Pros: Easy to navigate, child friendly, interactive exhibits
I spent the day today with my mother in law and my two children, my daughter (age 5) and son (almost 3), at Atlantis Marine World in Riverhead, NY. This was my first visit, however my mother in law had taken my daughter to this aquarium last summer.
Getting to Atlantis Marine World
I wrote down the directions from the website and used my GPS as well. The driving directions from the website were very clear and understandable, and my GPS took me the identical route. The website also indicates that the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) is within walking distance of the aquarium.
We arrived at about 11:30. As we approached, my mother in law said "Parking is right over here. Oh wait! It's closed!" The parking area had been closed off, and it appeared that there was work going on in the lot. I drove a little farther up the street and turned around. There was a sign pointing to a sign street indicating Aquarium Parking. There was a small lot that was full, then I drove about ¼ mile down the road and found a parking lot designated as parking for the aquarium. When I returned home I took a look at the website to see what it said about the current parking situation, and it mentioned nothing about having to park in alternate locations. If walking from a lot to the aquarium is a concern, I would suggest giving the aquarium a call to see if the work on the adjoining lot has been finished.
Hours and Admission
According to the website, Atlantis Marine World is open year round (except Christmas) from 10am-5pm. Basic admission prices are: children under 2 are free, ages 3-17 and seniors 62+ are $18.50, adults are $22.50. Coupons are pretty easy to come by. You can often find them in local papers and coupon magazines. If you have AAA you get a great deal if you are going with children. Using your AAA card, with each adult admission you get ½ off a children's admission price. There is also a Pay-One-Price (POP) options which includes some pay attractions. Check out the website for other pricing, such as Penguin Encounter, Senior Days, Shark Dives, and several others. If you are going to be a juror at the Riverhead Courts, be sure to check out the Juror Promotion. You can take a behind the scenes tour for $5.00. There is also an environmental boat tour. All of these tickets can be ordered online or in person right at the aquarium.
When we arrived at the aquarium there was a line, but it moved quickly enough due to the numerous people working at the admission counter. There were no aquarium maps available at the time.
Atlantis Marine World
The aquarium is themed around the mythical undersea city of Atlantis. All throughout the aquarium you will find the theme carried out by "remnants" of the remains of the city, treasure chests and Poseidon.
Attractions and Exhibits
There are both indoor and outdoor exhibits. You will find all kinds of fish and even shark in the indoor exhibits. Younger children will love the fish tank with the clown fish. My son just stared and said "Ohhhhh, Nemo". My daughter was a bit nervous as we stopped at the shark tank. There were two sharks that were quite large, and when she saw them she hid behind me. We had later headed up the steps where you can look down into the shark tank and watch the shark swim from above. While were looking over the shark tank we got to watch some people going down into the tank in a shark cage. On the second floor is also the Submarine Simulator attraction. (This has a separate charge, or can be included in the POP admission.) I'm not sure what this attraction is, but since I didn't think my kids were old enough for it, we bypassed it. We spent a while at the indoor exhibits, but now that I am looking back at the map, I believe I missed a couple things. There was one point that I split up with my mother in law, and she took my son to see some things, while my daughter and I went in a different direction.
We next went to the outdoor exhibits. You will find a variety of outdoor exhibits. There is an interactive area where you can wade through water to interact with sea creatures like shrimp and crab. My kids were fascinated by the sting ray area. These are small sting ray and you can reach into the tank and pet the sting ray as they swim past. You can also buy food and feed the sting ray. There was a special alligator exhibit going on as well. Walking around you will also see penguins, otter, and monkeys.
There is Discovery Tower, which is a pay ride, or part of the POP price. It is a tower with cars that will take you 100 feet in the air. It slowly spins around for aerial views. This was working when we first came outdoors, but by the time we got to that area, it was closed.
We sat down to see the sea lion show. The show is about 15 minutes long. We got there around 10 minutes in advance and seating at Sea Lion Coliseum was already limited. There is stroller parking in front of the seating area. The show was cute, and the kids liked it. Being that you need to get there early for seating, the show was just long enough for the kids.
We went by the penguin pavilion and there was a small outdoor demonstration. We didn't stick around for it - I found it odd to have these penguins outdoors in 90 degree heat.
If you want to get an idea of all of the exhibits, take a look at the website for a list.
There appeared to be no restrictions on bringing food or drink to the aquarium. I brought a tiny cooler with me that I kept in the bottom of the stroller. I had some snacks and drinks for the kids. If you wanted to bring some sandwiches of your own, you could probably sit in the Riverside Pavilion which is a covered area with tables near the water. If you want to buy lunch or snacks, there is the Atlantis Café. The café offers burgers, pizza, chicken fingers and even salads and other foods. The prices were high, but not as high as I expected. A hamburger, chicken fingers, French fries, 2 chocolate milks, a large soda and a large iced coffee came to $24. The serving size of the chicken fingers and the fries was reasonable, and I was pretty impressed with how good they tasted. We went to have lunch at around 1:15, and the area was pretty crowded. We waited on line about 10 minutes, and had to find seating at one of the outdoor tables. It definitely looked like they could use some more seating. You can also find a couple other areas for snacks plus an ice cream shop.
There are restrooms near the Atlantis Café. I can't talk about the men's room, but I wasn't pleased with the ladies rest room. There were only four stalls, with one being for handicap access. Both time we used the bathroom there was a line out the door. Part of the reason it was out the door was because inside the bathroom was so small. There was a baby changing station, but I can't see how anyone could have used it, since there were always people standing in front of it waiting for a stall. The second time we used the bathroom was after we ate lunch, so I would guess that to be about 1:30. At that time one toilet was backed up and there were no paper towels. We didn't have a map so I don't know of any other rest rooms within the facility - I didn't see any during out travel around the area.
We visited on a Tuesday, and overall the crowds were reasonable. Since it is mid-August, I was pretty surprised to see at least four busloads of campers coming in. There was never a time where we could not see an exhibit. People were always moving so we always got a chance to get up close to see everything.
Navigating the Aquarium
Getting around Atlantis Marine World is pretty simple. We were unable to get a map upon entrance to the aquarium, so we relied on display signs. Even without a map we didn't have any problems finding anything we wanted to visit. Most of the area was stroller friendly. The only area we had a problem was near the alligator display. This was a temporary show, and the location was a little tight because there was a Koi pond in the center of the pathway. It made it hard to get the stroller past this area.
To exit the aquarium, you must go through the gift shop.
We had a nice day at Atlantis Marine World. The grounds were very clean. We were there close to four hours and we saw nearly everything. I do think that at $22.50 the adult price was a bit steep for somewhere we only visited for four hours. It was definitely very child friendly and I saw a sign saying it was highly rated by Parents magazine. My kids enjoyed the day and especially liked the sting rays. It was a nice to spend a hot summer day. However it is somewhere I would probably only take the kids to once every few years.
As you leave the aquarium and head home, and if you are heading west, be sure to stop by one of the farm stands off the LIE. We stopped at exit 69 where my mother in law picked up some corn, tomatoes and a homemade pie.