Ocean Center Top Attraction

Zagat survey names center top family attraction

By: Dawna Robertson

A new Zagat survey, “U.S. Family Travel Guide,” has named Maui Ocean Center as the “Top-Rated Attraction in Hawaii” and one of the “50 Top-Rated Attractions” in the country. The survey was based on the reviews of over 11,000 avid travelers who have experience traveling with children. It was developed in association with Parenting Magazine.

Out of a top score of 30, Maui Ocean Center scored a 28 for child appeal, 25 for adult appeal, 25 for public facilities (including such consumer amenities as restrooms, onsite restaurants and ease of getting around) and 23 for service (rated for friendliness and availability of tour guides/other personnel). With a combined score of 25, Maui Ocean Center earned its enviable mark.

Aptly named “The Hawaiian Aquarium,” this state-of-the-art marine museum is “dedicated to fostering understanding, wonder and respect for Hawaii’s marine life.” Here, visitors can view the largest collection of live coral in the U.S., enjoy playful swimming displays by Hawaii’s green sea turtles encounter sharks, rays and more while learning about Hawaii’s natural history and cultural heritage.

Through years of research and meticulous care, Maui Ocean Center has gathered a unique collection of Hawaii’s marine life. As a result, what would take weeks, if not a lifetime to explore in the wild, can easily be seen in a leisurely stroll through the facility in one day.

“As a relatively young attraction, we are ecstatic to have received these two amazing commendations,” stated Kate Zolezzi, Maui Ocean Center’s general manager. “There are many excellent family attractions in Hawaii, let alone in the country. So this recognition is a true testament to the dedication of our staff and the quality of our product.”

Other attractions in Hawaii that received high reviews in the Zagat survey include Maui’s Old Lahaina Luau and Oahu’s Polynesian Cultural Center and Bishop Museum.

“After being around for six years, we’re enjoying solid repeat business,” added Zolezzi. “We feel that Maui Ocean Center provides the best family experience possible for all ages from six-year-olds in strollers to lifelong divers. We have so much to offer so many types of visitors.”

Zolezzi explained that the Center’s new Shark Dive Maui Program is becoming a favorite. Offered to certified scuba divers 15 years and older, the program allows participants to explore a 750,000-gallon tank that houses some 20 sharks, plus sting rays, spotted eagle rays and tropical fish.

“Our Shark Dive Program features so much,” she added. “It’s cultural information with an educational experience that focuses on Hawaii’s marine life. So it’s interesting to divers even if they’ve been everywhere in the world.”

To enhance the learning experience, digital audio guides provide commentary on the animals that call Hawaii home. Expert naturalists are also nearby to answer any questions visitors may have. Complimentary naturalist presentations are also scheduled daily at half past the hour in various exhibits throughout the aquarium.

All the animals displayed at the Maui Ocean Center are collected exclusively from waters around the Hawaiian Islands. All collecting is conducted under strict, government permits and the animals are featured and cared for with integrity.

The green sea turtles, for example, are part of a hatch-and-release program. The Center allows them a strong head start before eventually returning them to the wild.

Many of the rays and sharks are rotated from the aquarium to the ocean. And when a shark is brought into or released from the aquarium, it is blessed by one of Maui Ocean Center’s Hawaiian cultural advisors for sharks are considered na ‘aumakua (deified ancestors or personal gods) by old Hawaiians.

The Maui Ocean Center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (9-6 in July and August). Admission is $20 for adults, $17 for seniors (ages 65 and older), $13 for children (ages 3-12) and free admission for children under 3. Special rates, packages and theme events are also available for groups.