By Alison Fox
November 14, 2019

Have you ever seen The Phantom of the Opera? How about “The Piranha of the Opera?”

The fish-themed show tune will become reality when the New York City-themed SEA LIFE Aquarium opens in the American Dream mall in New Jersey next year, welcoming visitors with an underwater Times Square and its ubiquitous fishy billboards.

Courtesy of New Jersey SEA LIFE Aquarium

“I’m hoping kids walk away with a sense of real excitement and wonder about the diversity of aquatic life,” Rich Weddle, the aquarium’s curator, told Travel + Leisure. “I’d really like to see them get engaged in the exhibits and have [an] appreciation for the animals. When they get exposed to conservation messages later, they’ll resonate with them so much more strongly.”

Courtesy of New Jersey SEA LIFE Aquarium

The aquarium, the 10th SEA LIFE in the U.S. and the 50th in the world, will feature 25,000 square feet, 250,000 gallons of water and more than 3,000 sea animals, including a giant Pacific octopus, black tip reef and zebra sharks, and a giant grouper that can grow up to 400 pounds.

But these aquatic creatures won’t be housed in just any ordinary tanks.

Courtesy of New Jersey SEA LIFE Aquarium

Participate in rush hour (or the rush hour of the ocean) with a train ride to the fresh water exhibits, complete with a motion activated audio warning visitors to “stand clear of the closing doors” -- complete with an exaggerated New York accent, of course. There’s a jellyfish dance club modeled after New York’s legendary Studio 54, and red bellied piranhas who are ostensibly “the Wall Street wolves of the sea.”

Later, take a stroll down Shark Fish Avenue where you can window shop with all the colorful fish displayed in shop windows.

“You cannot go to a city under the sea without wanting to window shop,” Julie Estrada, a spokeswoman for Merlin Entertainments, the owner and operator of the aquarium, told Travel + Leisure. “Bonus: you don't have to spend money there, you don't have to buy anything."

Courtesy of New Jersey SEA LIFE Aquarium

The aquarium will open in the American Dream complex in the spring, and is just one of many attractions coming to the long-awaited mega mall in East Rutherford, NJ. Last month, the indoor Nickelodeon Universe theme park opened and soon, the DreamWorks Water Park will open, which organizers have said will be North America’s largest indoor water park.

In December, visitors will be able to ski and snowboard indoors at the Big Snow and in March, luxury shopping will beckon, helmed by stores like Hermès, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Tiffany & Co.

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