It is wonderful to have a new attraction (almost) in our own backyard. The Aquatarium at Tall Ships Landing in Brockville, Ontario, officially opened its doors on Friday, May 6, 2016 and we were lucky to visit on opening day. We missed most of the official opening ceremony, but we did have some CAKE!
We had heard about this amazing facility from friends who had visited prior to its official opening. (And the only reason we knew about its existence was because these friends had shared their visits over social media).
Needless to say we were not disappointed. In fact we were surprised how truly awesome it was! I can’t believe we spent a full 5 hours there!
We skipped both work and school to attend during the day. This was a good decision. The crowds were light, which allowed us full access to everything, and the helpful staff were always on hand to ensure we were maximizing our visit. Pointing out what we *might* have missed, like the hidden passage, or the “water” on the Captain’s table.
And everything you see or do at the Aquatarium celebrates the St. Lawrence River and Seaway. The history, the nature, the innovation. With a focus on interactive, hands-on activities and exhibits, you forget you’re learning about the region.
The Aquatarium’s Top 7 STEM-related Activities!
1. Otters, otters, otters!
Three river otters live at the Aquatarium in the “Otter Habitat” and these guys (I mean one girl and two boys) are undeniably the stars here.
When they are awake they put on a great show of swimming and splashing, and well, showing off. Be sure to plan your visit around their feeding time, which generally is around 11:30 am.
A staff member warned that these furry friends are known for their LONG siestas after eating. And when they are sleeping there isn’t much to see. (In fact, it may be difficult to see them at all during this time). So plan your arrival time to coincide with their eating habits. And arrive early at the tank, because everyone visiting, like you, wants a front row view of snacktime! The trio were zipping all around the tank, making it difficult to get a good picture. But watching them is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
2. Touch Tank
I had no idea that the cities that line the St. Lawrence Seaway were in fact under water! Salt water! Thanks to fossils found in the area, we now know that many salt water creatures, and even whales (look up at the huge fossil skeleton hanging above) lived in this region 10,000 years ago!
To experience the creatures that once made this their home, there is a salt water touch tank in the Creation station. You can look, touch and learn about starfish, crabs, anemones and many more critters. (Although admittedly, my kids were too freaked out to touch the wiggling, slimy animals and preferred just to look).
3. Power of Water
This is where the future engineers will have a blast. The water table is designed to be a miniaturized St. Lawrence River/Seaway, complete with 1000 islands and the Thousand Island Bridge to the U.S.A.
Experience how the locks of the St. Lawrence Seaway work to allow a (foam) boat (or a rubber ducky) navigate through the waterway. Watch how the power of the dams can generate hydroelectric energy too.
Use your own ingenuity and engineering design skills to redirect the water flow to power water wheels (or just shoot water around). Be warned that you can (and will) get wet. But when it’s all in the name of fun (and STEM-learning) we didn’t mind.
Also in the Power of Water station, you can design a series of water dams in hopes of producing the most hydroelectric power, in a head-to-head competition.
Can you tell we spent a lot of time here?
4. Rowing Simulator
Row, row, row your boat gently down the… St. Lawrence River! Try your hands (and arms and legs) at rowing! Race a friend to the finish line with this simulation. I couldn’t believe how dedicated my kids were to reaching the finish line. Want to win? Apparently the boat on the right, almost always wins. It’s all about mechanics, boat and body.
5. Pilot House/Boat Simulator
Let your kid (even without their official boat licence) operate not JUST a boat, but a high speed power boat, or a giant cargo ship. We started with the cargo ships but quickly realized these boats are big, bulky and SLOW. Once they switched to the sportier power boats, the fun really began. And yes, they “tipped” the boat several times. They won’t be captaining a real boat any time soon with those steering skills. And it really did ‘feel’ real. Sitting at the ‘bow’ of the boat would make anyone dizzy with my kids at the wheel.
6. Ropes Course and AquaDrop
Now, only my husband was able to participate in this “human physics experiment”. My kids were too young and too small and I was, well, not brave enough. Just pretend you are climbing across the rigging of two ships, namely the SS Kingston and HMS Ontario. A series of obstacles and ropes hang from the rafters. If you don’t like heights, this isn’t the activity for you. The instructors give very clear instructions how to navigate through the course. The kids and I watched from the deck of the HMS Ontario. A perfect spot to cheer on dad!
You can choose the AquaDrop once you have completed the ropes course. Here you drop 4 stories to the ground floor. The best place to watch this free fall is on the ground floor. So the kids and I quickly took the elevator (which is super cool by the way) back down to the first floor to watch his jump.
Both the Ropes Course and AquaDrop do have restrictions and costs extra.
7. Green Screens
The Aquatarium offers two green screen experiences. Both using cutting edge technology. The first one captures you showing off your prized ‘catch’ of the day. Email the image to yourself as it is transformed into the front page of the Aquatarium Times.
The other experience tests your broadcasting skills, as you pretend to be a special news correspondent for CANADA AM for a scenario of your choice. Email yourself the video file to keep as a souvenir.
The list of awesome stuff we were able to do and see is long. The native fish, fossil digging, boat designing, a magic planet, sand table, gift shop and many, many more.
The only negative in an otherwise perfect day was the lack of signage. Not being familiar with the Brockville area, it wasn’t clear how to actually get to or into the facility. Even while walking around the actual building (which I recognized from their website), the outside banner hanging on the building didn’t line up with the entrance doors. In fact, these doors have a huge sign above for the Tall Ships Waterfront Grille Restaurant. A patron exiting the building directed us in the right direction. I hope with time, they will get better at advertising and promoting the Aquatarium, because it really is fantastic!
Our advice, go during off-peak times (like we did), you will have more time and access to everything. Ask the staff if you have any questions! They want to help and teach you!
Overall, it was a fantastic day of learning and exploring. We highly recommend you make the trip! I think we covered the S, T, E and M that day during our STEM Play Every Day Exploration!
Thank you Aquatarium!