After our visit to DC’s National Aquarium we were set to tell our readers not to waste their money. But a little online research has us changing our tune, just a bit. We still wouldn’t recommend it as a major family outing, but it might be a worthwhile visit… just not for the obvious reasons.
A couple of weeks ago a friend came downtown for an afternoon with his own one-year old daughter and we decided to meet up at the Museum of Natural History. PQ Mom had taken our daughter there earlier and she loved the mammals exhibit with all the large animals. On this occasion, however, we hit the museum at the wrong time and there was a huge line just to get in the door. Lacking patience, we decided to go somewhere else and walked over to the National Aquarium on 14th Street, since neither of us had been there before.
If you don’t know already, the DC’s National Aquarium (not to be confused with the identically-named aquarium in Baltimore) is in the basement of the Department of Commerce building at 14th and Constitution Ave, NW. Admission is $9 for adults, $6 for kids ages 3-11, and free for kids under 3. There are military and group discounts available as well.
As we approach the entrance with kids in tow we notice a banner promoting shark week (we assume this coincides Discovery Channel’s Shark Week) and after we get in, we watched a video of sharks on screens designed to look like ship portholes. That’s it, there are no other sharks to be seen in the aquarium, and no live sharks at all. It was not impressive to say the least. The aquarium itself is equally disappointing; essentially it is just a really dark room with several fish tanks installed into the walls. For us, the overwhelming feeling was more of pity for the fish stuck in the dingy tanks than anything else. It’s so small that, even at a one-year old’s non-walking pace, you can easily get around the entire aquarium in about 10 minutes. When you combine the small public viewing area with the lack of light (it was so dark that our daughters could hardly see the fish unless they were right up against the glass), well, we left thinking that we won’t be able to get those 15 minutes back.
It was in researching the background of the National Aquarium for this post, however, that we came across some facts that were pretty interesting. According to the National Aquarium FAQ:
- The DC National Aquarium is the nation’s oldest aquarium;
- The National Aquarium was first established in 1873 in Woods Hole, MA as part of the Federal Fish Commission. In 1878, The National Aquarium moved to the site of the Washington Monument, and consisted of holding ponds, known as “Babcock Lakes;” and
- The Fish Commission became part of the Department of Commerce in 1903, and moved into the building of the Department of Commerce Building in 1932.
It’s funny how a little thing like “Nations Oldest Aquarium” can change your attitude. While our recommendation stands at “don’t go there to see the fish,” it might be worth $9 to you for the historical side of things. You get to check out the nation’s oldest aquarium and see a little bit of history of the Commerce Department. For us, that part of the aquarium is more interesting than the wildlife held in the tanks.
[Editors Note: Image courtesy of the DC National Aquarium website]