Planning a trip to see the world’s largest aquarium? You’re going to need to carve out a few extra vacation days, because the current record holder is in China.
For years, the world's largest aquarium was the Georgia Aquarium, which shattered the record when it opened in 2005. Yet despite its size—with more than 120,000 animals and some 10 million gallons of water—the Atlanta attraction was recently outdone. In 2014, almost a decade after the Georgia Aquarium opened, the Chimelong Ocean Kingdom easily became the largest aquarium on Earth.
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Located on the Chinese island of Hengqin (just a 15-minute drive from Macau), this aquarium boasts 12.87 million gallons of fresh and salt water. Just don’t count on seeing it all in one day: the marine park is part of a massive resort complex that includes three hotels, a circus, multiple roller coasters (one of which takes visitors hurtling over polar bears), and a 5D movie theater.
It should come as no surprise that the owners know a thing or two about running large-scale resorts: In 2006, the same company opened Chimelong Paradise, the largest theme park in China.
Gazing at a map of Ocean Kingdom is like trying to count the polyps on a coral reef. The range of attractions here is enough to make your head spin. Similar to SeaWorld, each major sea animal group gets a stadium of its own—there’s Beluga Theater, Mount Walrus, Dolphin Cove, Sea Bird Paradise—you get the idea. Covering 353 acres, it’s roughly on a par with Disney’s Magic Kingdom, thus requiring visitors to do their homework before tackling the eight different exhibits.
Even the native Chinese white dolphin gets a space at the Dolphin Conservation Center, which recently benefited from a major renovation.
The Whale Shark Aquarium, meanwhile, forms the centerpiece of the record-breaking, $1 billion park. Through an acrylic window, visitors get to marvel at the world’s largest aquarium tank, home to thousands of luminescent underwater vertebrates like manta rays and sea turtles, plus the king of all fish: the whale shark.
After you’ve gawked in front of the window, go wander through a 39-foot-wide, wraparound viewing tunnel, which gives visitors a glimpse at life under the sea (without even having to get wet). Nearby, the park pays homage to its mascot with a 190-foot-high whale shark sculpture, surrounded by an artificial lagoon. At night, the site hosts a suitably flamboyant performance with lasers, fireworks, and levitating dancers who leap out of the water on gravity-defying “sky boards.”
Because it's not just sheer size that makes Ocean Kingdom the world's biggest aquarium. It's even got the over-sized spectacle to match.