Local Adventure | Houston Downtown Aquarium - will it make a good day trip?

Everyday coming how from work I pass by the Downtown Aquarium.  With it’s eye popping blue colors and well lit ferris wheel (recently updated) constantly turning I thought it would be the perfect place to take the boys for a mother-son outing.

With over 500,000-gallons in multiple aquariums showcasing over 200 species of aquatic life from around the globe I had high expectations.  While it was fun, I found the value of my dollars spent was just not there. Let me help you make your decision on if you want to take your kids there or not.

*** Full disclosure: I did receive a Houston CityPass free of charge as a member of the media. All opinions are my own. This post may also contain affiliate links and I may be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking through my links. ***


visitor information

The Downtown Aquarium was created in an attempt to preserve (to an extent) two Houston landmarks; the Fire Station No.1 and Central Waterworks Building.

This six-acre complex has a bit of everything.  From a full restaurant to a large aquarium to even a state fair carnival area.

Downtown Houston

410 Bagby St @ Memorial Dr.
Houston, TX 77002

  • Monday – Thursday | 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.
  • Friday – Saturday | 10 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.
  • Sunday | 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.

  • Adults $11.99
  • Seniors (65+) $9.99
  • Children (under 42″) $8.99
  • Children under 2 FREE

Stingray Reef

  • Entry $2.99
  • Stingray Food $2.50 (4 sardines)
  • Value Pass $4.99 (includes entry and food)


  • $3.99 to $4.99 for a single ride

Shark Voyage

  • $5.99 for a single ride


  • $7

CityPASS Houston

Save up t0 48% on Houston’s top 5 attractions that can be used over 9 days.

All Day Adventure Pass

  • Adults $19.99
  • Children (under 42″) $18.99
  • Includes unlimited rides and access to the Aquarium and Stingray reef.

Other Discounts

  • groupons are available from time to time
  • military  and veteran $2 discounts available on All-Day Adventure Passes


the aquarium

The Aquarium is a walk through exhibit that takes you through multiple rooms that are themed. Everything from a Louisiana Swamp to a shipwreck to a sunken temple.

Downtown Aquarium, Houston TX - Bayou Swamp Exhibit  Downtown Aquarium, Houston TX - Bayou Swamp Exhibit

No matter what the excellent themeing does not cover up the fact that all of the tanks are pretty small. In one area I actually thought they looked like home salt water aquariums. Ok aquariums from very wealthy houses but still understated when I think of a professional aquarium.

Downtown Aquarium, Houston TX  Downtown Aquarium, Houston TX

The one saving grace of the Aquarium were the volunteers.  They were roaming the exhibits and talking to visitors.  They stopped and chatted about the fish you were seeing.   You could tell they loved what they were doing and wanted to share their enthusiasm.

Downtown Aquarium, Houston TX - Sunken Temple Exhibit  Downtown Aquarium, Houston TX - Sunken Temple Exhibit

I did get a bit concerned when I looked in the python exhibit. This is a 20 foot python and I don’t think it’s enclosure is even that long. I asked if there was an alternate area for the python and was told no.

Now I don’t know how much room a python really needs but this seemed a bit cramped for something so large.

In all walking through the exhibits took less than 15 minutes and this included stopping to chit chat with the volunteer.  The weirdest part is your are kicked out of the exhibit and into a gift store.  You really don’t know you are at the end except the door says exit only no return to aquarium.

Very odd ending.

Downtown Aquarium, Houston TX - Bayou Swamp Exhibit


white tiger exhibit

I had to break out the tigers separately even though they are included as part of the Aquarium. You are told there are four of them but only one is on stage at any one time.

Downtown Aquarium, Houston TX - white tiger exhibit  Downtown Aquarium, Houston TX - white tiger exhibit

As we rounded the corner the tiger was attacking the glass. I think it had been taunted. It was a gorgeous animal but something about his eyes had me concerned.

As a owner of cats I know that glimmer they have in their eyes. This tiger did not have it. He just looked sad.

Downtown Aquarium, Houston TX - white tiger exhibit

Now I am going to assume they have a decent enclosure behind the scenes and are well taken care of but it just seemed like a carnival act. It really had no bearing on an Aquarium and was completely out of place.


sting ray reef

So we are now 15 minutes into the visit and we head to the Sting Ray Reef. This was included in our price but we did have to pay for food. $2.50 got you four frozen sardines.

The environment is pretty sterile – not much themeing but that is ok. It is basically a big shallow pool where you can feed the sting rays along the side.

Downtown Aquarium, Houston TX - sting ray reed

There are directions on the wall showing you how to feed them but no employees roaming and monitoring. More than once there was just an announcement saying don’t poke the sting rays in the eyes. I feel like 1-2 more employees in the area would take care of this.

So for the actual experience – I LOVED IT!!! So did Mr T. Mr J was chicken.

The sting rays are pretty well trained and as soon as they see your hand in the water they come right up to you. They are soooo soft and it tickles just a bit when they grab onto the sardine.

Not my video has I had to help Mr T feed the Sting Rays

They also did drive bys that let you pet them. Mr T was having so much fun that in the end we bought food 3 times. He would giggle each time they grabbed his hand. No fear at all.

I really wanted to pick one up and hug it. I wish there was an equivalent animal on land. I would have 20 of them as pets! Sooooo soft and sweet!!

Even with all this we were only there for 15 minutes. The good thing is you don’t have to buy aquarium access to do this you can just go straight to Sting Ray Reef.


carnival rides

So we are now 30 minutes into our day. We did get there early so there were no lines for the rides. There are not that many so don’t get too excited.

We rode the Diving Bell ferris wheel that I had seen from the highway (Mom found out that ferris wheels still make her sick), the carousel themed with aquatic animals and the frog hopper (a kid sized falling ride that had Mr T paralyzed with fear).

Downtown Aquarium, Houston TX - aquatic themed carousel   Downtown Aquarium, Houston TX - Diving Bell ferris wheel

We walked up to these and were done with all three in 20 minutes tops. That includes all the stopping to load and unload the rides.

But as we continued on and saw the lines building. I think you could easily find yourself waiting in a line for 20-30 minutes once the crowds arrive.

In this area you will also find a line of classic carnival games waiting to take your money in hope of winning a prize. I had to keep pulling the kids away from these.  There were quite tempting.

Downtown Aquarium, Houston TX - carnival games with prizes


shark voyage

Technically they call this a ride but I am calling it a bit more of an attraction. It is a C.P. Huntington train that carries you around the property and through the Central Waterworks Building. This building has been converted and now houses sharks in a 200,000 gallon tank.

Downtown Aquarium, Houston TX - shark voyage  Downtown Aquarium, Houston TX - shark voyage

It is pretty cool but you only stop for a couple of minutes to see the sharks. This would have been much better as a walk through attraction. It is the aquarium highlight and you only get a brief glimpse at it.

Downtown Aquarium, Houston TX - shark voyage  Downtown Aquarium, Houston TX - shark voyage

Then on your return you get to ride through the parking lot. Not very exciting but Mr J loved it because it was a train. In whole 10 minutes.


final thoughts

So for about $20 each we got an hour of entertainment. After that there was nothing else to do. The ride lines had built to the point we didn’t want to go.

We could have done the stingrays again but Mr J was not into it. So we just left and had an early lunch.

Downtown Aquarium, Houston TX

I do have to give them one compliment. The employees that work there are awesome! All of them are friendly and very helpful. I am sure they get to deal with difficult people throughout the day so I appreciate all of their smiles even more.

So when it comes down to it I would not recommend the Aquarium as a day outing. It’s just not worth the price.

BUT the Sting Ray Reef is a bargain. On a cruise you would easily spend $100+ for the experience. Yes you get it in a tropical location but for $5.50 you can have it in Downtown Houston. Worth every penny. And they are soooooo soft!

What do you think? Was I too hard on them? Were my expectations to high?

Local Adventure | Houston Downtown Aquarium - will it make a good day trip?