Atlantis Marine World Aquarium
|The Atlantis Marine World Aquarium in Riverhead is Long Island's premiere wildlife attraction and the largest family-oriented spot on the east end.|
The giant blue facade of the Atlantis Marine World Aqarium is easy to spot on Main Street in Riverhead. What's not always so easy to spot is a place to park. To dispatch with the major drawback of Atlantis right off the top: parking is a problem. There are several large municipal lots in the area, but they all require some walking and a few require that you traverse the busy Main Street with your kids. If you don't mind a bit of a stroll, we recommend parking in the Riverwalk area south of the Main Street shops that runs along the Peconic. There's plenty of space, everything is paved and marked (unlike the lot directly across the street from Atlantis) and the town has done a very nice job with the whole Riverwalk area. If more people took advantage of this area and walked through the village en route to the aquarium, business in the area might pick up a bit. But we digress...
The main entrance features a harbor seal habitat that allows viewing from above and below the waterline. Seals are always a popular attraction, and you can spend as much time as you like watching them before you even spend a penny on the admission.
The giant atrium just past the front doors has two main attractions. The first is the touch pool that is home to small sand sharks and sting rays, like the one above. Food is available to purchase and feed the rays, and they are not shy about climbing the walls to get at the small fish you're offering. This can make some small children a little skittish, but they're harmless -- they have no teeth. Just across from the touch pool is a large bridge that goes over a tidal pool habitat. From here, you can view many of the native species of fish featured at Atlantis, and the large waterfall provides for nice atmosphere.
Fans of Pixar's Finding Nemo will be especially interested in the anemone and clownfish aquarium. The gently swaying anemone can be hypnotic to any viewer, and you can practically hear Albert Brooks asking, "Did your man deliver?!"
The tidal marsh exhibit is one of the newest spots at Atlantis. It features a beach-like habitat with many species collected locally. Off to the right, there's an observation bubble that lets kids pop their heads up right amongst the crabs roaming the beach. Unfortunately, Long Island's native fish kind of pale in comparison to the nearby explosion of color at the coral reef.
The all-living coral reef at Atlantis is truly a sight to behold. It is the largest all-living reef at an aquarium in the western hemisphere. So it's literally the closest you can get to Australia without getting on an airplane. At 20,000 gallons, it plays host to over 800 species of fish and other marine creatures.
The red bellied piranha tank gets you face-to-face with some very toothsome fish. All of the tanks are situated in wide areas that are very accomodating to strollers and organized in a closed loop, allowing kids to explore on their own a bit. You'll see a large stairway in this area leading to more exhibits upstairs. There is an elevator available near the cafe and bathrooms, but the displays on the second level are pretty small: some jellyfish and aquatic egg sacs. If it's a hassle to get your brood upstairs, you're not missing too much.
Back in the atrium with the tidal marsh is another touch tank, this one featuring native Long Island star fish, hermit crabs and horseshoe crabs. Cleverly housed in a large shipwreck, the touch pool is often staffed by young marine biology students who are eager to engage children in exploring the tank's residents and anwering any questions.
On the way to the outdoor exhibits, be sure to duck into the viewing room that gives you a window into the sea lions tank. These are very social creatures, and will frequently swim right up and get friendly when they see people at the window. The sea lion show is a highlight of any trip to Atlantis, unless you're one of those people who finds it depressing to see wild animals performing tricks. The ampitheater where the shows take place is large enough to accomodate the crowds that sometimes populate Atlantis, but it's not exactly comfortable. Spectators sit on cement block rows, which is fine for the twenty-minute show. It is definately not stroller-friendly, but parking is provided nearby.
The penguin pavillion is home to African penguins in a habitat that simulates the beach and underwater haunts that penguins frequent. There are also nesting holes along the back wall, and when it's warm and sunny the little guys take their tuxedos and hide in the shade. There is a bubble (on the right) that lets kids pop up and get an extra-close view of the penguins. Check at the front desk for feeding times.
At the Unearthing Atlantis pavillion next to the Lost Temple, there are interactive displays that give kids a taste of archeology. There are many fossil beds where they can dig for dinosaur bones or sift through the loose sand for shells and shark teeth. Look for the bucket of small bags outside of the sifting area -- kids can keep whatever treasures they find.
The reptile house is home to some very large creatures, including a caiman, reticulated pythons, and a fearsome asian water monitor (above). Okay, so 'Hydro' doesn't look so fearsome here (more like sleepy), but it's still pretty cool to get so close to a large poisonous predator. The reptile ruins also feature an iguana and some very colorful poisonous dart frogs.
At the rear of the outdoor exhibits is the home of the Japanese snow monkeys. Their pavillion is pretty impressive, but the monkeys are low-key. Next door is the tortoise house, where resuced pet tortoises are given a home.
All of the other displays have their merits, but the centerpiece of Atlantis Marine World is the giant shark tank. The 120,000 gallon tank is home to many sand tiger and nurse sharks, as well as sting rays, a moray eel, Queensland grouper and a huge loggerhead sea turtle. The viewing area is a little on the narrow side, but there is built-in seating to sit and watch these impressive creatures. John Williams' theme from Jaws plays on a continous loop, adding to the atmosphere.
The Atlantis Cafe provides many food options for your visit. The food here is actually not too bad, and there are a number of healthy choices available. There is plentiful seating both inside and out. There are large bathroom facilities adjacent to the cafe. During the summer, there is also an ice cream parlor called Scoops that is next to some outdoor rides and the wading pool, where kids can suit up and swim with some rays and small sharks. There is also a game room, but the selection is limited and a bit expensive.
The Atlantis Marine World Aquarium is open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $19 for adults, $16 for children aged 3 - 11. Memberships are available, and they're worth it if you plan on going more than twice a year. The aquarium operates a rescue center and there's always new inhabitants. If you live close enough, they're also open to volunteers.
Be sure to check the schedule of events when you arrive; there are many discussions, shows and feedings throughout the day that you may want to plan around. They also offer boat tours on the Peconic River and outlying areas. If you can manage it, the best time to visit is after 1 p.m. on weekdays: the crowds are small and the parking is much easier to manage.
Atlantis Marine World Aquarium
Official Site: www.atlantismarineworld.com
Find it with Google Maps
TeeFour Productions, Inc.