There are some cute, little Texans heading east this summer and your family may want to join them.
Leaving their Alamo roots, 10- gallon hats and spurs behind for the cool, green Appalachian Mountains are five pairs of Gentoos and five pairs of Macaroni penguins.
The Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga is ready to
show off their newest addition: 20 frosty birds who are moving from San Antonio’s Sea World to a new home in the hills of Tennessee. If your children loved the movies “March of the Penguins” and “Happy Feet,” then this vacation will be a hit. Penguin popularity is everywhere!
Opening in late May is the “Penguins’ Rock” exhibit at the Aquarium which will bring families across the South to admire the brand new, interactive exhibit showcasing the curious, lovable,
black-and-white residents of the Southern Hemisphere and the islands surrounding the South Pole. Gentoos are natives of these islands. Their white facial marks resemble caps worn by the Gentoos of India. The birds have red eyes, orange feet and red-and black bills.
Remember the lyrics to the little song “Yankee Doodle Dandy?” “He stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni!”
Macaroni penguins have a gorgeous crest of yellow feathers on their heads – named for the hat Englishmen used to wear. Macaroni penguins definitely stand out in a crowd - their eyes are reddish brown, their feet are pink on top and black on the bottom and their bills are orange.
The birds will entertain guests at their new home: a crystal clear pond of 18,000 gallons of 45- degree water. Visitors can watch the birds as they build their nests, dip in the water and swim furiously. Their aquatic agility is amazing.
Already a huge hit with families, the $75 million aquarium features amazing opportunities for children to explore living forests under glass and peek under the waves to visit 10-foot sharks, barracuda and stingrays. The Aquarium’s two adjoining buildings offer the “River Journey’ and the ‘Ocean Journey.’ The penguins will be housed in the Ocean Journey.
Thom Benson, communications manager for the Aquarium, says there is plenty to do at the Penguins’ Rock exhibit.
“Video displays will show guests penguins in their native habitats which surround Antarctica. A touch pool will allow visitors to feel the icy waters penguins call home. And visitors will also be able to compare themselves to life-sized models of three different penguin species. Lively graphics throughout the exhibit will also take you on a fact-fi nding scavenger hunt of penguin points to ponder,” he said.
Other popular exhibits at the Aquarium are hyacinth macaws – these brilliant blue birds are the largest in the parrot family. Children of all ages love the blue catfish, the alligator snapping turtles, the inspirational Butterfly Garden, which boasts the largest butterfly in the world – the Queen Alexandra - with a wingspan of 12.5 inches and one of the smallest – the western pygmy blue butterfly with a wingspan of just .62 inches.
Have you ever wondered what 12,000 animals eat every day? What do turtles eat? And sharks? How long does it take to mix up dinner for an octopus? Benson says guests can discover how to make seawater from scratch; see (and smell) what’s on the menu for Aquarium creatures; and even feed some of the fish as you go behind the scenes. Special tours are available each day that include the chance to feed some fish.
The Aquarium, the centerpiece of a beautiful downtown restoration, is on the banks of the Tennessee River, where an expansive concrete promenade provides plenty of space to watch the boats go by. Dozens of restaurants and stores have opened in recent years within blocks of the Aquarium. The Creative D i s c o v e r y Museum is practically next door (www.cdmfun.org) and offers a blast of fun. Also near the riverfront is the Hunter Museum of American Art, the Southern Belle riverboat and the Aquarium’s IMAX 3D theater. Don’t forget that Chattanooga is also home to the renowned Rock City Gardens, Ruby Falls, the Chattanooga Choo Choo and the Tennessee Valley Railroad.
There is much to do in Chattanooga for families on vacation and this summer, Benson said, many of the most popular exhibits will join together to offer a never-ending fun family vacation. Many attractions will offer experiences related to “Chattanooga Rocks,” the city’s theme for the season. “I think we’ve got a lot to offer this summer as Chattanooga Rocks. Rock City is celebrating their 75th anniversary. The Hunter Museum is built on a rock. And of c o u r s e , Ruby Falls takes you down under the rock,” he said. Enjoy it all this summer