A Wish of a Fish: Jellies and More at the Shedd

Chicago may be smack in the middle of the country, but that doesn’t make those who live here just landlubbers.

John G. Shedd’s original 1920s vision to bring saltwater spectacles to the Midwest has doubled its original size in 81 years, and remains a tourist “must-see.”

That said, if you live here, you’ve probably been to the Shedd—many times. Field trips, out-of-town guests, day trips downtown. You may feel like you’re on a first name basis with Nickel the sea turtle in the Caribbean Reef. So why make a return visit? Because there’s so much more.

The Jellies, open through next May, offers visitors a beautiful glimpse of an ocean animal that’s existed for more than 500 million years. Almost a dozen species, ranging from the ethereal moon jelly to the long-armed Northeast Pacific Sea Nettle are on display. A peek behind the scenes illustrates the care Shedd takes not just in developing a top-notch, exciting exhibit, but also in the research of an animal that is extremely difficult to track. (Just how DO you tag a jelly?)

It’s easy to walk through an exhibit for the oohs and ahs, but take the time to stop and listen when staff is offering up a presentation. It was such a talk in the Wild Reef where when we actually stopped to listen we learned we have a greater chance of being maimed by a vending machine than by a shark. So go ahead and sign up for those diving lessons.

And that aquatic show you feel like you’ve already seen? Check it out again. Part of Shedd’s ingenuity is to reinvent themselves when presenting animals to returning guests. So while you may have seen the dolphins jump out of the water on cue, you probably haven’t seen the belugas so friendly or penguins walking directly in front of you.

See: The Jellies, of course. But if you’re a “been there, done that” kind of person, you may want to pay closer attention to the Aquarium’s architecture. The expansive ceilings just footsteps inside the building showcase amazing detail from a period gone by—constructed with horsehair and plaster, no less. Outer details, visible from just a very few places, indicate the architect’s desire to interject aquatic details (think scales!) into the building design.

And did you know the Aquarium has monkeys? See if you can find them!

Skip: The lines. Seriously, if you’ve ever been to the Shedd during the summer, you’ll see a long line snaking down the stairs and stretching toward the Field Museum. The Total Experience pass for 2 adults and 3 kids will run about $148 for a single trip. For about $25 more, you can skip to the front of the line and buy a family year-long membership good for 2 adults and 4 kids.

Tip: The Shedd is the perfect place for the obligatory family photo with the Chicago skyline as your backdrop. Want to avoid waiting for a turn out in front of the aquarium? Try the outdoor seating area for the Soundings Café, accessible from the inside of the aquarium.