Although people like to say that Las Vegas has moved away from being family-friendly, there are still plenty of family attractions on the Strip–if you know where to look. One of the highest-profile is the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay. It’s definitely something to look into bringing your kids to if you’re in Las Vegas.
The Shark Reef, North America’s only predator-based aquarium, is divided into three sections: Jungle, Temple, and Shipwreck. Each has different decor and a slightly different focus, which keeps things from getting too monotonous. You enter at the top of the Jungle section (it ramps downward), where you can see crocodiles, a komodo dragon (who I think has the best job in Vegas–he sat there, completely motionless, the entire time I was around him), some green tree monitors (who were lanky little fellows, and very, very quick), and a bunch of fish, including piranhas. I saw two snakes there, as well. They aren’t fish but they are predators, so I guess that counts.
The next section, The Temple, features several kinds of Caribbean reef fish, a glass tunnel that’s surrounded by water and fish, and a touchpool with stingrays and horseshoe crabs. Some kids like to touch slimy sea creatures; others don’t. Best not to force the issue if you’ve got one of the latter. We were lucky enough to get there for the feeding. A specialist hand-fed the rays, talking about the histories of individual rays in the pool and characteristics of rays in general–I think. To be honest, the distortion on the sound system was so bad that I caught maybe one out of every five words.
There’s also one tank with jellyfish and another with an octopus. But the grand finale is up ahead. That is…
The Shipwreck. This is an area that’s set up to look like a giant sunken ship, with a small glass-bottomed portion, where you can watch a whole bunch of sharks, rays, and assorted other fish gliding around. The lights are low, to make it easier to see the fish. It’s pretty neat stuff, especially when the sharks appear to be swimming straight at you. You’ll probably spend a lot of time here.
Once you’re done, you head out through another glass tunnel to a set of stairs that will take you down to the gift shop.
At $18 per adult and $12 per child 5-12, this isn’t the most expensive thing to do in Vegas, but if you’ve got two adults, you’re out at least $36; throw in one or two kids over 5, and you’re out about $50. You can also buy photos of yourself photoshopped into several landscapes from the Cashman folks if you want a souvenir and didn’t ask someone to take a camera phone picture of your family together. If you’re a Nevada resident, admission is discounted slightly ($15/$10). They also do parties, if you’ve got a large group and want to plan something really special. And, if you are dive-certified and are over 18, for a mere $650 you can actually dive with the sharks in the Shipwreck section. If you’ve got the money and the training, that’s certainly an unforgettable Vegas experience.
If you’re just seeing the sharks without putting on a scuba tank and getting wet, I’d say it’s about a 45-minute to one-hour attraction, which might be a bit generous. Even though there’s a lot to see, it’s not huge, and the little ones might want to race right through the Jungle section. They’ll probably be captivated by seeing divers swimming with the fish (we saw one who was cleaning the windows, and the kids loved it). As I said before, they might want to camp out in the Shipwreck for quite a while, too.
Viva Tot Tips:
- If you’re driving, don’t park in the Mandalay Bay self-park or garage valet. Instead, park in the large surface lot in front of the Shark Reef, which is most easily accessed from Russell Road. It’ll save you the hike through Mandalay Bay, which adds at least five minutes to the trip.
- With an elevator to get up to the start of the exhibit and ramps to get through it, the Shark Reef is stroller-friendly, so if you’ve got a little one who isn’t up to getting around on his own for 45 minutes and you want to give your back a break, bring yours.