As host to millions of guests, the Tennessee Aquarium and its many animal ambassadors have created millions of photo opportunities and forged millions of cherished memories over the years.
With the imminent arrival of the holidays, the Aquarium is thankful for the opportunity to have touched — and to continue to touch — so many lives. In the coming weeks, however, several guests’ visits will be extra-memorable as the Aquarium celebrates hosting 25 million visitors since opening in 1992.
The Aquarium projects it will pass this incredible milestone during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend: Thursday, Nov. 22, through Sunday, Nov. 25. During the preceding week, a “prize patrol” will award six randomly selected guests with gift shop certificates, vouchers for a Chattanooga hotel stay and tickets for a return visit to the Aquarium.
Additionally, one grand prize recipient will receive a lavish prize package valued at more than $1,000.
The 25-millionth guest will receive complimentary tickets to the Aquarium and IMAX 3D Theater, $250 gift certificate to the Aquarium gift shops, a special behind-the-scenes tour, VIP pass to more than 20 Chattanooga-area attractions, and voucher to return to Chattanooga and stay in the new Edwin boutique hotel.“We’re excited to be passing this incredible milestone at such a special time of year,” says Tennessee Aquarium President and CEO Keith Sanford. “This is a remarkable place, where so many people have created memories together. We’re grateful for the community support that has helped us become one of the world’s best aquariums.”
The 25 millionth guest’s arrival coincides with the annual return of the Aquarium’s Holidays Under the Peaks celebration. From Nov. 16 to Dec. 31, the Ocean Journey and River Journey buildings will be filled with the kind of seasonal cheer only an Aquarium can offer. Every day, guests can take advantage of a packed slate of special seasonal events, including:
Daily animal programs
During Holidays Under the Peaks, educators will lead daily special programs that offer insights into animals like romping River Otters, toad-ly awesome amphibians and the Bearded Dragon, a lizard so fast it could be a walk-on for Santa’s sleigh team.
- Otter enrichment (North American River Otters)
- Hoppy Holidays (various frog and toad species)
- Sandy Claws (Bearded Dragon)
- Stars & Bells (Sea Stars and jellyfish)
- Colorful Chameleons (Panther Chameleons)
- Octopus Enrichment (Giant Pacific Octopus)
[A full list of the Aquarium’s year-round Extraordinary Experiences is available at tnaqua.org/animals-exhibits/extraordinary-experiences.]
Yes, in addition to defying the laws of time and space to bring joy to the entire world in a single night, St. Nicholas is also SCUBA-certified. During Holidays Under the Peaks, visitors will get to see the Jolly Old Elf achieve neutral buoyancy — no mean feat with a belly like that! — while diving in the Nickajack Lake and River Giants exhibits. This year, you can catch Santa’s underwater adventures on Saturdays and Sundays from Nov. 17 to Dec. 23:
- Nov. 17 — Nickajack Lake (11 a.m.)
- Nov. 18 — River Giants (2 p.m.)
- Nov. 24 — River Giants (11 a.m.)
- Nov. 25 — Nickajack Lake (2 p.m.)
- Dec. 1 — Nickajack Lake (11 a.m.)
- Dec. 2 — River Giants (2 p.m.)
- Dec. 8 —River Giants (11 a.m.)
- Dec. 9 — Nickajack Lake (2 p.m.)
- Dec. 15 — Nickajack Lake (11 a.m.)
- Dec. 16 — River Giants (2 p.m.)
- Dec. 22 — River Giants (11 a.m.)
- Dec. 23 — Nickajack Lake (2 p.m.)
[Dive schedule subject to change. Check for dates and times at tnaqua.org/holidays.]
(Virtual) Reality Check
The holidays aren’t just a time of cheer and good will; they’re also an opportunity to think back on and celebrate the past. This year, guests visiting the IMAX 3D Theater can take a page from Ebenezer Scrooge’s book and engage in a bit of time travel— albeit much further into the past than Charles Dickens had in mind.
In the theater’s lobby, guests don special headsets to embark on a Prehistoric Dive, a new virtual reality experience. Participants are placed in the digital boots of a team of explorers who are mysteriously catapulted through time into the harrowing waters of a primordial ocean.
During the adventure, the headsets transmit realistic 3D imagery that changes based on where guests are looking, and the platform on which they are seated moves in response to the onscreen action. Combined, these elements make for an experience that’s completely immersive. This optional paid experience is $8 for members/$10 nonmembers.
Additional Events and Attractions
- For more than a decade, Polar Express 3D has been shown on the enormous, six-story screen at the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX Theater. These screenings have become a bona fide holiday family tradition for many and will return to the theater this year on Nov. 23.
Starring Tom Hanks as the conductor of a magical locomotive bound for the North Pole, this Oscar-nominated animated film shines even brighter (and sounds amazing) on Chattanooga’s only IMAX with Laser projection system. For the most magical Polar Express experience, however, nothing beats seeing this holiday classic while clad in a pair of your favorite pajamas.
This year’s PJs and Polar Express special screenings are at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 15, and Sunday, Dec. 16. Before watching the movie, guests attending these extra-special holiday events are encouraged to arrive in their jammies — footed or otherwise — to drink cocoa, eat pastries and hobnob with The Conductor. Register for these special screenings in advance at community.tnaqua.org. For a full break-down of regular Polar Express 3D showings, visit tnaqua.org/imax/the-polar-express.
Give a Gift of Wonder
Holidays Under the Peaks is an especially magical time at the Aquarium, but the galleries in the River Journey and Ocean Journey buildings offer boundless entertainment throughout the year. To ensure your loved ones have access to more than 10,000 animals, including leaping lemurs, rocketing penguins and the world’s largest collection of freshwater turtles, give the gift of an Aquarium membership this year.
Memberships are available for individuals or families and include unlimited Aquarium admission, discounts on IMAX tickets, and access to special members-only events. Aquarium members also receive discounted admission to various regional attractions, including the Creative Discovery Museum, Dollywood and the Nashville Zoo. Learn more about the benefits of gift memberships and purchase one of your own at tnaqua.org/members/gift-membership.