Experience the fantasy at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium

By - Dec 28th, 2009 12:52 am
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It can be a challenge to keep kids busy during winter break. After they’ve played with or broken most of their Christmas loot, they tend to walk around looking bored stiff as if there were nothing else to do.

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The Fantasea show transforms Shedd’s Oceanarium into a fantastic world under the sea. Photo, courtesy John G. Shedd Aquarium.

Here’s an idea: Take ’em to Chicago to see the new Fantasea exhibit at John G. Shedd Aquarium. First, they’ll simply be excited to know that they’re going somewhere special. Once they get there, they’ll forget all about their boredom and be oblivious to the fact that the trip is mostly educational, as they learn about the 32,000-plus sea creatures that live there (that’s even before the aquarium’s new Fantasea aquatic show gets started).

It’s children, ages 3-11, who are most likely to enjoy Fantasea. Trained Pacific white-sided dolphins, beluga whales, birds of prey, sea lions and pesky penguins all perform a number of stunts, and, at times, get pretty close to the audience. There are a few surprises that I wouldn’t dare spoil, but just know that the show makes use of land, water and air space. There’s music, a dramatic light show and a fairly loose story line that small children can follow easily. And then, it ends — maybe too abruptly … but then you realize, what more can you say once you’ve seen a few dolphins fly in and out of the water, sea lions squawk and penguins, well, do what penguins do.

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Our adventuresome little tour guide meets a dancing beluga whale. Photo, courtesy John G. Shedd Aquarium.

Your guide for the adventure is a feisty young girl who is excited to meet her new Flipper friends. Energetic and expressive, she helps to rally the audience to participate at certain points during the show and to help them focus on the various displays.

If you can’t squeeze this venture into your winter vacation schedules, don’t worry; the show will be a fixture at the aquarium for the next few years, a spokesperson said. But be prepared. The ticket lines at Shedd’s can be painstakingly long, as in upward of 25 to 35 minutes, which just so happens to be the length of the Fantasea show. So, be patient. And, if at all possible, make sure that your troupe includes at least two adults so that antsy little ones aren’t left whining and chin-kicking in the long lines.

If you want a  front-and-center view, you can purchase guaranteed seating (over and above regular ticket prices), although the half-moon seating pattern really means that there’s no bad seat in the house.

An all-access adult Shedd Pass costs $24.95. Children, ages 3 to 11, pay $17.95. The tickets aren’t just good for the Fantasea show though; you’ll be able to roam the aquarium and take in all of the special exhibits, shows and play stations at this rate. A family of two adults and two children will pay at least $85.80, making the aquarium’s annual family pass (at $115) look pretty attractive (especially since it covers two adults and four children).

Remember to check online for deals and for Fantasea show times. It’s likely that the production will take place several times daily, giving you ample time to tour the aquarium (which, I must say, is pretty magnificent) as well as to see the aquatic show.

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Penguins naturally impress during the performance. Photo, courtesy John G. Shedd Aquarium.

In January, take advantage of Shedd’s Community Discount Days, when general admission is free. The next discount week is Jan. 16-21; plus, every Monday and Tuesday in January is also discounted.

Getting there: If you decide to drive to Shedd Aquarium, you’ll pay about $16 per car at nearby parking garages. But if you want to make a day of it that doesn’t involve you driving, you could take the Megabus  from Milwaukee and pay about $128 for a family of four (but you’ll still need to take a local bus or taxi to the aquarium).  Taking a day trip on Amtrak from Milwaukee will cost just a few dollars more ($132), still requiring a bus or taxi ride.

While Milwaukee museums offer a lot in terms of educational enrichment and cool artifacts, Shedd Aquarium is a mesmerizing, state-of-the-art living showcase that reveals life in the world’s great fish bowl under the sea.

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