into the exhibit, including over your head. Guests will be able to learn more about all the species on interactive touchscreens located throughout the attraction. These touchscreens are all over the aquarium – not just with the sharks.
We love the St. Louis Aquarium’s historical nods to Union Station, starting with its ticket desk menu that resembles a train station flipboard and its downsized grand lobby with changing scenery on LED ceilings and walls. And considering the station is a National Historic Landmark and they had to preserve certain elements, I can’t imagine this was an easy feat.
They also marry the train experience to the aquarium experience so well. At the beginning of your experience, you are seated in an imaginary train car. The benches rumble, and John Goodman (a St. Louis native) narrates a historical journey, viewed through digital “windows.” It starts on land, then goes of its rails into the ocean. It’s fun for all ages!
2. Incredible Interactives
It’s one of the most well-staffed aquariums I’ve seen. They offer five opportunities to get their hands wet, four around animals. You can pet starfish, stingrays, meet a variety of animals (we saw turtles and giant cockroaches) with educated staff giving awesome facts and quizzing kids.
And they have this cool coloring area–where kids color a 2D fish, scan it, then watch their creation turn 3D and virtually and swim above their heads and on the walls with all the other kids’ creations. Everyone loved this (and I hope we get something like this in Indy)!
There are so many spots for kids to poke their heads ‘into’ the aquarium to get a closer look at piranhas, river otters, sharks, and much more! Speaking of adorable river otters, there’s a wonderful learning area where “Tommy the Otter” offers a real-time animated talk show. Tommy asks questions and responds to the audience’s reactions in real-time. The show is a blend of computer graphic techniques, educational content, and comedic improvisation by staff behind the scenes. The kids were in awe!
3. So much to do!
The 120,000-square-foot, two-story aquarium and complex offers so much – for all ages. In addition to the Aquarium, families can check out the St. Louis Wheel, 18-hole mini golf, a classic Carousel, mirror maze, ropes courses (for little ones and older kids), and fun restaurants. We were there for three nights and saw kids of all ages enjoying the attractions. (In fact, we saw many grown ups without kids!)
4. Onsite Dining
There are three restaurants as part of the new St. Louis Aquarium attraction at Union Station. There’s a wonderful restaurant right within steps of the Aquarium called Soda Fountain. It offers casual fare, a cute candy and souvenir shop, and outdoor dining. The restaurant pays homage to the charm of a 1950’s soda shop/diner. Prepare yourself for two certainties. First, the kids will beg you for an $18 “loaded” milkshake. Ours shared a “Very Happy Un-Birthday” – Vanilla frosted rim with rainbow sprinkles topped with a funfetti cupcake, whipped cream, rainbow sprinkles, snickerdoodle cookie, cherry, rainbow pop. We justified it, since you know, vacation. But be warned!
Also be prepared for a long wait time. They take your cell phone number and you can gauge where you are in line. We chose to wait for the hour-long wait in our hotel room (another reason we vote for the Union Station stay).
And when you’re planning your visit – here are our top tips:
1. Be Patient, Be Prepared
Just like any new museum or amusement park, be sure have a bit of patience. They just opened on Christmas, and the locals have been coming by the carload! Tickets for the aquarium frequently sell out as they have limited tickets available for every 15-minute time slot. Advanced purchase is strongly recommended. We showed up on a Saturday in January at 9:40am and they were sold out until 5:30pm. Get your tickets here. There are a couple combo ticket options: aquarium + wheel is $35 adults and $25 for kids; all six attractions is $50 for adults and $40 for kids.
2. Stay Overnight Onsite
We’d recommend staying on-site at the St. Louis Union Station. See if you can score one of the 6 hotel rooms overlooking the aquarium. There’s no indoor pool, but the outdoor one is wonderful. And there’s so much to do that our kids didn’t even miss the usual indoor pool time. From the stunning fire and 3D light shows, six on-site activities and three restaurants, it’s just so convenient.
You’ll appreciate the convenience of having a place to rest between all the activities. They have a Ropes course (2 levels—young ones and older kids), a Ferris wheel, carousel, mirror maze, 18-hole mini golf. We even saw a Build-a-Bear next to the parking lot. There is an additional cost for these activities – but to be truthful, we think our kids just loved all the open space to play, fun music, and free playground. (And mom and dad liked the affordable adult drink stalls right next to the playground!)