Evelyn Tan-Rogers and her family access exclusive areas and gain a fun, insider look at marine life during the S.E.A. Aquarium VIP Tour
Our tour begins in the Resorts World VIP Lounge, where we wait for our guide, Janice. It’s our first time visiting the aquarium and our kids (Layla, 8, and Zion, 3) are eager to get started.
Janice arrives shortly and assures us that exciting moments lie ahead. She leads us through the Maritime Experiential Museum with a quick stop at the Jewel of Muscat, a replica of an ancient sailing vessel discovered off Indonesia in ’98.
We’re surprised to hear the exhibit was built without nails. Instead, pieces of wood were ‘sewn’ together, following construction techniques used in the original vessel.
I’m already thankful for Janice; in my opinion, having someone show us around is worth the price of the tour. Although information is available on the panels, pausing to read is hardly an option when younger kids are in tow. Also, having a guide to field questions takes the pressure off parents and keeps everyone engaged.
We move into the aquarium and find ourselves before an underwater shipwreck habitat, modelled after real wrecks that play host to sponge and coral colonies.
Janice takes us to a viewing spot to catch a “fish wash”, where small fish known as cleaning wrasse nip at larger fish to feed themselves and scrub up their friends at the same time. On our own, we would’ve missed these subtle interactions–this is another perk of the VIP tour, discovering little-known marine facts.
As we reach the Discovery Touch Pool, Janice gives us our first lesson in aquarist lingo. We’re asked to guess if starfish are actual fish, and she proceeds to explain that starfish don’t have fish characteristics such as gills, scales, and fins.
“Over here, we call them ‘sea stars‘,” she says. The same rule applies for jellyfish, or rather, sea jellies.
As the kids and I dip our hands in the pool, Janice entertains my husband Alf with some insider information. She reveals that the shipwreck display we saw earlier is a metal construction masquerading as wood, and points out a few areas where artificial corals containing food have been placed.
Exclusive access to back-of-house sections
Trivia aside, we are excited to be moving towards the highlight of the VIP tour which is exploring the back-of-house sections of the aquarium that are closed to the public, including the Open Ocean Habitat back-of house feeding and the sea jellies breeding areas.
Visitors will be familiar with the Open Ocean Habitat’s viewing panel: it’s one of the world’s largest acrylic viewing panels at 36m wide and 8.3m tall. It’s also a rather thick panel (70cm), which causes the sea creatures to appear smaller than they are in real life.
We see the difference when we enter a restricted area to view the top of the Open Ocean Habitat. From our new vantage point and without a screen in the way, the most imposing creature in the habitat, the giant manta ray, seems almost twice as large. “Thrice as large!” claims Alf. Janice disappears for a moment and reappears with a cup of pellets for an impromptu feeding session, much to Layla’s and Zion’s delight.
Next, we proceed to the sea jellies zone, where we slip backstage into a maze of buzzing pipes, narrow stairways, and brightly lit walkways lined with tanks. “It’s like Willy Wonka’s factory!” Layla squeals.
We coo over baby sea jellies smaller than our fingertips, and we’re told some of them take only three months to grow to full size. Again, we’re treated to top views of the aquarium’s display habitats, and at one habitat we watch a clownfish’s magical display – it weaves between a sea anemone’s poisonous tentacles without getting stung.
The last leg of the tour takes place out of the aquarium, over on Dolphin Island, with trainer Jose leading the way. Here, we get to take an up-close look at the dolphins.
After spending some time observing the dolphins, we ask Jose how he tells them apart. He suggests to begin by looking at the fins, as each dolphin’s fins are unique. “With time, you can see that their heads are shaped differently or notice the different colour of their skin or skin markings,” he adds. “Spend two weeks here and you’ll know all of them!”
Sadly, our time with the dolphins is running out as our tour draws to a close. As we say our goodbyes, we marvel at the fact that we’ve spent three hours with marine creatures–a feat for a family that doesn’t linger at attractions–and learned about them in the best way possible, through conversations and questions.
“When can we visit the aquarium again?” asks Layla, who hasn’t had enough. It’s her lucky day; the VIP tour includes a day pass, so we get to do just that.
This article first appeared on INVITES Sep 2014, a magazine for RWS Invites members.
All photos by Evelyn Tan-Rogers
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* RWS Invites members, S.E.A. Aquarium Annual Pass holders, Adventure Cove Waterpark Annual/Season Pass holders, Universal Studios Singapore® Annual/Season Pass holders and Universal Studios Singapore® VIP Tour guests.