The world-class Audubon Institute's Aquarium of the Americas was one of the saddest of so many terrible Katrina stories. The facility had superb hurricane contingency plans, not to mention engineering that one only wishes was shared by the levee system, and consequently both building and fishy residents came through the initial storm beautifully. But as the days following the evacuation stretched out, and the staff was forced to leave so that government relief efforts could use the building as a staging area, generators failed, and most of its 10,000 fish died, breaking the hearts of not only the staff who worked so hard to keep their charges healthy and alive, but of just about anyone who had ever visited this lovely place. Survivors included the popular otter pair, the penguins, the leafy and weedy sea dragons, and Midas, the 250-pound sea turtle. The facility's reopening in May 2006 was a cause for rejoicing, not least because those penguins, who memorably were marched out of the aquarium during the post-storm days to take a flight to Oakland for a temporary stay, were flown home from their vacation via a specially designated FedEx flight, marching down the ramp and into the building just like they were auditioning for a certain penguin-specific movie!
As it gets back up to speed, this will once again be a world-class aquarium, highly entertaining and painlessly educational, with beautifully constructed exhibits. Kids love it, even those too impatient to read the graphics, but adults shouldn't overlook it, if for no other reason than it's a handy refuge from the rain.
The aquarium is on the banks of the Mississippi River, a very easy walk from the main Quarter action. Five major exhibit areas and dozens of smaller aquariums hold a veritable ocean of aquatic life native to the region (especially the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico) and to North, Central, and South Americas. You can walk through the underwater tunnel in the Caribbean Reef exhibit and wave to finny friends swimming all around you, view a shark-filled re-creation of the Gulf of Mexico, or drop in to see the penguin exhibit. We particularly like the walk-through Waters of the Americas, where you wander in rainforests (complete with birds and piranhas) and see what goes on below the surface of swamps; one look will quash any thoughts of a dip in a bayou. Not to be missed are a fine exhibit on frogs, the impossibly cute giant sea otters, and the ongoing drama of the sea horse exhibit. There is also an excellent new interactive play zone for kids. The long-anticipated Insectarium (yep, a museum dedicated to the over 900,000 species of things that creep, crawl, and flutter) sustained a lot of damage, but it should be open sometime in 2008. We can't wait for the termite room, the cooking demonstrations that will insist cookies made with crunchy invertebrates are worth eating, and, of course, the room about New Orleans bugs, including those ginormous thingies the locals insist on calling palmetto bugs, but we know perfectly well are just fancy roaches. The Insectarium will be in the former U.S. Customs House, at 423 Canal St. The IMAX theater shows two or three films at regular intervals. Look for an astonishing Katrina documentary, showing the flooding and the rest of the devastation. The Audubon Institute also runs the city's zoo at Audubon Park uptown. Combination tickets for the aquarium, the IMAX theater, and the zoo via air-conditioned shuttle to the zoo are $31 for adults, $22 for seniors, $21 for children. Zoo and Aquarium combo tickets including shuttle ride are $25 for adults, $14 for children, $9 for seniors. You can also buy tickets for different combinations of the attractions. Round-trip from aquarium to zoo on the steamship John James Audubon with admission to both is $41 for adults and $23 for children.
- © Frommer's 2013
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- Very Highly Recommended 2010