Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Great Way To Spend An Afternoon In Charleston

When one lives in "vacation land" it seems like there are always dates circled on the calendar that represent visits from friends and family. In fact, we planned for that reality when we moved to Charleston by searching for and purchasing a home with a guest room. We enjoy serving as hosts and planning agendas for our visitors, going so far as to even query them before their appointed time to make sure that we "customize" the itinerary to match their interests. Oh sure, we have our favorite activities and locations, but for the most part when you visit Hotel de' Hammond you get a customized vacation.

One attraction that always seems to receive consideration is the South Carolina Aquarium located on the Charleston Harbor. Not only is the location one of the most picturesque in the city residing in the shadow of the Cooper River Bridge and across the Harbor from the USS Yorktown but the aquarium is very well done, has something for everybody, is interactive and when the temperature and humidity soars, it is AIR CONDITIONED. What is remarkable though is that I never get tired of visiting the aquarium, actually every time that I visit I discover something new. In a way, I am like my grandfather. He lived in the mountains of West Virginia near the Cass Scenic Railroad and he never tired of taking house guests, grandchildren and company to Cass to "ride the train."

For you to understand the value of the attraction I have to elaborate on the design and flow of the exhibits. Your visit begins with a breathtaking view of the blue water of the Charleston Harbor and as you enter the Great Hall, you are provided with a very impressive first impression thanks to the two story windows overlooking the harbor and the 15,000 gallon circular Carolina Seas tank, home to colorful fish representative of those found living among the natural reefs found just off shore of Charleston.

From the Great Hall you embark on a journey that takes you from the Mountain Forests of the upstate of South Carolina, through the Piedmont areas, to the coastal marshes and eventually the Atlantic Ocean. Along the way you will enjoy a walk through spectacular rock formations and waterfalls carved out of the rocks where you will see river otters, birds, fresh water trout and snakes. As you progress towards the coast, you will enjoy the coastal plains and lowcountry habitat catching a glimpse of shore birds, crabs, and even an albino alligator in a swamp. Watch out while you are in the swamp though, a nasty simulated thunderstorm arrives periodically.

Next you glide into the salt marsh, in an exhibit designed to make you feel as if you are kayaking along on a coastal tidal creek. Of course you aren't the only one gliding in the salt marsh, you are joined by a tankful of stingrays. Who knows, you may even get the opportunity to feed the rays during your walk through. The salt marsh and coastal exhibits provide our visitors with a chance to see up close and personal the marine habitats of several species of seafood that they may be lucky enough to enjoy on the dinner table at some point during their visit to the Land of Palm Trees.

As exciting and rewarding as your tour has been up to this point, I have got to say, "you ain't seen nothin' yet." As you enter the Ocean Gallery you will have your breath taken away by the two-story 385,000 gallon saltwater tank serving as home to sharks, baracuda, loggerhead turtles, tuna, and dolphin as well as other fish species that reside among the reefs off the coast of Charleston. The massive two-story nature of the tank allows the exhibit to depict deep water reefs and also allows for visitors to view the tank from two different levels of the Ocean Gallery. Auditorium style risers and benches allow for you to sit and gaze as if you are under the sea in a glass submarine. Few experiences have the ability to calm my type A personality like twenty-minutes in the Ocean Gallery.

Of course the South Carolina Aquarium is more than meets the eye and in addition to being a tremendous tourist attraction the Aquarium is a leader within the Lowcountry community through their conservation efforts promoting and providing education, research and advocacy for a sustainable seafood initiative that has successfully partnered with area restaurants to promote the use of local seafood in a way that insures the sustainability of the precious natural resource. However, conservation efforts and initiatives are not the only way that the South Carolina Aquarium serves to protect the interests of the sea. The aquarium is home to a full service Sea Turtle Hospital, that works to nurse rescued sea turtles for their eventual release back into the depths of the ocean. You can even schedule tours of the state of the art hospital facility. If you are interested in learning more about the sea turtle hospital at the South Carolina Aquarium check out this link.

One day I plan to become a volunteer at the South Carolina Aquarium and provide some sort of repayment to the animals, fish and turtles that provide me with such a wonderful experience to share with our guests. Until then though, if you come to visit, chances are you will make it to the South Carolina Aquarium at some point during your visit.

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