Friday Night Jazz at Toronto's Aquarium

Watching fish glide by in giant water tanks is already pretty soothing, but add to that soft jazz music and a glass of wine, and you may suffer from relaxation overdose. Fortunately, the throngs of visitors and the sharks will keep you on your toes!

The second Friday of every month is Jazz Night at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada in downtown Toronto, and this time it also happened to be Friday the 13th, so I thought this would be the perfect time for my first visit to one of Toronto’s latest attractions.

Toronto’s aquarium opened in October 2013 and is the largest indoor aquarium in Canada. It also features the largest shark collection in North America and one of the world’s most extensive jelly fish exhibits in the world.

I arrived before 7:00 PM and the jazz band quintet was already playing. I could see them down below from the upper level, but couldn’t find any stairs to go down. There is a well-defined path through the Aquarium that you need to follow, linking both levels through a gently sloping floor, thus making the exhibits easily accessible to wheelchairs and strollers.

Jazz band at Ripley's Aquarium of Canada

Need a drink to put yourself in a smooth jazz groove? No problem. You’ll find a “bar” located right before the first exhibit. I thought the price of $8 for a glass of wine or a simple cocktail was pretty reasonable, although $7 for a beer seemed a bit stiff. There is also a selection of juices and San Pellegrino. You are free to walk around with your drinks all evening. Not to worry, there are two more bars set up along the way — although the middle one serves only wine and beer. No drink for me just yet though, since I planned to take photos before the crowd got too thick.

Over the next few hours, I slowly made my way around. You could visit the whole aquarium in about an hour and a half, but I found many of the exhibits so mesmerizing that I did linger (and of course took tons of photos and video).

The visit starts with the 17-tank Canadian Waters Gallery including eels, crabs, lobsters, and a giant Pacific octopus, before moving to a large Pacific Northwest kelp forest where many creatures swim among the slowly undulating kelp. Did you know that kelp is an algae (not a plant) and is used to thicken ice cream? It can also grow up to 60 centimetres in a day (no, that’s not a typo!)

Information at the aquarium is provided mostly on brightly lit screens (as the rooms are rather dark) but also through short videos that you can rewind and watch at your leisure by spinning a disc. Other factoids are revealed by lifting panels, an activity popular with kids.

Anemone Wall at Ripley's Aquarium of Canada

The Anemone Wall is unusual and really pretty with its cupcake icing colours. More colour awaits in the next exhibit, the Rainbow Reef (as seen on the top photo), home to 60 varieties of tropical fish. I honestly wanted to go snorkelling in there!

Next is the much publicized Dangerous Lagoon, featuring the aforementioned sharks, but also rays, sawfish, sea turtles and moray eels. This exhibit is shaped as a “tunnel” that goes through a 2.9 million litre tank, part of which has a glass ceiling so you see the fish swim overhead. You can just walk through, but why not use the moving sidewalk? If you’re shooting video, aim your camera at one spot and the moving sidewalk will create a very stable panning effect! Don’t forget to look on your right, about half-way through, to see the goliath grouper, an enormous fish that can grow up to 400 kilograms.

Dangerous Lagoon at Ripley's Aquarium of Canada

After 96 metres, the tunnel ends and you come up to the Discovery Centre where the band is playing. Pause here and watch the musicians for a bit. No matter where you are in the aquarium though, you’ll be able to hear the jazz music. The band plays several sets separated by short periods of recorded music. The Discovery Centre also features fun interactive elements like a horseshoe crab touch pool and the yellow submarine enclosure that puts you right inside the shark gallery. If you have little (or not so little) ones in tow, they’ll find several other crawl spaces through fish tanks! Great photo ops.

Continuing on, the next gallery displays poisonous but beautiful fish such as the red lionfish, and delicate sea dragons, creatures that look like the result of a tryst between a sea horse and a plant! I had never seen anything like those. This is also where you’ll find the piranha tank.

Ray Bay features different species of rays and always elicits comments due to the “smiley face” on the rays’ underside. “They look so happy!” commented the young woman next to me.

Pacific Sea Nettles (jelly fish) at Ripley's Aquarium of Canada

Last but not least, and probably every visitor’s favourite exhibit, is the mesmerizing Pacific Sea Nettle jelly fish tank. When I first saw the bright changing colours, I wasn’t sure if I was looking at a plasma screen or a fish tank. Watch the video below to see what I mean.

The visit ends with a behind-the-scenes look at the aquarium’s life support system, followed by the obligatory gift shop. If you’re ready to leave at this point, exit through here.

But it was only 10:00 PM: time for me to put the camera away and have a glass of wine. I started walking through the exhibits again, glass in hand. (There aren’t many places to put your glass down, so unless you can take photos with one hand, plan accordingly.) There were a lot less people on this second walk-through. I was able to come right up to the tanks without having to wait for people to get out of the way. It was quieter too. During the day, try to avoid coming between 10 AM and 2 PM which is prime time for school groups.

The band played right up until closing time at 11:00 PM, even though last call was around 10:15. If you like jazz clubs and fish tanks, then mark up the second Friday of next month on your calendar. Listening to soft jazz and watching fish swim really do go hand in hand, or rather fin in fin. 🙂

(Note: My visit was sponsored by Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, however all opinions, photos and video are my own.)

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