An aquarium, in fact, is the closest you'll get to the tropics in this frigid season, short of hopping a flight to Bali.
If You Go ...
Akron Zoological Park, 500 Edgewood Ave., Akron, 330/375-2550. Open Nov.-Apr. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. daily; May-Oct. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Nov.-Apr. admission $4; May-Oct. admission: adults $7.50, seniors $6, children 2-14 $5.
Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, 2600 DeWeese Parkway, Dayton, 937/275-7431. www.boonshoftmuseum.org. Mon.-Fri 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. 12-5 p.m. Adults $8.50, seniors and children 2-12 $6.
Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, 3400 Vine St., Cincinnati, 513/281-4700. www.cincyzoo.org. Daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Adults $11.50, seniors $9, children 2-12 $6.
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, 3900 Wildlife Way, Cleveland, 216/661-6500. www.clemetzoo.org. Daily
10 a.m.-5 p.m. Winter admission: adults $6, children ages 2-11 $4; remainder of the year adults $9, children $4.
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, 9990 Riverside Dr., Powell, 614/645-3400. www.columbuszoo.org. Daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Adults $9, seniors $7, children 2-11 $5.
Newport Aquarium, Newport on the Levee, 1 Levee Way, Newport, Ky. (on the Ohio River shoreline, directly across from downtown Cincinnati), 800/406-3474. www.newportaquarium.com. Daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (open 365 days a year). Adults $17.95, seniors $15.95, children 3-12 $10.95.
Toledo Zoo, 2700 Broadway, Toledo, 419/385-5721. www.toledozoo.org. Winter hours: daily 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily. May 1-Labor Day daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Adults $9, seniors and children 2-11 $6.
Tim Mullican lives his life in a fishbowl. And he likes it that way.
As executive director of the Newport Aquarium near Cincinnati, Mullican says this is the perfect time of the year to experience an aquatic adventure.
"First of all, it's not weather dependent. An aquarium is a nice place to get out of the house, especially if you're starting to experience cabin fever," he suggests. "A visit can allow you to get away from the Ohio winter for a little bit." It's also a great month to plan a visit because aquariums are generally not as busy in the winter as they are in the summer, so you won't feel crowded or rushed.
An aquarium, in fact, is the closest you'll get to the tropics in this frigid season, short of hopping a flight to Bali. "Our newest exhibit is called 'Hidden Treasures of the Rainforest Islands,' a two-story immersion exhibit that recreates the rainforest in Indonesia," Mullican says. He promises balmy temperatures.
Located on the shoreline of the Ohio River in Kentucky, directly across from downtown Cincinnati, the Newport Aquarium is just one of a half-dozen aquariums serving families longing to escape freezing temperatures and snow-laden landscapes â€” if only for a few hours. Here's the kind of Poseidon adventures you'll encounter at some of Ohio's largest aquariums this season:
Akron Zoological Park
The Akron Zoological Park opened Penguin Point in late 2003 as a facility to show off the zoo's 17 Humboldt penguins, all hailing from Peru. Expansive windows allow you to leisurely watch the penguins swim underwater. Another exhibit encourages visitors to view two river otters as they frolic beneath the waves in a huge tank of water.
Other habitats at the zoo feature Galapagos tortoises and Chinese alligators, while waterfowl on display include black swans and trumpeter swans. And when "Legends of the Wild" opens in May 2005, the facility will feature dozens of flamingoes from Ohio's former Sea World park, as well as streams and a 30-foot waterfall.
Boonshoft Museum of Discovery
The Boonshoft's Pacific Tidal Pool features creatures typically found off the coasts of Oregon, Washington and California. Residents of the exhibit include frilled sea anemones, ochre sea stars, leather starfish, a giant gumboot chitin (a mollusk described as a snail without a shell), and a California sea cucumber.
Another popular exhibit features Shiloh, a 1-year-old male North American river otter who was originally found swimming in a suburban backyard pool. The North American river otter is a marine mammal native to Ohio.
The Boonshoft also welcomes guest appearances by a variety of water creatures, including a recent stay by Crunch, a 165-pound, 150-year-old alligator snapping turtle. Call ahead to learn about traveling exhibits in any given month.
Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden
The Cincinnati Zoo's Manatee Springs shows off the sights and sounds of Florida's fresh-water swamps and coastal mangrove wetlands, all inside a warm greenhouse that comes complete with chomping alligators and crocs. At the center of the facility is the 120,000-gallon manatee tank, rife with schools of fish, soft-shell turtles and the zoo's two gigantic manatees, Rodeo and Stoneman.
Meanwhile, over at the Lords of the Arctic pavilion, catch a fearsome duo. The $2.7-million under-the-sea exhibit shows off the antics of the zoo's two polar bears. The frosty 70,000-gallon tank proves that the hulking beasts are actually quite graceful in the water, as they interact in an oceanic ballet.
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo acquired many of its aquatic exhibits from the now-extinct Cleveland Aquarium about two decades ago. Some of that original ocean life is still on display, including Australian lungfish. Other denizens of the deep include sharks, stingrays, live coral, mudskippers, a giant Pacific octopus and more â€” 35 displays of salt and fresh water sea life in all.
At Wolf Wilderness, a pond displays northern fishes as well as Canadian beavers. A wetlands exhibit nearby houses mudpuppies and turtles. In The RainForest, a 2-acre indoor display of the jungles of the world, dwarf crocodiles share space with bumblebee cichlids, while gharial swim alongside giant gourami, knifefish and Batagur turtles.
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is one of only three facilities outside of Florida to care for and display West Indian manatees (seen inside the Manatee Coast exhibit, a 190,000-gallon indoor habitat). The facility also houses one of the largest breeding populations of Lake Victoria cichlids in the world.
Discovery Reef, a 100,000-gallon saltwater aquarium, incorporates sharks, stingrays and brightly colored fish. Thousands of pieces of man-made coral and wave-producing equipment combine to offer visitors a scuba diver's view of the ocean life that surrounds a coral reef. And a "touch pool" invites guests to touch coastal animals such as horseshoe crabs, sea stars and sponges.
The "Live Coral Reef" exhibit features a simulated submersible research station, the "R.V. Battelle." Other residents at the aquarium include penguins, alligators, Australian lungfish and turtles.
Zagat's U.S. Family Travel Guide just rated Newport Aquarium as the No. 1 aquarium in the Midwest, ahead of other top attractions such as Epcot in Orlando and the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.
The facility features hundreds of species inhabiting a million gallons of water. The "Bizarre and Beautiful" exhibit showcases Mandarinfish, wolf eels, flashlight fish and a giant Pacific octopus. The Coral Reef shows off Emperor angelfish, porcupine fish and honeycomb moray eels. And an 8,000-gallon Kingdom of Penguins tank boasts dozens of King and Gentoo penguins from down south (waaayy down south).
The "Dangerous and Deadly" exhibit reveals such villainous aquatic animals as piranhas, poison dart frogs, toxic stonefish, electric eels, lionfish and cottonmouth snakes. Nearby, you'll encounter a gallery of shellfish, and finally, you come face to face with destiny at "Surrounded by Sharks," where only two inches of clear acrylic separates you from sharks, stingrays and scores of schooling fish. It's an unnerving introduction to the most menacing predators on the planet. Swimming. Circling. Never sleeping. Update your will and bring the videocam.
The Toledo Zoo Aquarium, built in 1937, is modeled after Chicago's Shedd Aquarium. The marine tanks hold more than 50,000 gallons of water, housing 3,226 animals representing 351 species. Favorites include flashlight fish, sea jellies, sharks and piranhas. Recent additions include weedy sea dragons (a relative of the seahorse), live coral, giant Japanese spider crabs and rare fishes from Japan, Australia and the Mediterranean Sea.
The Hippoquarium offers patrons the opportunity to gaze on Nile hippos as they lope along underwater in a 360,000-gallon pool. And Arctic Encounter boasts a 210,000-gallon chilled saltwater pool featuring cavorting polar bears as well as harbor and grey seals.