Nose-to-nose with a 250-pound grouper, the scuba diver waves to the crowd on the far side of the glass in the aquarium. The visitors on the dry-side of the tank look on in wonder and awe. Some of them even wish they could trade places with the divers and get a chance to interact with the sea life that they are observing as well.
Did you know that aquarium scuba diving – and snorkeling – with fish is offered at several aquariums in the U.S., as well as in other countries around the world too? Some "snorkel with the fish" experiences are open to travelers age six and older, while a scuba certification required for most dives. These activities open up the opportunities for adventurous travelers to plumb the depths of an ocean environment, without ever actually stepping foot in the sea.
All of the aquariums below belong to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, America's leading accrediting organization for those institutions. Members have met the rigorous standards for animal care, education, wildlife conservation and science that the association has set, giving them a high level of awareness for the needs of the creatures in their care. They also happen to offer some fun and interesting opportunities for visitors to actually get into the tanks and take a swim with some exotic fish too.
Diving With Sharks at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas
About.com's Guide to Las Vegas, Zeke Quezada, dove into the Shark Reef Aquarium at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas. His reaction: "Feeling the gentle glide of a dorsal fin on my thigh I examined the reef shark in such a way that I never thought possible."
If you're a scuba diver visiting Las Vegas, take time away from the tables and nightclubs to go Diving With Sharks. This is an experience you wouldn't expect to have in the middle of the desert, but one that is well worth exploring.
Snorkel or Dive Into the Downtown Aquarium in Denver, Colorado
The Downtown Aquarium offers several diving programs, including "Swim With The Fish," "Dive With The Sharks," "Underwater Photography," and "Adventure Dives." Visitors can take scuba classes with A-1 Scuba Colorado to get a scuba diver certification as well, which includes two aquarium dives as part of the curriculum. That's not bad when you consider how far Denver is located from the nearest ocean.
If you'd like to know more about diving with sharks in an aquarium, read Dive Into the Shark Pool. I did it and it was a lot of fun.
Georgia Aquarium's Journey With Gentle Giants
The Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta has both a dive and a swim program for visitors who want to jump into the water and get up close and personal with whale sharks. Divers must be certified of course, but the swimming option is open to pretty much anyone. During the swim program you'll stay on the surface, observing the creatures from above, while divers can plumb the depths of the tank, getting much closer to massive animals.
The Aquarium is home to a host of impressive sea life, including seals, sharks, dolphins, beluga whales, penguins, and more. It is a place that will delight visitors of all ages.
Kids ages 8-13 can dive with staffers in the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Great Tide Pool. The kids wear a mask, drysuit, regulator and specialized SCUBA gear designed specifically for this activity. They'll spend 90 minutes inside the tank, getting a chance to get very close to some of the most interesting wildlife to inhabit the Earth's oceans.
Group size is limited to just 12 students, with at least one guide for every three divers.
The "Sharks Up-Close Encounter" lets scuba-certified guests dive into the adrenaline-inducing world of Adventure Aquarium's 550,000-gallon Shark Realm. Join "Swim With The Sharks" and you can snorkel with sand tiger sharks, sandbar sharks, nurse sharks, and even barracuda too. And while you're at, enter Stingray Lagoon to feed the stingrays as well.
Adventure Aquarium offers unique exhibits that include more than 8500 different species of sea life, including the largest collection of sharks found on the East Coast. It also happens to be the only aquarium in the world to exhibit hippos as well.
Atlantis Paradise Island, Bahamas
Go deep-water swimming with dolphins in Dolphin Cay at Atlantis Paradise Island in the Bahamas. You'll snorkel and glide alongside these marvelous creatures in a manmade environment that covers 14 acres and encompasses more than 7 million gallons of water. Guests can choose from a shallow-water experience or a deep-water swim depending on their particular skills and comfort level.
Atlantis' dolphin habitat is unlike any other, and a good example of how aquariums can go to great lengths to ensure the safety and health of the animals that live there.
These are just a handful of options available to travelers who want to try diving in an aquarium. More and more places are offering similar experiences however, so chances are you'll be able to find an aquarium dive in some unexpected places if you look hard enough.