Visiting and reviewing SEA LIFE Michigan Aquarium in Auburn Hills
Updated: Oct 20
SEA LIFE Michigan Aquarium is located within the Great Lakes Crossing Outlets shopping mall in Auburn Hills. This is our review of SEA LIFE Michigan Aquarium.
A sprawling shopping mall may seem like a strange place for an aquarium but Sea Life is no stranger to doing this. You see, Sea Life has made it their business model to build Aquariums into shopping malls all over the northern Hemisphere. Sea Life boasts 53 locations around the world including the Mall of America in Minneapolis, the largest shopping mall in America.
Sea Life is owned by Merlin Entertainments Ltd, a British-based entertainments company that also owns the Legoland brand. This is why there is cross-branding between Lego and Sea Life, and why LEGOLAND Discovery Center Michigan sits right next door to Sea Life in the Great Lakes Crossing. This makes for a very nice experience if you wish to visit both attractions in the same day. You can visit one attraction, get some lunch in the mall food court, and then visit the other before finishing the day by catching a movie at the Cinema, having dinner at the Rainforest Cafe or walking around the mall.
There's a lot to say for having all the amenities that a modern shopping mall provides alongside the aquarium. If you take your family here it may be that you find some other interesting ways to entertain yourself before and after visiting the aquarium. Hungry or fussy kids will be easy to tend to with the various shops and dining options within a few minutes walk from the aquarium entrance.
From the outside of the mall you can clearly see that you've found the right place. The bright aqua-colored facade with pictures of sea life really stands in stark contrast to the theme of the rest of the mall. As you approach the entrance there is a giant Duplo sculpture of a giraffe with a snorkeling mask, a hint that Legoland also awaits inside.
Once you get around the first corner of the aquarium you'll begin to see some very thoughtful lighting and design. The first exhibit is freshwater and contains some fish species that you'll find locally in Michigan. There are actually several exhibits near the entrance that are freshwater and contain fish species found in the Great Lakes.
The way you move through the exhibits is linear and the paths flow one way through from one to the next. We arrived on a Saturday right at opening and found there to hardly be any people here. and while we weren't supposed to walk back to places we had already seen we were able to take plenty of time at each exhibit.
The shallow pool contains Rainbow Trout, as well as several types of panfish. Seeing game fish up close like this is a real treat.
The curved acrylic panels mean that no matter how young someone is they can get face to face with these fish.
Walking through the Aquarium I was really surprised by how well done the lighting is. The different colors of subtle lighting really help lead you through the exhibits. It's really well thought out. There is also plenty of signage on the walls opposite the aquariums.
I think you'll agree that this looks very attractive. There has been a great deal of thought put into making a thematic element to the path through the aquarium.
One of the best exhibits in my opinion is the 'Shoaling Ring'. A dark room with a series of glass panels allowing for viewing in a nearly 360 degree panorama allows you to see shoaling behavior in the fish that are housed here. It's also very beautiful to look at. Lobster slowly walk along the bottom of the ring.
Have you ever gotten this close to a lobster you didn't intend to eat?
The designers of the exhibits of SEA LIFE Michigan Aquarium have taken full advantage of the properties of acrylic as opposed to glass. Here is an example of such, the curved acrylic walls of this aquarium pool allow you to view the fish and rays from any angle, including from above to some extent as you lean over the side. The curve of the acrylic also serves to magnify the image and this makes observing these creatures even more enjoyable.
The colored lighting inside the tanks was also superb and helped add an element to this experience.
By far the most interesting exhibit here is the massive 'Tropical Ocean' exhibit. This exhibit is a massive saltwater tank with walkways built around the outside and a tunnel that cuts through the center of it. Fish, sharks, and even sea turtles will swim around and even above you as you
Small viewing areas such as this are all along the walkway so you can view the large exhibit from many angles.
The tunnel really offered a great view where you could see sharks and rays right at eye-level.
Because of how few people were here it was pretty easy to just stand for quite some time and take in all the creatures in this tank. Finding a time with so few people here really let us appreciate everything this attraction had to offer.
First let me say that as far as I have researched and am aware this is the biggest aquarium in Michigan. You're getting a really nice experience but we were through this aquarium within an hour and that's with stopping to take pictures and spending quite a lot of time just standing and watching.
While there is a small play area (Currently off limits thanks to Covid.) you're not going to get a whole lot of extra time here for your kids. So I'd say that an hour is about the average time it'd take to get you about an hour to get through the entire aquarium with kids. The ability to make this part of your day trip is really an appealing possibility. You could spend a whole day at this mall and visiting the aquarium would be the highlight.
How I'd plan a trip here
This would be my ideal itinerary: Start with the Aquarium in the morning as it will get more crowded as the day progresses. get lunch in the food court and then visit LEGOLAND Discovery Center Michigan. Then walk around the mall for a while before catching a movie and then ending your day with dinner at the Rainforest Cafe. But beware that this itinerary will be pricey so you may want to break up this trip if you are within driving distance.
Lets talk about price because I'm sure there are going to be parents wondering about the finances of a family trip here. Tickets per person currently cost $16.95 if you purchase online and $23.95 at the door. Do those prices scare you? Fortunately there are a lot of discounts listed on their website. There is also an interesting way to get $7 off your admission if you are a Michigan resident. By signing up for a "Michigan Activity Pass" through your local library you'll be able to cut the cost of your trip even further.
The price is pretty steep though and $70 for a family of 4 is going to hurt so you should look for any Groupons or discounts you can find. If you plan to visit the Legoland as well consider a combination ticket as it'll help reduce your cost. Is the cost worth it? I'd say it depends. I think you'll want to plan a whole trip around visiting the Great Lakes Crossing mall and hitting up all the attractions in a single day if you aren't local. if you want an educational experience for your kids then Sea Life can really help with that. It certainly has a lot of beautiful exhibits and I'm sure the cost is justified.