Road Trip to the Caribbean: Texas State Aquarium

Yes, I realize it’s only a mother’s dream to be able to road trip to the Caribbean (sans kiddos and with frothy, fruity rum-filled drinks, of course—one can dream, right?). However, you can explore the fishy wonders of the Caribbean right here in Texas. Set a course for Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi and splash into the beauty of the islands and more at the aquarium’s new Caribbean Journey expansion.

Caribbean Journey is an all-new part of the aquarium, and it’s enormous. The expansion actually doubles the aquarium’s total size, with 71,000 square feet of newness to explore. Depicting jungles, seas, coral reefs, and coastal lagoons, the new exhibits take you away to beauty of the Caribbean and allow you to see even more amazing sea creatures in a whole new way.

The scoop: We like road trips and exploring cool stuff not far from San Antonio. Corpus Christi is just a little more than two hours away, which is longer than some like for a day trip, but I know folks who head down and back just to get some sea breeze.

We try to hit the coast a few times a year, and Texas State Aquarium is always our first stop. When we heard about the expansion, I knew it was a must. And it definitely does not disappoint. If you’ve been before, all of the exhibits you know are still there, but it’s hard to pull yourself away from all of cool Caribbean fun, including Shark: A 4-D Experience. The film spotlights ten species of sharks and pulls you into the action with stunning underwater visuals and perfectly timed special effects.

A 12-minute film exploring the complex nature of sharks and their survival instincts, Shark is 4-D, so it’s a full experience: wind blowing, bubbles coming at you, more than a few squirts of water in your face, shaking seats, and bursts of air that are well-timed to catch you off guard and make you jump as a shark comes at you 3-D onscreen. The whole theater gasped when the ragged-tooth shark came our way, and I saw a few littles exiting with mom or dad, so if you have kids who get spooked easily or don’t like getting sprayed a bit, the movie experience might not be for you. But we loved it, and only have one suggestion: it’s sponsored by Whataburger, so maybe 4-D could include French fries coming at you?? Just a thought! (Note: Shark is included with the price of your admission, so you don’t need additional tickets to enjoy the show.)

Our wish for flying French fries aside, there’s so much to enjoy about Caribbean Journey. The entire experience is highly interactive and educational, with opportunities to gently touch a few wet friends, watch flamingos and spoonbills snap up some smelly snacks (sorry, feathered friends, but your fishy treats are quite odoriferous), and gaze in wonder at the amazing aquariums that showcase life undersea.

The exhibit showcases the biodiversity and culture of the Yucatan Peninsula and Caribbean Sea. You’ll marvel at sharks, tropical Caribbean fishes, birds, and reptiles. Reef sharks are housed in a 400,000-gallon exhibit where they swim among a life-size shipwreck. And you can see down into the aquarium from the floor above or be eye-to-eye with the sharks as you walk through a tunnel around the aquarium. There’s even built-in benches for you to sit and gaze, or for mom to sit while the kids are mesmerized.

In other displays, you’ll find crocodiles, birds, bats, a sloth, stingrays, and coral reef fish. And one of our favorites: a display of garden eels. From across the room, you think strands of sea grass are bobbing up and down, but close inspection shows these cute little eels popping up to check you out.

By the way, did you know that the aquarium currently cares for more than 4,000 animals representing more than 350 species? It also treats approximately 250 injured animals annually through its Second Chances Wildlife Rehabilitation Program. We’ve had the chance to see some of the sea turtles they care for (the sea turtle tank is part of their regular exhibits) and love learning how people can help keep these gentle creatures safe.

Watching dolphins play.

Speaking of the “regular” exhibits, the dolphin show is terrific, and we love watching the dolphins “underground” as they play in Dolphin Bay. The otters are hilarious; the sting rays are always happy to have you say hello; and you can touch sharks, as well as sea stars, sea urchins, horseshoe crabs, slipper lobsters, and more in the Gulf of Mexico exhibit. And there’s a splash park to enjoy when the littles are ready to get all wet (so bring suits, towels, etc., as it’s pretty impossible to skip—they’ll see it as you’re entering the aquarium).

A terrific touch pool in the Gulf of Mexico exhibit.

Bottom line: whether you make it a day trip or part of a trip to the coast, it’s all a must for marine life enthusiasts like my son, who can spend HOURS at Texas State Aquarium and still be sad when it’s time to go. Ticket information, directions, and details can be found here. Good to know: if you have a membership to the San Antonio Zoo, you can get two aquarium tickets for half-price. Just bring your membership card and photo ID with you. Also, you can get a military discount at the ticket booth, but the best military deal (active and retired) is available by buying tickets in advance through MWR/ITT offices at Fort Sam Houston or Lackland and Randolph Air Force Bases. And parking is now free.

If you’d like to make an aquarium visit part of a beach getaway, check out these Port A tips from Taylor and get the scoop on beach eats from Amanda, and dive in!

An Army brat who came to Texas for college and ultimately managed to make the Lone Star State her permanent home, Dawn became a mom “AMA” (advanced maternal age), giving her the opportunity to use a stroller vs. a walker as she navigates the world of motherhood. Her growing up way too fast native Texan loves all things Star Wars, Legos, dinosaurs and keeping his parents on their toes. When she’s not busy parenting the original strong-willed child, Dawn runs Tale to Tell Communications, a San Antonio-based PR and marketing agency. An award-winning writer, Dawn also contributes to San Antonio Woman, Rio Magazine and Texas Lifestyle Magazine. She and her family enjoy exploring all that San Antonio has to offer, going on adventures and playing tourist together as much as possible. Favorite Restaurant: Clementine Favorite Landmark: The beauty of the River Walk, especially La Villita Favorite San Antonio Tradition: Celebrating anything and everything with color, music and food