Shark Date! Ooh Ha Ha!

I absolutely love visiting Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada.  Since my first visit, I have always looked for an excuse to go whenever I am in Toronto.  So when I learned of a date night package I knew this was my chance.  Now, I want to be clear: I will always, 100% recommend going to this aquarium.  It is the Date Night package under the microscope here, and as a package it is certainly a more affordable way to enjoy the aquarium.  The Date Night experience includes 2 Shark After Dark price tickets, a voucher for the cafe, a voucher for the guidebook, and a voucher for a photo op.  It is a really good deal (the website boasts that this package is valued at $100 but only costs $60) but when purchasing a “Date Night” package I was hoping for more of a “Date Night” experience – not just a cheap way to get into the Aquarium.

Given the fact that this was marketed as a date night where you had to sign up for a specific time, we were expecting an intimate date night experience.  Instead, the aquarium was the most crowded I have ever seen out of all of the times I have visited.  Now, I get that during the summer there’s bound to be more visitors, but this was still even more chaotic than what I was expecting.  Clearly we were not the only ones to take advantage of the Shark After Dark ticket prices as there were families everywhere, all jostling for space. I was actually pushed out of the way of some of the exhibits by a number of children and adults.  Mark and I felt that if the aquarium was going to offer a date night that it would have been better as a adults only event.  Or at the very least, something more quiet and less crowded. It’s hard to have a romantic date night when you can’t hold hands because there isn’t the space to even stand beside each other.

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The meal portion of the package was also a little disappointing, although this was not entirely unexpected.  I knew that the package included a $20 voucher for Ripley’s Cafe, so I was expecting standard cafeteria food right from the start.  And as far as cafeteria food goes, this was not all that bad.  The problem was the cost.  Our voucher for Ripley’s Cafe was $20.  For Mark and I to each get a combo (a main, a side, and a drink), was more expensive than the value of the voucher.  So although we only had to pay an extra $10 for our dinner, it was frustrating that the voucher did not cover the cost of a basic dinner, let alone any upgrades.

I doubt that this would ever actually happen, but I think it would have been really cool if the Date Night dinner was set up as an actual event.  For example, if one of the more open areas in front of some of the tanks (like, say, the ray tank) was set up into a little dining room for couples who paid for the date night package.  That way, even if all that’s being served is overpriced cafeteria food, it makes it a more special date night experience than what we actually ended up with.  That is something I would have gladly paid extra for.

Without a doubt, the most well thought out element of the Date Night package was the photo op.  Our picture was taken in front of a green screen right as we were entering the aquarium, and then when we reached the exit we could get a copy of the picture in front of a background of our choice.  And here’s the best part: the voucher we had for the picture was $15 and the cost for just the picture was $15! So no matter what, we could get a nice picture of ourselves.  Based on what happened with the food voucher, I was actually expecting that the bare minimum cost of the photo would be more than the value of the voucher.  The only extra costs were if we wanted to add frames, key chains, or other items to our photo order.  Mark and I actually ended up getting a nice frame for our picture as the one we picked out would only add an extra $5 + tax to the bill.  So thankfully, it really wasn’t all that expensive to get a nice souvenir of our date night.  Although I did have fun running around the gift shop and playing with all of the items for sale, the photo was definitely a much more meaningful souvenir.

Lastly, and most importantly, I need to bring up the issue of conservation.  As an aquarium, I was pleased to see that Ripley’s was promoting ocean conservation and  environmentally conscious thinking.  There were some aspects that I do not remember seeing on previous trips, so I am pleased to see that more of an effort is being made to draw the attention of the aquarium guests to these important topics.  However, although this is a good start, I think that Ripley’s Aquarium could do even more.

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The “Souvenir Guidebook” we received as part of the Date Night package was an absolute waste.  Something like that is very likely to end up in the garbage (or littered all over the floor of the aquarium, as was the case for many guidebooks I saw that evening). For someone like me, who is familiar with the aquarium, the guidebook has no real purpose.  And given that their website stresses the importance of using your phone to display your ticket (rather than printing it off and wasting paper) it does not make sense to have a physical guidebook.  A downloadable app would be preferable in this situation.  In Ripley’s Cafe they have signs boasting about how many plastic straws they have kept out of landfill by not providing straws at all, and their cutlery is made from a more environmentally conscious material.  Yet there were still single-use plastics available in the form of food packaging.  And there were some fantastic art pieces on display made from plastic products, generating awareness about the kind of waste that plastic produces.  But those art pieces were tucked in a the end of the tour of the aquarium and didn’t really show up anywhere else.  Given the growing environmental concerns generated by climate change, I feel that there is a real need for there to be an actual, permanent exhibit about these issues in the aquarium.  At the very least, it would be a good idea to find a way to more thoroughly integrate awareness about these issues into the other exhibits.

That being said, I do think that Ripley’s Aquarium is certainly doing their part when it comes to environmental issues.  Clearly, they have added elements to raise awareness since my last visit, so I hope they will continue to add more.

And although “Date Night” was not necessarily well thought out as a promotional package, it still made for an inexpensive trip to the aquarium.  I really wanted to go anyway, so it was nice that I got a reasonably good deal on tickets, food, and a nice souvenir to remember the night.  I had a lot of fun seeing the animals that live in the aquarium – especially the sharks – and I had a fun night out with Mark.  I will absolutely continue to visit Ripley’s Aquarium.  And if you’re looking for an inexpensive trip to the aquarium, as long as you’re not expecting a romantic/intimate date night experience, the Date Night package is certainly a good way to plan your trip if you’re trying to stick to a budget.

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