Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Best Aquarium: Underwater Observatory Marine Park (Eilat, Israel)

After leaving Jerusalem, we headed south to Eilat, Israel.  We stayed one night in Eilat headed to Petra in Jordan the next day.  Our bus from Jerusalem was a morning bus so we got to Eilat in time for Cameron and me to go to Eilat's Underwater Observatory Marine Park.  The aquarium was amazing... the best aquarium I've ever visited.  In the background of the photo below you can see the white space tower kind of building.  That is the underwater observatory that you'll see photos of later (from the inside looking out at the Red Sea) in this blog entry. 

One of Cameron's favorite parts of the park was the playground!  
Cameron is also very interested in maps these days (street maps, world maps,... any kind of map).  While I was taking care of returning the headsets for the audio tour, he said, "Mommy, I'm going to over to look at the map, ok?"
The sea turtles were amazing.  One thing I loved about this aquarium was that every half hour there was a feeding scheduled for a different type of sea animal.  When we went to that animal's habitat, one of the biologists on staff would give a talk on that particular animal.  During the sea turtle talk, Cameron and I learned that plastic bags are very dangerous for sea turtles since the sea turtles eat them thinking they are jellyfish, then the bags get wrapped up around their internal organs and can kill the turtle.  
The shark and ray tank was fascinating!

Did you know the ray had a face like this?  I didn't!

The good part about having my first camera stolen in Jerusalem is that my replacement camera has a video that is really easy to use.  So, from this point on, you'll be seeing videos on this blog periodically taken by me (or Cameron!  see below).
When we first arrived at the park, Cameron kept saying, "I want to go to the octopus playground!"  I thought he meant some tank where there were octopus playing, but it turned out he'd spied the octopus slide from afar.  Here he is on the slide.  The Red Sea is in the background.

Playgrounds are a lot of fun, until someone gets stuck in the shark...
Yes, Cameron climbed into the shark and got stuck!  I had been watching from the other side of the playground and walked over when I saw him in the shark, clicked the camera on the way, and asked if he was just posing or if he was really stuck.  The woman said, "he's stuck!"  We figured out that having him put his head back in, then rolling over and me holding his middle as we pulled him out feet first worked out to remove him.  

I asked one of the staff walking by a few minutes later if kids ever got stuck in the shark.  He said, "Yeah, it happens sometimes."  I asked him what they did.  He said, "Oh, the parents leave them there and then we feed the kids to the sharks.... not really... usually the kids wiggle around and work themselves out of the shark."

Cameron and me at the Octopus Playground.
The next site was the Rare Fish Aquarium.  This was so well done.  You walk into a dark, tunnel like viewing area with tanks on both sides and numbers next to each tank to show you what number to press on the audio guide stick.  It was about $1-$2 for the audio tour stick and I knew Cameron would enjoy it because he likes to punch numbers into gadgets, plus he learned some things.  I asked him later what he learned and he said, "Well, I learned about turkey fish.
The different types of coral in these aquariums looked surreal.  The colors are like nothing you see above ground and there were so many different types of coral.  Above is a photo of brain coral.

The photo below is of Cameron behind one of the tanks.  The designers of this aquarium really know kids.  They built in a kid-sized tunnel that lead behind one of the tanks and came out on the other side of the front of the tank.  Cameron loved it.  He went in and out of the tunnel about five times.  Here's his photo one of those times behind the tank.

The idea of going behind the aquarium seemed pretty cool to me so I gave Cameron my camera to take my photo on the other side like I took his.  What I didn't know was that Cameron knew how to effectively take a video with my camera.  I was standing on the other side of the tank waiting for Cameron to take my photo and wondering why he kept asking me questions.   Little did I know, he was shooting a video.  (If the video stops too much when you click on the video on the blog, you could try clicking twice on it and that will take you to the YouTube site where it is stored and it may be easier to watch on there.)
I really liked the sea horses.  Their shape is so graceful.

Cameron saw these funny photo opportunities.  He looked great as a diver.  My posing in the mermaid picture is just a little too weird for me to post.

These next photos are from the underwater observatory.  The aquarium staff sunk a submarine type of vessel then built an artificial coral reef around it to draw fish.  So all the sea life you see are free creatures that just swim by.  It's really a magical place.  

At the top of the underwater observatory is a viewing tower of the whole area:  many steps on a tricky spiral staircase, but what a view at the top!

For travelers planning to visit this aquarium, the price is pretty expensive (about $28 [89 shekels I think] for my son and me together), but it was very worthwhile.  We got a 10 shekel discount by paying through our hotel concierge, then her providing us with a receipt to show the park.  You can pay extra to ride in a glass-bottomed boat, but the boats weren't running the day we went so you might want to check on which days those are offered if you want to do that.

There are decent-sized lockers at the aquarium, but I don't know if they're big enough to hold a backpack.

You can take a 15 bus from the downtown bus station to get to the aquarium.  (It's a number 16 bus for the return.)  This is the same bus that takes people to the Eilat/Taba border; the aquarium is a few minutes before you get to the border, about a 20-30 minute bus ride from the downtown station.  It's cheaper to pay the bus driver for an all-day pass than to pay one-way to the aquarium then one-way back.  (I think it cost me about 14 shekels and some change for me and my 6 year old.)  

If you want to read more about the aquarium, here's the link to their website:

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