If your kids haven’t yet told Old Saint Nick what they what for Christmas, don’t fret. The Jolly Ol’ Soul is still hanging out seven days a week just waiting to hear. Of course, he’s in Northern Kentucky because it’s nearer to the Pole, but the kicker is … he’s underwater!
Named the No. 1 such attraction in the Midwest by Zagat Survey’s Family Travel Guide, the Newport Aquarium at Newport on the Levee presents its sixth annual, wildly popular “Scuba Santa’s Water Wonderland” just in time for last-minute wishes. Through Jan. 3, the white-bearded elf will don scuba gear and dive into the shark tank daily, where youngsters can watch him bubbling around and actually ask him questions through an underwater microphone.
“It’s the most unusual holiday event we know of,” said Rodger Pille, public relations manager for the Newport Aquarium. “But you know, with kids, the weirder it is, the better it is! That’s one reason our new Frog Bog is such a hit.”
Opened in May 2008, the croaky attraction stars 30 different species of cool amphibians from the far reaches of the planet. Here, all ages can create frog music, play frog games and learn all about these fascinating hoppers.
Five seamless acrylic tunnels totaling more than 200 feet in length allow for even more wondrous views. In an exhibit called Surrounded by Sharks, you can gaze up at the smooth bellies of 10-foot tiger sharks sliding overhead, joined by stingrays, loggerhead turtles and two rare shark rays, part of the world’s first shark ray breeding program. In another area, visitors can actually touch dozens of sharks, animals that are commonly misunderstood.
Loveable penguins, on the other hand, are just as they appear: properly attired, fun-loving and entertaining. Every morning, Paula, Randy and Simon – three cuddly Blackfooted penguins – welcome guests to the aquarium at an opening parade that one lucky child gets to lead.
On the other end of the color spectrum, lorikeets – parrot-like birds native to Australia – are vibrantly splashed with red, blue, green and yellow. In a free-flying setting, the small, fearless avians lands on available arms, shoulders and heads, and guests can feed them nectar.
Two other up-close and personal encounters require extra tickets that are worth every penny. At the 20-minute Penguin Encounter, you can touch, play with and snap photos of penguins in their habitat and chat up their biologist caretakers to learn more. The Behind-the-Scenes Tour takes an intriguing peek into what it takes to run a one-million-gallon show, including meal preparation, veterinary labs and new animal introduction areas.
Afterwards, catch a Newport Duck right outside the aquarium and take in the sights of Greater Cincinnati. Modeled after the famous World War II DUKW’s, the Newport Ducks are clunky-looking amphibious vehicles that grind over land and chug through water. Guided, narrated tours include the World Peace Bell, Roebling Suspension Bridge, Paul Brown Stadium, Great American Ballpark and Historic Riverside Drive.
Once the Duck deposits you back at Newport on the Levee, continue the day’s watery theme at Mitchell’s Fish Market (www.mitchellsfishmarket.com).
Boasting fresh fish from every coast in the world, Mitchell’s is a seafood lover’s nirvana. With 80 luscious possibilities, the menu changes twice a day. We’re talking Lobster Bisque, Crab Rangoon, Ginger Crusted Salmon, Oysters Rockefeller with Hollandaise and Key Lime Pie, just as teasers.
Should you be too full for a journey home, waddle over to the Amos Shinkle Townhouse Bed and Breakfast in Covington to sleep off your ocean feast. But don’t worry, Santa will find you wherever you awaken on Christmas morn.