|Even the stairs are amazing|
The WOW first opened in 2001 with far fewer displays and only a few hundred live animals. This original design closed in 2007 as the owners felt it was somewhat underwhelming and decided to put some serious money behind a new revamped exhibition. At first the expansion was budgeted at $25 million and doubling the size of the WOW – but again the owners baulked at what they were seeing, deciding to up the money and size again. This new updated museum was opened in 2017 at a cost around $80 million – an incredible sum for a museum of any sort - though doing my research I think that’s the lowest estimate. Some suggest the total was closer to $300 million.
Above swim schools of large fish, essentially doing laps about the circular tank. Some of these zoom along, while others seem to just be slowly patrolling.
You get a serious idea of how intelligent some fish are as some take a real interest in you looking at them, leaving you wondering just who in on display here?
The first of these tanks holds a replica mast of “the boat that Johnny Morris intentionally sunk off the Ft. Lauderdale coast to build an artificial habitat for ocean life, known as the Offshore Angler. Morris’ goal was to show how humans can have a positive impact (Lauren Barnas – Ozarksfirst.com)”.
This feels very Disneyland to me, and I do not mean that in a derogatory way. Disney theme parks have a fantastic and fun eye for detail, and that’s very much on exhibit here.
Again, this is a multi-level display that you walk through, around, over and under. You pass and enter buildings, from hunting shacks to bait shops and, as this is a nocturnal area, the lighting is dark and intimate. This helps highlight the numerous living animals, including owls, bears and alligators on display. There is even a swing bridge over numerous alligator pens including some real monsters.
Next to the tanks are terrariums full of poison dart frogs, anacondas, tarantulas, toucans and even a sloth. This is all situated around a huge interior waterfall that not only sounds amazing, I dare say helps aerate and give some momentum to the water flowing through the aquariums.
Here is another stop for paleo-fans. One section opens into an exhibition of various shells from all over the world. Among these are fossil ammonites, trilobites and a display of nautilus shells.
There’s also an enormous gallery for the bass fishing hall of fame – which I did not enter as I really did need to move on, but the thing looked enormous, full of plaques and displays of famous bass-fishing folks. Apparently, that’s a big thing in the South.
I have seen images in my research and apparently ends in a three-story tall log cabin. Kind of wish I had spent the time walking down that passage, but alas I didn’t. There’s also a NASCAR /motorsport display full of vehicles I assume the company behind the museum sponsored. Again, I got nowhere near it as there was simply no time and as an Australian, I’m not exactly a NASCAR fan so it held no interest to me.
Though dark, there are a few little spots of illumination, often lined with a bit of fruit to encourage what’s normally only dark shadows flitting through your vision to land, eat and allow a more detailed glimpse of these mammals. This passage also ends with yet another tank filled with fish that prefer dark waters and you get an underside view of the beaver den seen way back up at the swamp – with live beavers.
I also applaud not only the life-like environments of the tanks but the way they are structured. Very few are small and box-like, trapping the animals in a sterile, restricted environment. Most are filled with branches, logs or clever hidey holes, and the tanks themselves are usually in a ring format, allowing fish and other animals to really swim in at least two directions without ever reaching a barrier.