Starting off swimmingly

Over 61,000 people visited the St. Louis Aquarium in its first seven days as the new Union Station attraction launches with few hiccups

By Charlotte Beard

Developers and staff for the new attractions at St. Louis Union Station not only delivered on their word at the July 2019 media event to have the observation wheel open before the end of 2019, but they also held firm to their word by opening the St. Louis Aquarium on Christmas Day. Many people took to social media sharing their experiences and first impressions of the 120,000 square feet, two-story attraction. 

One Christmas Day attendee gave high praises to the staff for opening day, “We bought a season pass for four and one extra ticket for our oldest daughter since she was coming in for Christmas with our two-year-old granddaughter with plans of going on Christmas Day. We had a wonderful surprise. My son-in-law, a sergeant in the United States Army, returned home unexpectedly from deployment to celebrate Christmas with us. We went anyway hoping to be able to get one extra ticket. Of course, they were sold out. Someone in a suit came up to us and asked if we had any questions. We explained that we had tickets but (my son-in-law) did not because he just returned from deployment; we understood they were sold out and it was no problem. We knew there was a chance we wouldn’t get a ticket today. (The man in the suit) asked us to hold on for just a minute. After a few minutes he returned and said, “Follow me.” He walked straight up to the front of the line and told the ticket takers/scanners to let us in. We were amazed and so very grateful. Awesome customer service.”

Tami Brown, Executive Director of the St. Louis Aquarium shared in an interview, “We love to do that when we can. It’s all dependent on our guest count at that moment. But we are happy to have been able to help them out.”

Another opening day attendee shared, “I was absolutely blown away yesterday by just how well organized things were! Everything ran so smoothly!”

Brown stated that following the opening day they were sold out primarily everyday up until Jan. 6 (the official day for many students returning to school from winter break). The aquarium had 61,000 visitors in the first seven days according to Brown. On a sold-out day the St. Louis Aquarium is staffed by an average of 60 members, which includes those who dive and care for the animals, presenters, ticketers and retail workers.

When asked about the aquarium’s revenue to-date, Brown stated in reference to the animal-life, “We are focused on feeding 13,000 mouths three times a day and we measure our success with happy guests. That is a more important measurement for us.”

While the attraction’s Facebook social media site reflected almost countless “happy guests,” there were visitors who noted their disappointments in the aquarium’s size, the number of exhibits, or the admission cost based on the size and/or exhibit offerings.

In response to some of the visitors’ concerns, Michaela Elizabeth Shelby, Guest Experience Associate replied, “It’s a smaller aquarium and I think that helps us give the animals the best care possible. I love talking to the guests about the animals and maybe teaching them a thing or two.”

When asked about the admission cost, Brown shared, “We spent a lot of time benchmarking the size of the aquarium, the number of exhibits, and what you would be seeing (here) versus other aquariums across the nation. There are huge aquariums like the Georgia Aquarium, the Shedd (in Chicago), or National Aquarium in Baltimore that are just gigantic. And then there are the rest of us like Newport, Kentucky or Tennessee – we’re in that same size. Our ticket pricing is at the same level. We do have an annual pass. If you are a resident here and think you’ll visit two times at least during the year, an annual pass is a great value. By purchasing that pass you can visit for 365 days as many times as you want.”

Brown advises people to get the one-day admission tickets online in advance of their visit. The individual annual pass is $55 versus the one-day $25 admission. For other tier pricing, visit https://www.stlouisaquarium.com/tickets

Brown also addressed some visitor concerns of being “rushed” through the exhibits and some misunderstandings about the 15-minute ticketing time slots. The 15 minute time slots are for entry time only and are in reference to the limited tickets sold for every 15 minute time slot. Brown explained that this arrangement is for the flow of visitor traffic.

“You can spend (time) as long as you like once you get into the aquarium,” stated Brown. “I’m sorry if anybody felt rushed. It certainly would not be our intent to rush anyone through.”

The aquarium has six galleries: Confluence which focuses on animal life found in the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, Global Rivers representing life in the riverways of South America, Africa and southeast Asia, Changing Rivers highlighting other animals that live in and around freshwater rivers, Ocean Shore exploring life that lives in the shallow waters, Shark Canyon which is the largest exhibit, and The Deep which explores life in the depths of the ocean. Visitors are advised to look for the touch screens for information on the animal life when they tour the aquarium as opposed to traditional display signs on the tanks. 

“We’ve got giant screens next to the exhibits that are touch screen,” states Brown, “for the fish that you would like to know more about. (The screens) bring up all kinds of information about them. We have heard guests saying that they didn’t see them. We want to work to make those screens more visible or easier to access because they have a ton of information about the fish you will see in each exhibit.”

The St. Louis Aquarium reports housing 257 species for 44 exhibits.

“There are lots of hands-on exhibits that (allow) you to get your hands wet – touch stingrays or have doctor fish come and nibble on your fingers – so many ways to interact with the team and with the animals. Over time our animals will grow, and we’ll be bringing new species in. So, there’s just so much that will keep changing and growing at the aquarium. We look forward to welcoming people.” 

For more information about the St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station, hours and ticketing visit https://www.stlouisaquarium.com.

CUTLINE: Submitted photo St. Louis Aquarium staff assemble for a group picture of the aquarium’s opening day.