Experience the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island [Video]
by Jessie S.
Few educational places out there excite both kids and adults the way that aquariums do. The concept and design of aquariums has come a long way in the era of environmental preservation and for those that exist for the purpose of research, education and conservation, they can be a great resource to the local ecology. The North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island celebrates the unique geography and diverse ecosystem of the Outer Banks and is a great place to spend the afternoon! In fact, USA Today recently named the aquarium #7 in the Top 10 Best Aquariums in North America! If you love the Outer Banks and learning about marine life, take a short drive to Manteo and experience the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island for yourself!
History of the Aquarium
Originally founded in 1976, the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island is an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited aquarium designed as an educational center for the conservation of NC’s aquatic life. It was originally known as the North Carolina Marine Resources Center and the name was updated with the word “Aquarium” in 1986. Its sister facilities (Pine Knoll Shores and Fort Fisher) were founded the same year and underwent the same name change. In 2011, the new Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head joined as part of the North Carolina Aquarium network. All four facilities are maintained today by the State of North Carolina.
Aquarium Quick Facts
The NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island is located at 374 Airport Rd. Manteo, NC 27954.
They are open 9 AM – 5 PM daily year-round (other than on Thanksgiving and Christmas).
Tickets range in cost with Adults (13-61) costing $12.95, Seniors (62+) $11.95, Military $11.95, and Children (3 – 12) $10.95. Children 2 and younger get in free. NC Aquarium Society Members also get free admission.*
*All ticket prices are valid as of July 2019 but are subject to change. Taxes not included. Please check with aquarium directly for questions.
The fun begins before you even enter the lobby! Right after you purchase your tickets as you walk in, there’s a beautiful pond structure and shark statue that the kids will surely want to stop at for photos. There’s also a Fossil Hunt pit with a big shark tooth, a gorgeous nature trail that weaves through local vegetation, and a large bronze turtle (another great photo op!). The grounds are beautifully decorated at this soundfront location and visitors can also walk out on the long wheelchair accessible Soundside Pier to really get a good look at the water!
When you’re finally ready to go inside, stop by the Information Desk if you want to learn more about the facility. While you’re in the lobby, be sure to tell the kids to look up to see some oversized sea creatures hanging from the ceiling!
Begin in the Seven Rivers Exhibit to learn about life in the Albemarle. You will see different species of fish and amphibians including snakes! Next, the Wild Wetlands Exhibit will host a variety of species that live in the surrounding wetlands including alligators, turtles, and everyone’s favorite—otters! As you continue through the aquarium, be sure to stop by green screen to get a group photo taken that you can pick up at the end of your tour as a great memento of your excursion!
The gem of this aquarium is the incredible Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation (S.T.A.R.) Center where guests can wonder through an interactive exhibit teaching all about the lives of sea turtles and the process of rescuing them. You can even tour the nursing facility to see the newest turtles and learn about their care. (Watch the recent Dare County short film about sea turtle rescues in collaboration with the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island).
Perhaps one of the most well designed and unique parts of the aquarium is the Sea Treasures Exhibit in which visitors enter a sunken ship exhibit to learn all about the ocean life in the Atlantic. In this exhibit, there are plenty tanks designed to look like you are on the sea floor as well as short films kids will enjoy.
As you proceed on, you’ll encounter the Sea Senses Exhibit (aka the “Touch Tanks”) where kids get a chance to touch sting rays and horseshoe crabs among other creatures.
The next exhibit is the Delicate Drifters Exhibit—an exhibit all about jellyfish! The unique bubble tanks and wavy textured walls give the exhibit a fun “futuristic” feel that will make the kids go, “Whoa!” as soon as they walk in.
The last two exhibits at the aquarium are the Ironclad Sanctuary Exhibit and the Graveyard of the Atlantic Exhibit which are connected by a giant aquarium tank filled with gorgeous marine life including the most famous and fascinating predators of the sea and probably the one exhibit everyone has been waiting for—sharks!
Not only will you learn about shipwrecks and the naval industry but you’ll get a watch different shark species glide through the water up close and personal.
View a map of the aquarium or learn more about the exhibits.
Aquarium Programs and Tours
For all the future Marine Biologists out there, the NC Aquarium offers dozens of different programs outside of the regular aquarium tour. From educational films and behind-the-scenes tours to animal feedings and crabbing excursions, dive deep into the realm of Eastern Carolina aquatic life! Behind-the-scenes tours range from tours of the quarantine area where animals first come in to “Aquarist for a Day” where kids ages 8 and up can learn what it’s like working in the aquarium for an entire day. Many of these programs are designed specifically for children and range in cost. However, many of the programs are free!
Learn more about the programs and experiences offered.
A Must-Do Every Year
The NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island is continuously adding features and improving exhibits as well as inviting new traveling exhibits and special attractions year after year. That means that even if you’ve been in the past, you can visit again to see something new! In fact, you should make a point to visit the aquarium year after year! With so many different programs offered, you will have a new experience each time you visit.
Overall, the aquarium is well-worth the admission fee and is the perfect combination of educational and fun. Each exhibit is well-labeled with interactive touch screen signs for kids (of all ages!) to swipe through when trying to identify different animals. The flow of the aquarium is easy to follow and there is plenty to keep everyone entertained. The small details in each exhibit really make visitors feel like they are immersed under the sea in the Atlantic. And don’t forget to stop by the gift shop on the way out to pick up a cute souvenir!
How Can I Help?
If you’re interested in Atlantic marine life conservation and research and would like to support the aquarium even after you go home, you can help! Consider becoming a member, making a donation or “adopting an animal.”
Seaside Vacations Visits the Aquarium
Jessie has been coming to the Outer Banks since she was just 5 years old. She loved it here so much that she finally relocated in 2018. Now her mission is to show the world that the Outer Banks is an incredible place that everyone should experience. When she isn't working, you can find Jessie hanging out with her friends, chilling at home with her awesome cat, Yoji, or discovering a new Outer Banks adventure.