You don’t have to travel the continents to see some of the world’s most amazing creatures. Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium is the next best thing to being there, offering an easy-access eco-marine adventure for all ages. Visitors are transported to a myriad of biodiverse habitats. Explore the tropical waters of the Caribbean, jungle rivers of the Amazon rainforest, the reefs of the Indo-Pacific, frigid Artic seas, freshwater lakes and the Oceans deep.

The Shedd houses more than 32,500 creatures from around the world and is considered one of the top aquariums in the nation. Plan on spending more than a few hours to enjoy the full experience.

Minutes will turn into hours when you fall in love with new found magical species. In my case, it was a tie. The adorable Longhorn Cowfish with its pout and feathery fins versus the fashionista Midas Cichlid fish looking like a Hairspray cast member with its pink pompadour; an impossible competition.

Be sure to allocate time for a few of the animal aquatic shows. Visitors will delight in the antics and acrobatics of resident Beluga whales, sea lions and dolphins. These animal spotlight shows are every 15 minutes in the Oceanarium, an expansive water amphitheater where viewing pools seem to disappear into the lake background.

The Aquarium also has a 4-D Theater offering family-friendly interactive short films with special effects. Multiple films and showtimes times daily. Small additional fee required.

The Shedd’s Stingray Touch Tank is a top pick for most visitors. If you dare, you can touch a stingray as it glides gracefully in its seasonal home, a huge 20,000 gallon outdoor tank. Research finds that the aquarium stingrays actually like a gentle backrub. And, not to worry, the rays’ barbs have been clipped for safety.

Sea Star Fish Touch and Sturgeon Touch are other unique encounters that should not be missed.

Fast Facts: The Shedd Aquarium is a National Historic Landmark. The Aquarium’s first exhibits opened in May 1930.

The Shedd’s stunning Lake Michigan location is an added bonus offering spectacular skyline and water views from it’s terrace. During the summer months, the Shedd hosts live music and a chance to catch Chicago’s Navy Pier’s weekly fireworks.

A food court and cafe with outdoor seating is available most days until 4 p.m. for lunch and snacks.

Adjacent Millennium Park, with its tree-lined trails and waterfront path, is a local favorite for sailors, joggers and bikers. A late afternoon stroll and picnic along the lake is the perfect way to close out your visit, revel in the memorable moments and enjoy the rest of the day.

The Shedd Aquarium’s many exhibits, interactive educational programs and experiences are countless to cover in one visit. Membership, lets you continue the amazing adventure for an entire year and provides the perk of reciprocal benefits at many other aquariums and zoos across the country.

For more information on all exhibits, hours and planning tips, visit the Shedd Aquarium official website.