New England Aquarium
Hours July to Labor Day Mon-Thurs 9am-6pm, Fri-Sun and holidays 9am-7pm; day after Labor Day to June Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, Sat-Sun and holidays 9am-6pm
Location Central Wharf
Transportation T: Blue Line to Aquarium
Prices Admission $16 adults, $14 seniors, $9 children 3-11. Harbor tour $13 adults, $10 seniors and college students with ID, $9 youths 12-18, $9 children 3-11. Free for children under 3 and for those visiting only the outdoor exhibits, cafe, and gift shop
Season Closed Dec 25 and until noon Jan 1
Other Simons IMAX Theatre: tel. 866/815-4629 or 617/973-5206. Tickets $9 adults, $7 seniors and children 3-11. Daily 10am-9pm
This complex is home to more than 15,000 fish and aquatic mammals, and at busy times, it seems to contain at least that many people -- in July and August, try to make this your first stop of the morning, especially on weekends. You'll want to spend at least half a day here, and huge afternoon crowds can make getting around painfully slow. Also consider investing in a Boston CityPass; it allows you to skip the ticket line, which can be uncomfortably long, and may represent a savings on the steep admission charge. The Simons IMAX Theatre, which has its own building, hours, and admission fees, is worth planning ahead for too. Its 85-foot-by-65-foot screen shows 3-D films with digital sound that concentrate on the natural world. It's a dizzying experience.
The focal point of the main building is the four-story, 200,000-gallon Giant Ocean Tank. A four-story spiral ramp encircles the tank, which contains a replica of a Caribbean coral reef and an assortment of sea creatures that seem to coexist amazingly well. Part of the reason for the peace might be that scuba divers feed the sharks twice a day. Other exhibits show off freshwater and tropical specimens, a wide variety of jellyfish, denizens of the Amazon, and the ecology of Boston Harbor. The floating marine mammal pavilion, Discovery, is home to performing sea lions. At the Edge of the Sea exhibit, visitors can touch the sea stars, sea urchins, and horseshoe crabs in the tide pool. The Aquarium Medical Center is especially involving -- it's a working veterinary hospital.
Naturalist-led harbor tours that teach "Science at Sea" run daily in the spring, summer, and fall. Discounts are available when you combine a visit to the aquarium with an IMAX film, harbor tour, or whale watch.