We recently visited the highly rated Wonders of Wildlife Museum and Aquarium in Springfield, Missouri and it lives up to its acclaim. This 350,000 square foot attraction features over 1.5 miles of exhibits. Pack your walking shoes and get ready for a wildlife adventure to remember!
The Wonders of Wildlife Museum and Aquarium first opened in 2001 as a much smaller attraction. It closed for extensive renovations before reopening in 2017. Johnny Morris, the owner and CEO of Bass Pro provided extension funding of the expansion.
Wonders of Wildlife is advertised as the largest immersive wildlife attraction in the world, and it is indeed impressive. While we normally seek more budget friendly activities, Wonders of Wildlife is well worth the splurge.
The Wonders of Wildlife Museum and Aquarium includes two different areas. The first is a 1.5-million-gallon aquarium showcasing 35,000 live fish, mammals, reptiles and birds. The second part of attraction is an immersive wildlife museum with a large collection of game animals in elaborate displays. The intricate details and quality of both attractions are simply amazing.
Wonders of Wildlife Aquarium
Visitors can start their experience with either the aquarium or the museum portion. We decided to visit the aquarium side first.
When you first walk in, you can tell that you are about to embark on quite a journey. The Open Ocean is the first exhibit area. You can view the various depths of the ocean as well as view historic historic fishing boats that belonged to Ernest Hemingway and Zane Grey.
The popular bait ball is next where 6,000 herring swim in formation to confuse and intimidate potential predators.
The immense Great Barrier Reef hall is next. This three-story aquarium is filled with colorful reef fish. Be sure to look up and admire the life-size whale replicas.
From here, the path continues into the Fishing Presidents exhibit before continuing onto the upper level of the Open Ocean tanks. Don’t miss passing under the bait ball of fish before going up to the upper level.
Just past the Open Ocean of Wonders of Wildlife is an upper view of Shipwreck Reef. The ship mast in the giant tank is a replica of the 237-foot cargo ship that Johnny Morris sank off the coast of Florida as a marine habitat. Other tanks surround Shipwreck Reef with a variety of colorful sea life. Adjacent to this area is a snack cafe with popcorn and other light refreshments.
The next exhibit feels a bit like a Disney version of a swamp. The kids loved this exhibit with the flickering lanterns and bouncing suspension bridge. The details are just so well done that you feel like you have traveled away from the Midwest as you view cypress trees, reptiles, birds, otters, and fish.
A mangroves exhibit is next and includes fun tanks where kids can pop their heads up into bubbles inside the tanks. There are quite a few of these fun bubbles throughout the aquarium.
The first interactive experience is next. There is a touch tank with various sea life, but it was closed when we visited. Across from the touch tank is the Out to Sea exhibit with sharks and reef fish. Guests can even pay for a special experience to dive into the shark tank inside a cage.
Next, you will travel through the Amazon. This area has more bubbles inside the fish tanks plus some unique aquatic life. Don’t miss the piranha tank!
The pathway heads back down to the main level to explore Under River and the Community Pond. These tanks feature various freshwater species swimming both around and above you.
One of my favorite areas was next. The jellyfish room has several varieties of jellyfish to watch. The giant heart provided a great photo op.
If you were wanting to see more sharks, the shark tank is next followed by colorful coral reefs.
My daughter loves seashells and enjoyed viewing the Hall of Shells. This is followed by the Marvels of the Deep including an octopus and crabs.
Just when you think you have seen it all, there is more! The next exhibit takes you into a replica cave complete with bats and various species of cave fish. The caves are followed by a large underwater tunnel features some of the largest freshwater creatures. Underwater tunnels are always a big hit.
The pathway then follows along the lower level of the swamp area to view alligators, flamingos, black bears, and more.
The final aquarium exhibit is the lower level of Shipwreck Reef. This is also where you can pet the circling stingrays.
The interactive Sketch Aquarium was a fun way to end the tour. Kids can color various aquatic animals and have them scanned to show up swimming around on a screen.
When you leave the Shipwreck Reef exhibit, you will find yourself in the gift shop. It is a rather large gift shop, and like most shops it is set up to tempt your kids into spending all their allowance.
Wonders of Wildlife Museum Galleries
Admission to the aquarium also includes a visit to the Wildlife Galleries with an extensive taxidermy collection. The entrance to the galleries is inside the Bass Pro store. Employees are very helpful at pointing the way to go from the aquarium.
Now, I realize the wildlife galleries may not be for everyone. Both the aquarium and the wildlife galleries do provide education about conservation and learning about different species. The exhibits are high quality but you still will be viewing animals that have been hunted including exotic species.
After having your same ticket scanned at the museum entrance, you can watch an introductory movie in the theater. We had tired kids so we skipped this to go straight to the galleries.
The Museum portion starts with a Native American gallery followed by replica of Theodore Roosevelt cabin’s and a Lewis & Clark exhibit. This area does highlight the ramifications of unregulated hunting before conservation efforts began.
A National Parks exhibit features intricate hand painted murals and animals to feature several of America’s best parks.
Other exhibits feature North American game animals, deer, and turkeys.
The sheep exhibit has replica mountain displays while the Polar Plunge showcases animals of the arctic.
The only live animals in the Wildlife Galleries are the penguins. You can watch them swim in a large tank.
The African Hall I thought was most impressive. You can feel like you are on safari while traveling close by elephants, giraffes, lions, and more.
The end of the Wildlife Galleries transitions back into the aquarium entrance area. While we went through the galleries fairly quickly, they have also been constructed with the same high attention to detail as the aquarium.
Overall Impression of Wonders of Wildlife
We haven’t visited a huge amount of aquariums, but Wonders of Wildlife blew us away. It has been voted as the Best Aquarium in the country and I can see why. The attention to detail is so precise that you feel like you are traveling across the world through each exhibit.
There were some exhibits that were missing signs or the signs were tricky to find to learn about what animals were living there. A few exhibits were empty when we visited, including the black bears. I still highly recommend a visit if you are in the area.
Tips for Visiting Wonders of Wildlife
Take Your Time
The best tip I can give it so allow plenty of time. We were there over 2.5 hours and that was with going fairly quickly through the exhibits. Without kids, we would have stayed even longer.
The aquarium and museum are well planned so that you don’t miss a thing. Signs are all over to point the way to go along a route to take you through each exhibit. While there are stairs and escalators along the way, there is always an elevator or alternate stroller or wheelchair accessible route.
Tickets and Admission
Tickets can be purchased online or in person. High capacity days may require tickets purchased in advance online with timed entry. The price varies depending on which day and season you visit. Children under 4 are free. Buying tickets online in advance will save you money. There are discounts for seniors, military, and other special offers available.
Your ticket is good for all day if you need to leave and reenter. Just hang on to your receipt or tickets.
Best Time to Visit
Holidays and summer weekends are likely to be busy. If you can visit in the off season or a weekday, you will have a quieter experience. Mornings at opening time will also likely be less crowded.
Free parking in available anywhere on Bass Pro property. You can park by the Aquarium entrance or the general Bass Pro Store parking areas.
Restrooms are located throughout both the aquarium and the wildlife museum. A map can help when you need to find one quickly.
The aquarium features the Fish Tales Cafe which has meals for both kids and adults. The Snack Cafe is located on the upper level of Shipwreck Reef. Prices are typical to what you would expect at a museum or attraction. There are also numerous dining options just across the street. Remember, you can leave and come back.
There are special add-on tours and encounters available if you wish to dive with sharks or go behind the scenes with penguins.
Bass Pro Store
Definitely don’t miss the Bass Pro Shop itself. There are even more museums, aquarium tanks, and so many different shopping areas. You could spend almost all day on the whole campus!
Have you ever visited Wonders of Wildlife?