Are you looking for a day out with your family and friends to discover the North Carolina coast? The Fort Fisher Aquarium is a place where all ages can enjoy themselves! It is educational and fun for the littles, with lots to see and do for the adults as well. For those of you staying on Oak Island, it’s about an hour’s drive away. But, we recommend taking the 35-minute ferry ride from Southport to add even more fun to your excursion!
Keep reading to find out everything you need to know to make the most of your day or jump below to learn about how to get there and getting tickets.
Exhibits and Animals
Did you know that the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is ranked among the top aquariums in the world? When you enter, you’ll notice that there are several different sections of exhibits and animals! All exhibits are also fully accessible for everyone, and the two floors have elevators and stairs.
You start with the freshwater exhibits, followed by saltwater exhibits in the Marine Building, concluding with the Adventure Reef’s outdoor exhibit. Let’s take a closer look at some of our favorite areas you can experience while visiting!
Cape Fear Conservatory
The first stop in the self-guided tour takes you to the Cape Fear Conservatory, which houses hundreds of the species of the Cape Fear River! The conservatory replicates the river banks with its many mini-ecosystems such as ponds, trees, streams, and swamps, making the animals feel at home. You will find frogs, snakes, fish, and more in this tree-filled atrium.
Additionally, the conservatory made room in 2019 for Luna, a rare albino alligator. Albino alligators usually do better in protected areas as they often don’t survive well in the wild.
A new exhibit also houses a family of otters rescued recently and are now safe in the conservation. Additionally, you’ll see an old favorite, Maverick, the rescued bald eagle.
Next is the saltwater section called the Marine Building. It accommodates the Open Oceans Gallery, home to many marine animals, such as jellyfish, octopus, corals, and two ledges called the Sharktooth Ledge and Cape Fear Ledge.
You’ll also notice the Cape Fear Shoals, an exhibit that reaches from the top to the bottom level of the Marine Building filled with beautiful fish that can swim in safety and leisure. Additionally, there is a Megalodon Exhibit, an Exotic Aquatics area with a Shark Touch Tank, and much more.
After the family has seen everything to their heart’s desire, the kids can play at the Adventure Reef. This playground has many fun activities that challenge kids from 2 to 12 with innovative equipment to keep the kids entertained for hours.
Once you exit the Marine Building, you can also take a look at the garden. It features a Birding Deck, Memorial Garden, and a Pond Overlook. These outdoor exhibits are created to reduce the CO2 footprint designed to run the aquarium, the conservation, and the daily operations required to keep it going.
Other Things To Do at the Aquarium
If you’ve worked up an appetite during your visit, you’ll find a variety of food and drink options available daily from March to November at “SharkBites Snack Bar”! There’s also a fabulous gift shop filled with coastal fun for those who love souvenirs — toys, books, puzzles, stuffed animals, clothes, and much more.
To get a better lay of the land (or ocean), you can find a map of the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher on their website.
In the past, the Fort Fisher Aquarium hosted several annual events such as Behind the Scenes tours, Annual Christmas Tree Decorating, and much more! However, due to COVID, most of the events are canceled at the moment. Instead, they are hosting plenty of virtual programs fit for the entire family.
If you’ve dreamed of having your wedding at an aquarium, you can even do it here! You can rent out this North Carolina aquarium for your next private event, like a wedding or corporate event.
Location, Directions, and Tickets
So, you’re ready to plan your visit? The aquarium is open daily from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm year-round, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. They say that visitors should expect to spend about 2 hours touring the entire facility, not including digging in the outdoor “fossil pit.”
How to get there? Like we mentioned above, we recommend taking the 35-minute ferry from Southport to Fort Fisher. This Oak Island ferry departs right down the road from Deep Point Marina and takes you towards Carolina and Kure beaches. Definitely worth a trip across the Cape Fear River if you ask us.
If you prefer driving or the ferry is not running, you’ll find it’s about an hour drive from Oak Island — or 15 miles south of Wilmington on US 421. You can enter the aquarium’s address in your GPS to get there. It’s 900 Loggerhead Road, Kure Beach, NC, 28449.
Tickets: The aquarium does have a membership that is part of the NC Zoo Membership Program. However, if you are on vacation on Oak Island, your best bet is to buy a one-time ticket. The current price for a one-time ticket is as follows:
- $12.95 per adult (13 and up)
- $10.95 per child (3-12)
- $11.95 per senior
We’ve heard that special discounts are available for groups of 10 or more, as well as military personnel and veterans. Additionally, please remember that Fort Fisher Aquarium follows the local COVID regulations, and reservations are limited per day. Therefore, make sure you reserve your tickets well in advance to ensure that you can go whenever works for you.
Other Fun Activities In the Area
While you are “across the pond,” you can enjoy many of the other activities that Fort Fisher and Wilmington have to offer! For instance, the Fort Fisher State Recreation area is right down the road and was the site of two major Civil War battles. The North Carolina Military History Museum is only about a 7-minute drive from the aquarium as well.
The Carolina Beach State Park and Wilmington are both right around the corner for those who want to make a day trip out of it! We think this topic deserves its own post since there are so many things to do in these areas. Signing up to our monthly newsletter is the best way to find out when we post new guides and stay in the know with everything to do near OKI!
Where to Stay Near Fort Fisher Aquarium?
After an exciting day at the Fort Fisher Aquarium, you can enjoy even more wildlife viewing on Oak Island! You’ll find untouched, natural habitats that are home to sea turtles, horseshoe crabs, pelicans, a variety of wading birds, and more.
When you’re ready to start planning your trip, we’d love to help you find the perfect home-away-from-home on OKI for you and your family! You can browse through our exclusive collection of vacation homes on Oak Island, and please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions you may have. We can’t wait to welcome you to OKI!