North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher: 5 Important Things You Need to Know

Last Updated on June 7, 2021

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If you plan to visit Western NC, please check beforehand to see if the area is safe following the recent flooding. Officials have closed some sections of Pisgah National Forest (including Forest Heritage Scenic Byway and Blue Ridge Parkway stops) to keep visitors out of danger. Please respect signage and local guidance.

When planning a day out in Wilmington, the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher should always sit near the top of your list! Personally, visiting this place is one of our favorite things to do in North Carolina, not just at the beach.

It’s easily one of the most family-friendly activities in Wilmington. Each time we visit, there seems to be something new around every corner.

At its core, this aquarium seeks to educate and provide kids and adults alike with a fun, hands-on experience!

We fell in love from our first visit and wanted to profess our admiration in this guide. Of course, we also want to share its history and that of the NC Aquarium system, Fort Fisher’s exhibits, and programs through this article.

Here’s how we’ve organized things:

  • Quick Guide (Address, Contact Info, and Ordering Info)
  • Background Info
  • Membership and Tickets at the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher
  • Exhibits (Freshwater, Saltwater, and Outdoor)
  • Virtual Programs and Community Outreach
  • More Things to Do in the Wilmington Area (Related Posts)

This post is part of our series on all the awesome places to visit in Eastern North Carolina. We’ve also created a guide that covers the best things to do in Wilmington, which features the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. If you’re searching for places to stay, check out these cool Airbnbs in Wilmington and its surroundings.

North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher

Quick Guide for Visitors

Background Info

exhibits at North Carolina Aqaurium at Fort Fisher Wilmington

Originally opened as a Marine Science Center in 1976, the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is one of four aquariums in the state system.

Two more, NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores and at Roanoke Island, opened at the same time. They were renamed to an aquarium in 1986.

In 2011, Jennette’s Pier was added to the system, though it’s been a known Outer Banks attraction since 1939.

The Aquarium at Fort Fisher aims to introduce North Carolinians to the wonderful aquatic life found just off our shores. With a focus on conservation and research, all four NC Aquarium sites are proud accredited members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

At NC Tripping, we only support non-profits and facilities accredited by the AZA, as their standards of care and dedication to research ensure that they are worthy destinations to visit and promote. As such, we support and love all three of these NC Aquariums.

NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher Membership and Ticket Info

If you live nearby or are frequent travelers to Wilmington, we recommend getting an aquarium membership. This membership is probably one of our best secrets at lowering the cost of travel!

In addition to reduced access to the Fort Fisher Aquarium, your membership will also give you free or reduced access to many other AZA-accredited institutions across the country.

fresh water exhibits North Carolina Aqaurium at Fort Fisher Wilmington

Note that during 2021, the reciprocity agreement is based on each location. The NC Aquariums are accepting reciprocity between the North Carolina Zoo, but not any other participating locations.

Each science and nature-based facility is following its own guidelines to reduce capacity, so please make sure to call ahead first to ask if they will accept your membership.

jelly fish exhibit North Carolina Aqaurium at Fort Fisher Wilmington

Currently, advanced tickets for the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher are required. These tickets are timed and spaced out to keep both patrons and employees safe. Tickets cannot be purchased at the door, so be sure to plan ahead!

Reserve tickets here: ncaquariums.com/fort-fisher

Exhibits at Fort Fisher

Freshwater Exhibits

inside the fresh water exhibit at North Carolina Aqaurium at Fort Fisher Wilmington

The first exhibit you’ll encounter when you enter the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is the freshwater species. Here, you can watch otters play, learn about the snakes of North Carolina, and even spot the rare albino alligator!

From freshwater streams and swamps, inquiring minds learn something new every time they walk into the aquarium. 

Once you enter the main aquarium building, there’s still more freshwater aquatic learning to be had! Have fun in the “touch tank,” where you can dip your hand in and touch sea stars, stingrays, and horseshoe crabs! This is an interactive experience that will always be fun.

Saltwater Exhibits

inside the North Carolina Aqaurium at Fort Fisher Wilmington

On the first level, you will find the saltwater aquatic life exhibits. The floor to ceiling swim tank with turtles and fish is probably the most appealing to most visitors, but the jellyfish happens to be our favorite!

North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher Swim tank

There are also daily programs that take place in the swim tank, so make sure to ask about the schedule when you pick up your tickets. Sit and watch as the sea life lives together in perfect harmony while counting how many fish you see!

Outdoor Exhibits

outside play space North Carolina Aqaurium at Fort Fisher Wilmington

As you exit the saltwater section of the building, visitors will find an awesome outdoor play space! Perfect for children ages three to 10, the playground equipment provides a place for kids to get their wiggles out!

Stop by at the concessions area for a snack while you play. Note that the area is not covered and can get hot in the summer, but we’ve found it perfect for when we’re visiting in the off-season!

natural area at North Carolina Aqaurium at Fort Fisher Wilmington

As you leave the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, you’ll make your way through several natural habitats. With birds, fish, turtles, and native plants, this area is one that we recommend taking special note of, instead of simply rushing through.

This outdoor section reminds us of the beauty of nature, how integral it is to life, and how it creates an ecosystem in which everything must work together to survive.

Virtual Programs and Community Outreach

Currently, the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher has incredible online resources for those who aren’t able to visit just yet! They offer free printables and worksheets, a virtual bookshelf, and many educational videos!

These are perfect for extending your learning at home, either before or after you visit. 

walking at North Carolina Aqaurium at Fort Fisher Wilmington

The Gills Club is specifically designed to promote STEM education to girls. For girls age 10 to 14, the Gills Club participates in the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy’s program to connect them with female scientists, share knowledge, and learn about sharks and ocean conservation.

The club meets several times a year and is a fantastic activity for inspiring young minds. 

Ready to Experience the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher?

The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is located 20 miles south of Wilmington along Kure Beach, one of the best beaches in North Carolina. It is an incredible resource to the community and travelers alike.

We consider it the number one thing to do with kids in Wilmington and hope that you and your family visit and make lifelong memories!

Have you ever visited this aquarium? We’d love to know what you thought of it. If you haven’t been yet, we hope you’ll make it out there soon and share your experiences with us!

More Things to Do in the Wilmington Area

2 thoughts on “North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher: 5 Important Things You Need to Know”

  1. Thank you for such helpful information regarding everything NC. I Read your various articles all the time. In this one you touched on the membership perk between aquarium and zoo. I had read about that on the website but since the pandemic I had understood it to be discontinued. My family was planning on buying a NC zoo membership, would that get us in to the aquarium as well possibly? Or do you recommend buying the aquarium membership and that gets you into the zoo? Or maybe they are the same thing. Thanks for your help with this

    Reply
    • Hi Ben! Thanks for reading and reaching out! I believe right now they are holding on the reciprocity agreements, but it is worth calling to check! Previously, we could use our Museum of Life and Science membership and get a 50% discount but they aren’t honoring that right now with the pandemic. I believe (and hope!) that program will go back into place afterwards.

      Reply

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