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The Shedd Aquarium with Toddler in Tow

By Elizabeth Shapiro in Miscellaneous on Jan 14, 2008 8:00PM

The Shedd Aquarium is free through Friday, and Chicagoist can’t think of a more mesmerizing place to take your kids.

The Wild Reef and the Oceanarium are an extra fee ($15 for both) but worth it. The Wild Reef, Shedd’s newest permanent exhibit, is an underground and enclosed tribute to Pacific coral reef ecosystems. Unlike the aquariums on the main floor, many of the tanks here span the length of the wall, with some reaching overhead and some illuminating the floor-- perfect for toddlers discover the sting rays, sharks and corals on their own level. The Wild Reef also has the cleanest and easiest to navigate family bathrooms in the Shedd.

2008_01_Soundings.jpgVisit the baby belugas (Bella and Miki) at the Oceanarium. If you’re toting a stroller or letting your toddler explore, it’s easiest to maneuver on the underwater viewing level. The small tank that these whales call home makes spotting them easy. If you’re lucky, a Shedd staffer will be around making observations of the newest marine mammals and usually more than happy to answer your your kid’s questions. If you’re on the higher levels, you’ll be asked to stow the snacks so that your child doesn’t decide to feed them to the animals. There’s a cafe on the lowest level, adjacent to the dolphin tank, and it’s a great view for a brown bag lunch.

If you’re splurging on food at the Shedd, take your family to their Soundings restaurant. Don’t be put off by its relative swankiness; Soundings is comparably priced to the food court and you won’t miss the tray-balancing, line-waiting, and seat-searching. We’ve had better chicken club sandwiches, but we loved the variety of both the kids’ and the adults’ menu. The best part of eating here? It’s a toss up between the complimentary cheddar goldfish served as you wait in a plastic half shell and the ability to draw all over the paper-covered table with a box of free crayons.

Go early to miss the crowds and snag one of the metered spots; $1 for two hours is a steal when the lot is $14 or more. Visit on Tuesday and check out their free crafts and activities for the preschool set throughout the main aquarium.