The Tennessee Aquarium’s River Journey and Ocean Journey buildings are home to more than 12,000 animals including fish, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, birds, penguins, butterflies, and more. This is one of my favorite aquariums, and I have been to quite a few around the country. The River Journey and Ocean Journey are exactly what they say: a journey. As you’re led through each area, each journey explains habitats and discusses the creatures that live in each environment. It is really one of the best things you can experience as an adult, but most definitely with kids.

The self-guided tour through the River Journey takes visitors through three living forest exhibits that teem with life above and below the water’s surface. The first part is the “Cove Forest” exhibit, which has free-flying North American song birds, an exhibit for river otters, and various North American fish (shiners, daces, darters, redhorse, hog suckers, trout and more), as well as an artificial waterfall falling into a 30,000-US-gallon mountain sink. Other parts of the River Journey include the “Mississippi Delta,” with exhibits for American alligators, alligator snapping turtles, various other turtles, birds, snakes and fish (shiners, chubsuckers, topminnows, mosquitofish, darters, sunfish, bowfin and more), “Rivers of the World” with several small to medium-large aquarium aimed at the Amazon River, Congo (Zaire) River, Fly River and more, and the “Tennessee River Gallery” where the centerpiece is the 145,000-US-gallon Nickajack Lake featuring large North American freshwater fish.

A new addition to the facility, Ocean Journey, opened in April 2005 and contains a total of 700,000 US gallons. It ostensibly follows the theme of the River Journey, though with much less consistency than the original. However, this facility does include more hands-on displays, such as a small shark and ray touch tank, large macaws, a butterfly garden with South American species on constant display. The largest tank in the Ocean Journey (and the Tennessee Aquarium) is the “Secret Reef,” which contains 500,000 US gallons and features species such as sand tiger sharks and bonnetheads.Other sections include the Boneless Beauties gallery, where guests can see invertebrates like jellyfish, cuttlefish, giant Pacific octopuses, and Japanese spider crabs. An even newer 16,000-US-gallon exhibit with Macaroni penguins and Gentoo penguins opened on May 3, 2007. The Tennessee Aquarium was the first to breed weedy seadragons.