Kids,  Missouri,  Popular,  St. Louis

Visit to the St. Louis Aquarium and the Wheel at Union Station

aquarium entrance

Since the kids were off school on Valentine’s Day, Ben decided to take the day off work so we could have a local adventure day as a family. We had been wanting to check out the new St. Louis Aquarium which opened Christmas Day. We decided to combine the aquarium visit with a spin around the St. Louis Observation Wheel since both attractions are located at the stunning and historic Union Station. A combo ticket is available for a discount compared to purchasing tickets for each attraction separately.

***Note: This post was written pre-COVID so some experiences and activities may have changed. Check the website for each attraction for the latest updates and procedures.

The Aquarium

As the aquarium website recommended, I purchased the tickets online in advance. This also allows you to skip the ticket purchase line and move directly to the entrance line. Tickets have timed entries for every 15 minutes in order to alleviate crowds.

Our tickets were the first of the day at 9:00 a.m. Upon entering the arched entrance, you first have the option to pose for a group photo which you can view later in the gift shop. From there you enter an impressive waiting area with a stunning visual display. There is a huge clock with a fish tank behind it. The clock is a working model of the clock on the tower of Union Station. Our son who loves clocks and gears was immediately fascinated.

From this room you enter a model train car for a 3D virtual train ride through time. This is tied to the history of Union Station which opened as a train terminal in 1894 and was once one of the largest and busiest train stations in the world. Other than special events, the trains sadly stopped running to Union Station in 1978.

The virtual train ride is well done. Screens all around make you feel like you are really moving as you travel through time. The seats even shake to enhance the experience. The 5 minute journey is narrated by St. Louis native and actor John Goodman.

After exiting the ride, the first exhibit you visit is the Confluence Gallery. This gallery features creatures native to the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers which merge just north of St. Louis.

The next gallery is the Global Rivers exhibit which features fish and animals native to rivers in South America, Asia, and Africa. Kids will enjoy the special viewing bubbles that jut out into several of the tanks.

The first touch tank is also located here. You can put your hands into a tank of doctor fish and they will swarm around and tickle your hands. A hand washing station and hand sanitizer pumps are located next to the tank as well.

Our kids really enjoyed the virtual sand play table in this gallery as well. Lights illustrate the changing topography of the rivers as kids shift and build through the sand.

The Changing Rivers and Ocean Shore galleries are both located on the upper level. This was our kids favorite area because of the hands on exhibits.

You first pass by the lively river otters which can be viewed from both below on the first level and above on the second level of the aquarium.

There are turtles to watch.

There is a sea life touch tank featuring starfish, shrimp, and other tide pool creatures. Another large tank allows a chance to pet the stingrays. Again, there are nice hand washing stations located adjacent to both touch tanks.

The famous Lord Stanley blue lobster makes his home here as well.

Our kids could have played all day in the stream water table. The interactive table features boats, dams, gates, and more to illustrate the effects of change on waterway systems.

My favorite gallery comes up next, Shark Canyon. The 250,000 gallon exhibit is the largest at the aquarium. A variety of sharks and rays glide about surrounded by colorful fish.

There are several viewing windows into the tank. The centerpiece is the huge curved glass wall where you can watch ocean life swim around and above you.

Explore your way to the depths of the ocean in the final gallery, the Deep. A collection of colorful fish and coral make up one of the tanks. Another tank has enchanting sea horses swimming about.

There are also starfish, an octopus, and two tanks of jelly fish to view.

After exiting the Deep, you enter into the gift shop. Here is where you can view your photos taken when you entered the aquarium. This is also where you will want to pay for parking if you parked in either of the pay lots at Union Station. With your aquarium ticket you pay the discounted rate of $5 for parking.

Tips for Your Aquarium Visit

  • The aquarium is open 9 a.m. -5 p.m. during the week and until 8 p.m. on weekends. Last entry is one hour before close.
  • There are two lots available for parking. Discounted parking is $5 if you pay in the aquarium gift shop. Metrolink also stops at Union Station and is an option as well.
  • The aquarium costs $25 for adults and $18 for children.
  • If you wish to visit other attractions at Union Station consider a combo ticket as you will pay less. A combo of the wheel and aquarium for example saves $5 for the adult ticket and $3 off the child’s ticket price.
  • Purchasing tickets in advance online is strongly recommended. The line for tickets was fairly long and tickets do sell out, especially on weekends.
  • If you can go during the week or early the crowds are much less. When we arrived at 9:00 a.m. the crowds were few and we could view the exhibits well and for as long as we wished. I have heard weekday afternoons are a good time as well.
  • Annual passes are available. According to the aquarium Facebook page, you can apply the cost of your single visit admission towards an annual pass by visiting guest relations. Therefore you can try out the aquarium first before committing to an annual pass.
  • This is not a huge aquarium but there is still plenty to see. We stayed for a little over an hour. I would say allow 1-2 hours for your visit.

Overall Impression of the Aquarium

All of the employees at the aquarium were great. They appeared very passionate about sharing their knowledge of the exhibits and animals.There are several information talks and feedings scheduled each day. The employees did a great job directing where to go for these activities. There is a nice variety of touch tanks to provide a more interactive experience. I liked that hand washing stations were located next to all touch tanks. Overall, I thought the aquarium was beautifully done and provides a nice addition to the attractions of St. Louis.

Most of the complaints I have heard are about the crowds or size of the aquarium. If you visit at an off peak time as noted above, crowds should be minimal. As far as size, this is not a huge aquarium but I feel it is priced accordingly as aquariums overall tend to be pricey attractions. There is still a large variety of animals to see and the large tanks are impressive. We do tend to be budget adventurers so we will probably not visit again for another couple of years because of the cost. One thing we did not care for was that instead of informational signs at all the exhibits, most galleries had touch screens to select the various creatures and learn about them. I found these screens to be slightly distracting, however they were not as much of an issue as I had anticipated.

Ride on the Wheel

After we finished our aquarium visit we headed over to take a ride on the Wheel just steps away.

While the temperature was only in the teens, we stayed nice and warm in the climate enclosed gondolas. Each gondola seats six adults.

The ride lasts about 15 minutes and makes 3 or 4 complete rotations. The views are great from 200 feet above St. Louis. The Wheel Fact Sheet states you can see almost 20 miles.

Tips for your visit

  • Tickets for the Wheel are $15 for adults, $10 for children.
  • The Wheel is open 10 a.m.-10 p.m. daily and extends to 11 p.m. in summer.
  • A combo ticket is the way to go if visiting the aquarium as well as you will save versus purchasing each attraction separate.
  • Tickets can be purchased online or on site

We enjoyed our ride on the Wheel. The views are great and it’s something that can be done year round in the climate controlled gondolas. Due to the cost, it’s not something we will do again for awhile however. It’s a fun thing to do as a one time adventure or for a special occasion but I think the cost is a little high.

Update: We have visited the wheel one more time at night and it was beautiful! Of the two options, I think I prefer a night ride. Seeing the city all light up as well as the fun colors on the wheel were amazing!

If you are hungry during your visit to Union Station, there are a variety of dining options available from casual to upscale. There is also the acclaimed Soda Fountain and it’s freak shake creations. We enjoyed a reasonably priced lunch at the 1894 Cafe located near the aquarium. (1894 is the year Union Station opened.) The cafe features sandwiches, burgers, and salads. Tip: The kids meals are a $6 bargain for generous portions and the burgers were quite good.
(Note: The 1894 cafe has been closed during COVID while other Union Station restaurants remain open.)

Overall it is amazing to see all the wonderful new attractions that have been added to Union Station. This former train station is being revitalized into a fun and beautiful travel destination. Other attractions include a carousel, a train playground, mini golf, and a ropes course that looked popular and amazing. I would also love to come back and check out the entertaining Mirror Maze which is a nod back to one of the attractions in the 1904 World’s Fair which as held in St. Louis.

If your visit is in the evening be sure to check out the beautiful light show on the ceiling of the Grand Hall of Union Station or the fire and light show on the lake just outside the aquarium. Both shows start at 5 p.m. daily. The Grand Hall shows runs on the hour until 10 p.m. while the fire and light show runs every half hour through 9 p.m.

Have you visited St. Louis Union Station lately? Feel free to leave any comments or tips you have. Happy Adventures!

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