Referred to sometimes as “America’s Playground,” Las Vegas truly is a giant amusement park catering to all manner of passions and interests. From the slots and poker rooms of the Strip to the countless celebrity chef restaurants that have opened over the years, to the hiking and mountain biking in surrounding canyons, the city simply makes for a thrilling vacation destination for millions every year. And those marine enthusiasts among us are not left out of the fun!
Indeed, Sin City has plenty to offer for those who are as interested in neon tetras as neon lights. So let’s take a peek at some of Las Vegas’s best aquarium attractions.
On the southern end of the famous Las Vegas Strip, the Mandalay Bay Resort’s tropical theme is best manifested in its Shark Reef Aquarium. At an astounding 1.3 million gallons in size, the tank has the same capacity as Monterey Bay Aquarium –– which is one of the largest aquariums in the U.S. Furthermore, at 95,000 square feet, the facility is only a hair smaller than Mandalay Bay’s 135,000-square-foot gaming casino.
There, visitors can enjoy a massive range of entertainment extending from classic roulette and craps to traditional Pai Gow (in the famed Lotus Room). At the spectacular aquarium, however, people can enjoy seeing more than 100 sharks of 15 different species, including sand tigers, blacktip reef sharks, and Galapagos sharks.
The venue is also respected as one where ecological responsibilities are taken seriously, and where visitors can be educated about the dangers of invasive species (such as lionfish) and the needs of endangered animals like the green sea turtle and Devils Hole pupfish –– both of which are kept on site.
Staying on the Strip and heading a couple of miles north from Mandalay Bay, you’ll find the world-renowned Caesars Palace.
Famous for its mock Roman architecture, a 4,500-square-foot poker room that hosts daily tournaments, and an outpost of Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen restaurant, this larger-than-life resort is also attached to The Forum Shops.
This is an upscale mall within which you’ll find Atlantis Aquarium. Completely free as part of the retail floor, this circular, 50,000-gallon tank features more than 300 tropical fish.
For the aquarists, there are feedings every day at 1:15 and 5:15 pm, and at 3:15 pm you can take a free, behind-the-scenes tour below the tank, through the food preparation area, and alongside the acclimation pool and ray and shark pools. On a slightly sillier (though admittedly fun) note, there is also an 11-minute animatronic show depicting the “Fall of Atlantis,” which ranks as a favorite attraction for locals and tourists alike.
Off the Strip on the famous Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas, the Golden Nugget has long been known for its proximity to the Mob Museum and the Fremont Street Experience.
It’s also well known for having a massive gaming floor and one of the best poker rooms in town, with an easy atmosphere that attracts lots of locals and recreational players, in contrast to some of the more intense and intimidating rooms at other venues.
Somewhat overshadowed by these attractions is the in-house aquarium –– a three-story pool in which sharks (and rays) are safely contained behind a thick perspex tank. More adventurous visitors can ride through a slide that goes down all three floors with fish on each side.
Afterward, nerves can be calmed with some sliders and a cocktail in the casino’s Chart House Restaurant, from which the aquarium can be seen in full view behind the bar. Poker’s golden rule that “if you can’t see a fish, it’s probably you” definitely does not apply here!
Bass Pro Shops
For those looking for something a little less tied up in the Las Vegas of it all, it’s a good idea to take the I-15 south for 10 minutes to the Vegas outlet of the premier country sports chain Bass Pro Shops. Situated next to the Silverton Casino (and its 1,000-plus slots), this particular Bass Pro has a waterfall-fed, 40,000-gallon freshwater tank in the heart of the store, containing bass, trout, and channel catfish.
Landscaped beautifully to simulate a natural habitat, it’s a surprisingly inviting attraction (and one that some shoppers might want to cast a line into –– though this is not an option!). The Silverton itself has a large aquarium with sharks and stingrays as well, however at the time of this writing the venue has confirmed it will be closing in June 2022 for a major room refurbishment. The gaming floors should be unaffected.
We know that for enthusiasts, there’s always something special about having an aquarium right at home –– where you can choose the marine life, maintain conditions, and keep an eye on things. But visiting a larger aquarium as an attraction is often quite a treat as well, and given the examples discussed above, it’s fair to say that Las Vegas is one of the best places to do so.