By Steve Sears
Melissa Patterson, Guest Experience and Events Manager for New Jersey’s Adventure Aquarium, coins what goes on at the facility perfectly.
“I like “edutainment”: entertainment that is educational. The entertainment and education really go hand in hand,” Patterson says. “Our main goal is always going to be to educate our visitors about the animals here and about the ocean, and why it’s important to care about these animals, care about the ocean, and to care about waterways and conservation, and caring for species, like our sea turtles and our sharks and our penguins. But, by adding that entertainment side of things into the mix, that’s how we really create those unforgettable experiences for the visitors, and that’s what keeps them engaged and keeps them excited.”
Patterson provides a brief history. “Adventure Aquarium was opened by the state as part of a plan to revitalize the Camden waterfront and drawing revenue to the city and to the area, and really revitalize western New Jersey and the Delaware River waterfront, especially on the New Jersey side. We opened officially as the New Jersey State Aquarium on February 29, 1992.” In September of 2004, the State Aquarium closed for expansion, and by the time it reopened in May 2005, it had almost doubled in size, and was renamed Adventure Aquarium. Current parent company, Herschend Family Entertainment, acquired Adventure Aquarium in November of 2007.
Since its opening, Adventure Aquarium has not only been a huge cornerstone of both Camden County and the city of Camden, but even the Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey areas as well. “We really have the support from Camden and from the community to thank for that,” Patterson says. “We would be nothing without our community, and we really pride ourselves on supporting the community and being out in Camden and trying to make a difference, and trying to have a positive impact on the residents. Because without them, what would we be?”
More than 700,000 visitors enter the doors every year. A large majority of those visitors are families with children, many of them living within 50 miles of Camden or residing in the Philadelphia area. “We really are definitely open to all ages; I think there’s really something for everyone to find here,” Patterson says. “We like to say that ‘We bring families closer together,’ and that’s whatever family means to you. Of course, there’s the traditional definition of family, but our school groups can be families, or groups of friends can be families. We have couples that have started their relationship here by going on a first date, then getting engaged here and getting married here, and then they bring their kids. It’s really, really rewarding to see our guests who come here because they’re all so different from each other. But they can all find something, for sure.” Including business and corporate professionals, who utilize Adventure Aquarium for a unique team building experience. “Our Group Sales office is very, very busy,” says Patterson. “We love our groups here; they make up a big chunk of our visitor population. It really is very varied on who comes in the door. I think a lot of people think just of children and families and schools, but we really do welcome everyone.”
One reason Adventure Aquarium is so popular is what Patterson calls “marquee” animals. “We love our sharks here,” she says. “We have the largest collection of sharks in the Northeast, and some of those sharks have been here from when we first opened. But our hippos, especially; we’re the only aquarium in the world that exhibits hippos. And something that’s really special about that exhibit is you see them underwater. When you go to zoos or safaris, you can see them in the water, but it’s not very often that you get that underwater view of them. We have two green sea turtles and a loggerhead sea turtle, and then our penguins are our next most popular exhibit. We have two different species of warm weather penguins; you can see our African penguins, and then we have our Australian little blue penguins which are the smallest species of penguins in the world.”
Adventure Aquarium is always looking to present different things, including live mermaids that have made appearances the past few years. They will return again by popular demand in 2023, and a special, still-being-discussed pumpkin themed series is planned for next autumn.
Adventure Aquarium is located at 1 Riverside Drive in Camden. Visit www.adventureaquarium.com for more information.