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Penguins, Sharks and Jellies

Aquariums are some of my favorite places to visit as I travel around the country. There’s sometime about coming face-to-face with exotic ocean creatures that thrills me in a way that museums and historic sites simply can’t.

At Newport Aquarium, part of Newport on the Levee in Northern Kentucky, I got an up-close glimpse at hundreds of creatures, both domestic and exotic. This million-gallon aquarium features nine main exhibits, which give visitors opportunities to see marine animals from both local freshwwater and faraway oceans. The most exciting section of the aquarium is the ‘Surrounded by Sharks’ tank, a wrap-around exhibit that has visitors walking through clear acryilic tunnels in a ginat tank as eight or nine species of sharks swim above and around their heads. It’s the closest you’ll ever come to deep-sea immersion without a wetsuit, and the closest you’d ever want to be to these critters without a shark cage.

I also enjoyed exhibits that showcased some of the aquarium’s less ferocious residents. My co-worker Stacey and I stood mesmerized at the ‘Kingdom of the Penguins’ exhibit, watching these lumbering birds plop off of the rocks and glide through the water with effortless ease and impressive speed. In the aquarium’s aviary, we got up close to parrots and other colorful, exotic birds that pearched in low tree branches just above our heads. Some other visitors stopped to pose for pictures with the birds, who stood gently on their outstretched fingers.

My favorite display, though, was the jellyfish. These simple, translucent creatures simply amaze me — you can see right through their bodies, watching their heads undulate and their long, whispy tentatcles flutter as they ply their way through the water. The dark environment and neon lights behind the tanks give the jellies an otherworldly glow. And when you think about it, a visit to the aquarium is as close to another world as most of us will ever dare to venture.


Up close with exotic birds.


A facinating world of darkness and neon light in the jellyfish exhibit.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.