CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Three months after closing because of COVID-19 concerns, the Tennessee Aquarium finally reopened to the general public Thursday.
Last week, they tested out new physical distancing measures with a soft opening for members only. The aquarium took that experience and made things even better as they fully reopen to eager visitors.
"You tend to appreciate things more after they've been taken away for a while, so we got a membership to come back as many times as we can,” visitor Sabrina Crisp said.
"So many people were trying to get on the ticketing system that we had to shut the system down temporarily,” Chief Communications and Marketing Officer Thom Benson said.
During the members-only soft opening, the aquarium rolled out physical distancing measures like limited capacity and timed entry tickets. Guests follow a one-way path from the River Journey building to Ocean Journey. Now, in the full opening, masks are required from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., instead of just 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Benson said members pushed for that change.
"We're being responsive to the survey of members that visited last week,” he said. “A lot of them said 'it would be great if you expanded the hours so more people can take advantage of that.' So that's what we've done.”
"You'll also notice some exhibits and the IMax theatre are still closed. Benson says those will be back eventually, but the aquarium is hopeful people will still enjoy what is available.
"Reopening is not business as usual and with limited capacity. It is going to take us a while to recover so we are grateful for that community support,” he said.
If turnout Thursday morning and during the members-only week is any indication, the aquarium is well on its way back to normal.
If you want to visit, you do need to make a reservation for a time slot online and in advance before arriving. If you make a reservation during “early bird” hours from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. you will be required to wear a mask. Find more information at the Tennessee Aquarium website.