A tour through OdySea Aquarium

Click here to watch a video of the amazing sea life at OdySea Aquarium.

OdySea in the Desert in Scottsdale is a 35-acre entertainment complex encompassing OdySea Aquarium, Butterfly Wonderland, OdySea Mirror Maze, Dolphinaris, Polar Play and various shops and restaurants (opening soon) and is poised to become, “The number one ‘man-made’ destination in the state,” according to principal founder Amram Knishinsky, Ph.D. The newest attraction, OdySea Aquarium, opened Sept. 3 and is the largest aquarium in the Southwest. Amram states that OdySea is “the most unique way for people to connect with marine life.” If you haven’t experienced it yet, we invite you to enjoy a tour in words and photographs.

Upon entering OdySea, guests are transported out of the desert and into an underwater wonderland. The journey through the aquarium “follows a drop of water” as it falls from the sky and makes its way to the ocean. These “drops” are symbolized by aquatic orbs suspended from the lobby ceiling, filled with colorful fish.

Before heading to the upper level via escalator, visitors are encouraged to visit the restrooms. This may be unusual under normal circumstances, but this bathroom is anything but normal. The mirrors above the sinks in both the men’s and women’s restrooms have been replaced with viewing windows into the enormous Shark Waters tank. So, while guests are washing their hands, they can watch giant sharks swim by. A huge hit for kids and adults alike!

The first stop on the upper level is the Rivers of the World Interactive Map. This map shows various rivers across the world with the option to press a button on a screen and watch a short video of the landscape. Throughout this section are creatures that inhabit the American rivers such as fresh water turtles, Siamese crocodiles, trout, paddlefish and gars.

This section morphs into the next, Rainforest Rivers where the fish get bigger and more dangerous. Tanks of pacu, archer fish, arapaima and piranhas fill this area. Adjacent to many tanks are placards with information about what the animals like to eat and where they live, along with “fun facts,” such as: “Piranha attacks on humans are anecdotal for the most part, but the piranha will become aggressive if it feels stressed, threatened or hungry.”

At the end of Rainforest Rivers is Otter Banks. Here playful Asian small-clawed otters frolic in and out of the water. These otters are the smallest of the 13 otter species (thank you, fun fact!) and very entertaining to watch. They make high-pitched chirping noises as they interact with one another.

After visiting the otters, guests can stop for a snack or meal at the Lighthouse Café or get their hands wet interacting with the sea cucumbers, sea stars, hermit crabs, sea snails and other creatures in the 2,000-gallon Tide Touch Pool.

The next tank houses rays, angelfish and bamboo shark and the SeaTREK experience. For an additional $99.95 per person, guests ages 9 and older can don a wetsuit and special helmet and walk underwater amid sea creatures from the Indo-Pacific region of the world.

After the SeaTrek experience comes Penguin Point, home to African black-footed penguins. These animals are the most expensive inhabitants of the aquarium, according to Amram. “The 20 penguins traveled all the way from South Africa, being quarantined in New York before arriving here,” he explains. There are also two large animatronic penguins (Pip and Polly) that banter back and forth answering questions about the penguins’ natural behavior. Later this fall, guests will be able to get up close and personal with the penguins through the Penguin Interaction Program.

The next stop is to head down to the lower level via the Deep Ocean Escalator. As the escalator descends, visitors are encased in an acrylic tunnel filled with soothing water sounds as ocean creatures swim overhead.

To the right of the escalator is Sharks of the Deep, featuring more than eight different species of sharks, including scalloped hammerhead, California leopard, blacknose, bonnethead sharks and more. There is also the Deep Ocean 3D Theater featuring “Underwater Giants,” a 10-minute film produced for the aquarium by award-winning MacGillivray Freeman Films.

If guests choose to bypass the 3D Theater, they can take a leisurely walk by the tanks in the Bizarre & Beautiful area, inhabited by California spiny lobster, lionfish, king crab, nautilus, moray eel and a giant Pacific octopus (coming soon).

Next up is the section called Reef Jewels. Here Nemo fans will come upon a tank filled with clownfish colored in many variations of their typical orange, white and black stripes. Other tanks in this area contain banded butterflyfish, giant jawfish and delightful seahorses. The focal point of this area is the Great Barrier Reef Tunnel, which is “the most diverse Great Barrier Reef exhibit in the world,” says Amram.

Saving the biggest and best (and Amram’s favorite!) experience until the end, guests can enter the one-of-a-kind Living Sea Carousel. Here visitors sit in a rotating theater and are educated and entertained during a 20-minute presentation featuring stops in front of four separate, unique, enormous aquariums: Open Ocean, Sea Turtle Reef, Sea Lion Sound and Shark Waters.

After exiting the Living Sea Carousel, Ocean Art greets you with moon jellyfish and a martini glass-shaped aquarium. Guests can also linger watching the sharks from Shark Waters, but unfortunately, there is nowhere to view the sea lions other than the Living Sea Carousel or the Behind the Scenes Tour, $29.95 per person for ages 6 and older.

The tour ends, like most attractions, in the OdySea Treasure Gift Shop. Here visitors can purchase aquarium-related merchandise including books, T-shirts, jewelry, stuffed animals and art.

That concludes our tour of the OdySea Aquarium. To visit in person, OdySea is located at 9500 E Via de Ventura, Scottsdale. Open daily from 9 am-6 pm. Admission tickets are sold with a scheduled entry time, and the cost is $34.95 for adults and $24.95 for children. For more information call 480-291-8000 or visit odyseaaquarium.com.

Photos by Cassandra Nicholson

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