Sea Life Aquarium recently opened in Concord Mills, just north of Charlotte, NC and Editor Wes Connell was there to check out this new attraction!
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Last year the NASCAR SpeedPark closed at Concord Mills mall, which is ironic considering one of the largest NASCAR tracks (Charlotte Motor Speedway) is only a few miles from the mall. In its place would be a brand new aquarium for the Charlotte region, Sea Life Aquarium.
The NASCAR SpeedPark outside go kart tracks still exist, and now operate under the name The Speedpark at Concord Mills.
Sea Life operates aquariums all over Europe and the US. Concord Mills’ is only their sixth location in the US so far.
As you enter Sea Life, you can easily forget this storefront used to be a huge room with a NASCAR SpeedPark track zooming through and tons of NASCAR merchandise.
After paying for admission, you stop at a green screen to have your photo taken for purchase, if desired.
Then you come to the pre-show theater. After the countdown clock hits 00:00, the doors open and you enter a circular room with a porthole-shaped screen, and another set of doors.
Here you meet a few animated characters, a seahorse, a turtle and a shark that you will see throughout the aquarium as you explore.
One thing of note is that for $4 more, you can get the kids a souvenir booklet that allows them to collect stamps (similar to when your passport is stamped) as they explore each area and therefore have a nice remembrance of their Sea Life adventure. It’s an add-on that doesn’t cost too much in my opinion. There is another add-on you can do towards the end of your self-guided tour, and that is the Behind the Scenes Tour, which is also a few more dollars.
Before diving into the whole aquarium, I’ll say that the attraction isn’t huge by any stretch, but it’s a nice place to spend an hour or two, especially if you have kids. I saw so many kids running around and having a blast.
After leaving the Introduction Room theater, you head right into Catawba River, an area themed to the river that runs through this area of Charlotte/Concord.
As you stroll through the aquarium, the company displays many interesting facts about sea life as well as local fish and other creatures and eco systems.
Whereas many museums and aquariums I’ve been to have static, rather bland signs at each stop or aquarium, Sea Life has touch screens, about the size of your typical tablet that allow you to interact with the facts and explore in a fun informative way.
The touchpool was fun, as most of the time I’m in a museum that features touchpool’s, there are usually a ton of kids there and I really don’t want to be the creepy guy that is playing in the water next to someone’s kid. But as it was pretty slow the day I visited, I actually got to touch and play with a few of the creatures and chat with the employee at the pool as well.
One of the most amazing rooms was pitch black, except for the aquarium. Each of the windows was similar in shape to a widescreen TV or movie screen and the fish looked like they were in a movie, it was sort of surreal and beautiful at the same time. There were crabs on the bottom of the tanks and it was amusing to watch them scamper about.
Speaking of surreal, the eel display was down right creepy, in a good way. Eels always look very other-worldly to me anyway. But with a few having backed into holes on the sides of the wall of the aquarium and just having their heads sticking out it looked very strange. They seemed to want to snap at me at any moment.
The Coral Reef was one amazing looking tank and tunnel. They had this huge head in the center that looked like it was stolen from Atlantis or Pompeii. It was very fun to stand in the tunnel with fish all around and take pictures. As with many places at Sea Life, the Coral Reef had tons of places that only the little ones would be able to use to watch the sea life. I thought they did an amazing job of putting in tons of little places kids under 5 could run through and explore.
Before the gift shop, you knew that was coming, they do have a very nice play area for kids and places for mom and dad to sit down and relax. This area is also where you check in for the Behind the Scenes Tour.
Overall, the place again isn’t large but you could easily spend an hour or two there and feel like the kids had a nice adventure they won’t soon forget. I think it’s a great attraction at Concord Mills, which pulls in the most tourists and visitors in North Carolina.
If you’re in the area and need something for the kids to do for a few hours, it’s a good option.
The whole Concord Mills exit off I-85 has really exploded over the past decade. There’s a Great Wolf Lodge across the interstate from the mall, as mentioned previously Charlotte Motor Speedway is just about 2 miles away, a dirt track and a drag strip are there as well.
There are also a huge selection of restaurants, hotels and other shops outside the mall now. It is interesting that the Jeepers that used to be in the mall failed. I would think a small amusement park would do well with so many visitors coming through.
My only cautionary note about Concord Mills is that due to the construction to complete I-485, traffic can be quite bad in the afternoon and evening. Plan accordingly.
Check out the photos. Thanks for reading!