SeaQuest Interactive Aquarium in Ft Worth

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The kids recently had a long weekend, one that I had completely forgotten about, and I had no idea what to do for entertainment! We had some bad weather makeup days, and no bad weather this year, so they just were not on my radar at all! Whoops! Mom fail! Instead of yet another “low key day” (aka mom is tired and doesn’t want to go out around people) my mom and I decided it would be fun to try something new! An aquarium had opened up in Ft Worth about a year ago, and we had been wanting to visit, so we loaded up the kids to go check it out! It seemed like the perfect activity to do for Earth Day and would be chalked full of great learning experiences!

The build up around this place has been huge since it’s opening! The ads make it look incredible. They show there are 10 different exhibit areas, each with unique animals and interactions. You can also book parties, swim with stingrays, and meet sea otters. The kids love learning about the ocean, especially Luke, so we were very excited about a fun activity with some educational value!

Luke’s Ocean Favorites for Home:

***Disclaimer, when I started I did not want this to be a destination review blog! I wanted to be informative but avoid talking about an experience as good or bad, however our experience at SeaQuest changed that. Sometimes, you have to share the full truth of an experience, especially when doing the right thing can be modeled for your children! And since SeaQuest did not sponsor our visit, and all opinions are 100% my own, sharing the good and bad of our day is something that is necessary for this post!

Location & Arrival

SeaQuest is located in Ft. Worth’s Ridgemar Mall, which used to be a premier shopping destination! Unfortunately, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that brick and mortar stores are falling into extinction. The rise of Amazon and online retailers are making your traditional malls a thing of the past. SeaQuest was opened right before the holidays in 2017 with the hopes of helping to revive the mall. It once housed great stores like Norstrom & Macy’s, and now all it has are a few shops and a JC Penny. The theory worked for Grapevine Mills Mall several years prior with the addition of SeaLife and Lego Land. A year after opening, it seems that SeaQuest is not achieving its mission.

Entry to Ridgemar Mall – Photo Credit: NBC DFW

Our map quest dumped us off at what looked to be a generic mall entrance. When we pulled up, the parking lot did not look like this! There were only 5 other cars and absolutely no signage for SeaQuest. We thought long and hard about even getting out of the car but then saw some grandparents walking in with a couple of kids so thought it must be in there somewhere. Again, comparing our experience to SeaLife, I expected there to be signage everywhere…or at least on the outside of the mall somewhere!

We walked into a nearly completely abandoned food court. Out of all of the food stalls, three were open including a Chick-Filet-a, an Italian place, and a Taco place. The kids immediately wanted tacos over old faithful Chick-Filet-a. The good news was, the tacos were pretty decent and only $1 each and were legit! They also were not at all stingy with the queso like so many places can be! We actually had more cheese than we did chips to dip in it!

We found one paper sign explaining that SeaQuest was downstairs, so after our snack, we ventured through the mall to find the aquarium. I immediately started to get Walking Dead vibes!

The Walking Dead

Ok… that image wasn’t really what the mall looked like, but after using the restroom down a very long, very empty hallway with only one flickering light working, that is EXACTLY what I expected to come out and see! It was really like this below…

We finally found the SeaQuest storefront downstairs. You enter through a small gift shop and pay for your entry at the checkout counter.

A Single Day Passport (your ticket) is $12.95 for 12+ and $7.95 for kids ages 2-11. There are discounts for buying online as well as for teachers & military. Feeding tokens are separate and available to purchase in packages or for about $3 each. We purchased four tokens, figuring the kids would be able to feed 2 animals each. There are also options to purchase tickets to swing with the Stingrays and to the Otter Experience. We did not bring our swimsuits this time, so opted just to tour!

Touring the Aquarium

We went through an opening past the cash register to enter the aquarium, and were immediately struck by the smell! It smelled like a fish market. I know aquariums all have a smell to them, but this was intense! The layout appeared to flow through a loop, with each area divided off into rooms but there seemed to be no smooth transitions or anything.

We found Dory

The first area, The Egyptian Desert, had a tank with small stingrays and other tropical fish. I have absolutely NO idea how a Blue Tang or Sting Ray and the Egyptian Desert go together at all, and there was nothing around to explain it either. I’m used to seeing signs next to tanks saying “Dory is from the coral reefs of XYZ area and love warm waters…” The stingrays were really cute and looked like they were smiling at us! We used a token to feed them because, we thought, that was the stingray encounter. Nope!

Next to this was the bird section, which we skipped because we had been into a parakeet encounter that was much larger at the Ft Worth Zoo! This was the first moment that I realized that there was no natural light for any of these non-sea animals. Something didn’t sit well, but we kept going.

The next area, the Shark Lagoon, had Peking ducks and nurse sharks. I was immediately struck by the murky water in both tanks. You could hardly see the Koi fish that were in the tank with the ducks. We used one token to feed the ducks, who didn’t want anything to do with the food! Again, I could not tell you how these two displays went together, as I’m pretty sure I fed nurse sharks on a snorkeling trip in Grand Cayman, not in Asia where the Peking ducks and Koi fish are native.

Exiting the shark area, we found ourselves in Egypt immediately sending Landry into hysterics. The irony of a desert display in an aquarium was not lost on him.

The desert featured a very large tortoise, several small turtles, lizards, and chickens! Yep…. chickens! The boys decided to feed the chickens, because, of course, they did! The tortoise was over 100 years old we were told and had a penned off area with some hay and a bench in it that he walked around the entire time we were in there. Again, I couldn’t help but notice that all of these outside, land animals were in the basement of a mall, and on concrete floors with just a little lay thrown over the top. I was beginning to get very uncomfortable with the situation!

Around the next corner was the mysterious Fantasy Caves of New Zealand. There were a handful of tanks in a dark room with a few different fish species.

Feeding Stingrays

We then found our way into the Caribbean Cove where the main Stingray encounter is. Here, you’ll find a much larger pool filled with larger stingrays, and even an option to snorkel with them. The website claims you may spot a mermaid, but we did not see one!

The stingrays seemed to have the best tank out of all of the fish, but then we noticed a number of leaks at the corners of the tank. Aside from the fact that water was leaking all over the floor, creating major fall risks for guests, I can’t imagine it is good for the animals to constantly have to refill and regulate the tanks! The water was pretty murky again, as you could only see a few feet into the tank… it was certainly not something I’d put my swimsuit on to get into! They did have a small section that you could duck under to get the feeling that you were underwater which Luke loved to make his voice echo in!

It took some coaxing but Landry finally touched a raw fish to feed the stingrays! He was quite proud of himself when he did!

We rounded the final corner to leave and found the last display: a small pen of potbelly pigs, and a white rabbit. I’m not going to lie, I have no idea where those fit into the equation at all! This last section was really it for me. My brother owns two rescued potbelly pigs. Aside from the fact that they become massive in size, when they arrived at my brother and sister-in-law’s home, they had been horribly neglected, were depressed, and overweight. When they aren’t in the right environment, with room to move around and sunlight, animals experience depression much like humans! My heart was took broken for the pigs to take their pictures!

Is it the right place to visit with your family?

In my opinion? No! By the time we had purchased tickets and food tokens we were over $60 for the four of us, for a very short amount of time, and small displays. The staff was incredibly friendly and seemed to want to help, which was actually very refreshing since customer service does seem to be an art that is dying as quickly as the American mall.

As a mom, I feel I failed in doing my due diligence in researching the location before taking my kids there. I took the ads I saw on Facebook and TV at face value and thought it would be a fun day. What I saw was animal exploitation & abuse, with a sad attempt to disguise it as an educational experience.

When I started doing some research for this post, I found so many animal rights complaints against SeaQuest! I was horrified! The brothers who own the company have been charged and convicted several times for animal cruelty. In locations across the country, hundreds of animals have died, customers have been hurt, and employees are injured daily. In Ft Worth specifically, one of the Otters has injured customers on numerous occasions and has been forced to spend days and nights in “time out” in a small, cramped cage. This is the reason why the otters are now by appointment only! The animals in this location have no access to the sunlight or outdoors. The encounters are all essentially “touch tanks,” which have been proven to be the most dangerous and deadly encounters in the world for aquarium animals. Remember the scene in Finding Dory???

What’s the Alternative?

A little over 30 miles away from Ft. Worth sits the town of Grapevine, also known as the Christmas Capital of Texas! Grapevine has become a little bit of a tourist stop in recent years, and it’s mall, Grapevine Mills, was completely revived by the aquarium called SeaLife. This is what I had envisioned when we went to SeaQuest! SeaLife is HUGE. It has beautiful, large tanks for each fish species, a walk through tunnel you can truly get the underwater feel from, and many of the animals are rescues including a beautiful Sea Turtle. For $16.95 (or $13 in advance online), guests can see and learn so much more in the experience. SeaLife really puts an emphasis on conservation and animal rescue!

Another option is the Dallas World Aquarium. Pricing runs right about in line with SeaLife and it has all the animals you can see in SeaQuest plus penguins! It’s a bit of a drive from Ft. Worth, but well worth it! Plus there is a lot of other things to do in that area including checking out the Kennedy museum, the Perot Museum, and some great restaurants!

Is an aquarium perfect for sea animals? Absolutely not, but there are better places than SeaQuest for them to live! Done the right way, aquariums can be an incredible adventure for families who may never have the chance to visit ocean animals in their natural world. The boys mostly had a great day, but the sad conditions were not lost on Landry, who is now at an age where he is noticing these things. A day like this does not have to be a complete loss, however. Sometimes you set out for an educational experience, and you get an entirely different lesson! We have turned it into a discussion in our home on the ethical treatment of animals, and how we can do our part in the future to better check out where we are going and who we are giving our money to!

Have you ever mom failed like this before and not realized where you were going until after you had gone there? Maybe it was a bad animal experience or just something else entirely that you thought was a family friendly experience that really wasn’t? How did you turn it around in your home? Let me know! 

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