It’s always an extra bonus to me, getting to see or do something new while traveling and last weekend had a few such moments. I was planning to visit the Adventure Aquarium to close out this year’s Discovery Channel Shark Week in my own way. I love sharks and the fact that people celebrate and work to protect them. Check out my multimedia story about shark conservation on Storify, a website I learned about last year in journalism class. With a week of shark TV programming underway, it was the perfect time to visit for that reason and because it was Sharkfest time at the aquarium. That included an exhibit on the long-extinct Megalodon, in which I’ve always been fascinated.
Camden isn’t too far a drive to check out its riverfront attractions. However, rather than simply drive there, I opted for the Shark Shuttle combo featured on the aquarium’s website. This way, a mini-tour of Philly and a ride on the Riverlink ferry would be a part of the day’s adventure of celebrating sharks. So, after conveniently ordering and printing tickets at home it was time to hit the road.
Pulling up just behind the Shark Shuttle on the Market Street end of Independence Visitor Center, the hunt for urban parking was on. That always seems a bit daunting what with not going into the city all that often. However, circling around just a few blocks away and a right turn leading to Race Street did the trick. One more right turn and signs led to the Independence Visitor Center’s parking garage, which was followed down a spiral passage to the third level underground.
With a parking space found near the elevators, it was only a few moments before entering the visitor center itself. Adding to its theme of celebrating the area’s historical significance, a few people dressed in period costume were present. One woman sat working on crafts and without pausing on the project in hand, she looked up and smiled at me and other passersby. A man whose period costume included long coattails tipped his top hat to women as they walked within the building’s large corridor. Another man sat at an instrument, entertaining visitors with music that created a further sense of stepping back in time.
Being a bit early for the next Shark Shuttle bus departure to Penn’s Landing, I browsed the gift shop and grabbed a bite to eat. Some train schedule brochures were packed into a display attached to a column near the dining area close to the Arch Street end of the building. Before heading out, I picked out a few of those as well as brochures for the Philly Ducks and the Philly Phlash to make plans for a future visit.
Once on the Shark Shuttle bus, tickets were handed out for the ferry ride, the next brief leg of the excursion. En route through Philly to Penn’s Landing, the bus ride itself gave way to more firsts in my sightseeing of the historic city.
After a short ride through city streets, including a stretch of cobblestone, passing horse-drawn carriages, the Shark Shuttle dropped everyone off at South Columbus Boulevard. We were right at the Independence Seaport Museum and walking up along its side led to the Riverlink’s ticket booth and dock. The ferry was on its way back with a crowd from Camden and as I waited, I saw something else of interest to check out: a poster for a Titanic exhibit. It would have to be for another visit to Penn’s Landing, but nevertheless, I’ve got something else to see at the museum for next time.
Soon after, I boarded the Riverlink ferry and went up to the upper deck for the open-air views. On the way from Philly to Camden, the ferry took us just under the Ben Franklin Bridge before turning toward Adventure Aquarium. A small speedboat passed in the ferry’s wake and a yellow pontoon boat floated by closer to Camden’s waterfront. The photo below is one took while visiting Penn’s Landing last summer during Navy Week. It was coming back to dock on the Philly side at the time. I took the photo of the Ben Franklin Bridge while waiting to board the ferry to Camden.
Having arrived on the Camden side of the river, a nice walk along the waterfront lay between the ferry dock and the aquarium. Benches lined the walkway for anyone who just wanted to sit, relax and gaze out at the Philly skyline beyond the variety of boats making their way up and down the river.
Before entering Adventure Aquarium, I saw a huge set of reconstructed Megalodon jaws through one window. Inside, the likeness of different sharks hung from the ceiling and so began the day’s venture into the world of sea creatures. An escalator ride going up led the way under the belly of a Great White shark’s likeness. I followed other visitors around to the left, passing through a second-floor cafe and toward a curved-path entrance to marine animal exhibits. An area designated for hippos, along with trees inhabited by a variety of birds, drew a large crowd. A loud roar sounded out from one hippo in between dropping completely underwater and gliding to and from the crowd watching through windows. Jellyfish and many other species of ocean life fascinated the aquarium’s visitors as they headed closer and closer to its Shark Realm.
Making my way to the Shark Realm, I loved how everything was set up to bring visitors deeper and deeper into that world. First, the crowd is only walking alongside large windows to view the sharks. Eventually, however, there is the shark tunnel! I’ve never been to an aquarium with such a feature before and have always wanted to do so. Adventure Aquarium’s shark tunnel was jaw-dropping, with stunning views of species as they swam along past and overhead of shark fandom. Check out some of my photos of the aquarium’s sharks on Flickr. The shark tunnel made me want to go shark-diving and there were still more shark exhibits ahead, including one of surprise! If you go to the aquarium, just look for the overhead “enter at own risk” sign that hangs not far after leaving the shark tunnel.
Although not on the agenda for this time at the aquarium, I noticed the area visitors can go to for the experience of swimming with sharks. There wasn’t a lot of ferry docking times left on the Camden side and I still hadn’t seen the Megalodon exhibits yet. So I quickly made my way to where they were located. Another visit to the aquarium would have to do for seeing the penguins and a few other exhibits I missed. The Megalodon exhibit was impressive and really creative the way it was set up, including a “walk-through” of the giant, long-ago shark. Between that and the four sets of reconstructed Megalodon jaws, the enormous size to which the extinct shark grew to was very well conveyed. Other than in books or on TV programs, this exhibit was also the first time I had ever seen for myself a display of such a shark’s jaws. Before that, I had only seen and held single Megalodon teeth (or reconstructed ones, at least).
After a quick bite to eat at the cafe, there was only a half hour before the last opportunity to catch the ferry and bus rides. Waiting for the ferry, I took a few photos of the U.S.S. New Jersey in the distance.
Somewhere in the water between the battleship and the ferry dock, I saw something splashing in the water. It was too far away from the dock area for me to tell what it was and I don’t know if others waiting for the ferry saw it. But I noticed a group of small boats on the dock side of the battleship. They were all facing toward that spot where something splashed and another boat was coming toward it from farther out, as if the boaters saw it, too. It wasn’t a bird splashing down for a fish, so it was some kind of fish in the river. I watched for a bit longer, but didn’t see any other splashes though. What an interesting way to draw a close to a day of sharks, whatever the splashing fish was.
Heading back to Penn’s Landing, the ferry took us past the whole length of the U.S.S. New Jersey. It was an amazing site to see from the ferry’s upper deck, a viewpoint I hadn’t seen of the battleship. I wasn’t able to take any photos at this point since my phone’s battery dropped far too low and I didn’t have my DSLR camera with me. On the bright side, however, I figured I can always take a ride on the Riverlink again for another chance to take photos of the historic battleship. I took a tour of it a couple times in the past and I’d recommend it to anyone who hasn’t done so to check it out as well.
The only thing I didn’t see up close for a better look was the S.S. United States, docked on the Philly side of the river. It’s a little bit farther from the Ben Franklin Bridge than the battleship, but only the stacks and the ship’s bridge are visible from the Penn’s Landing area. I’ve been wondering if any boat tours out of Penn’s Landing sail out toward the old ship’s stern for better viewing. I’d like to take some close-up photos of the ship sometime, but in the meantime, it’s worth the mention as a Philly site that people are working to preserve.
It was a great day overall, mostly for the sake of sharks during a milestone anniversary of Shark Week, with some Philly and maritime history mixed in. Up next, I’m heading back to Philly soon for some more exhibits and sightseeing.