Sunday, May 16, 1999

'Terrific' aquarium meets expectations

Traffic worries prove unfounded

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Bobby Ferneding, 15, of Harrison watches a West Coast sea nettle.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
        NEWPORT — Mark Horvath and Kevin Brandeberry were on their way home Saturday, decided to stop by the Oceanic Adventures Newport Aquarium, and became the first to tour the facility when it opened to the public.

        The $40 million aquarium opened to the public at 10 a.m. Saturday with perfect weather, rave reviews and no parking or traffic problems.

        Mr. Horvath and Mr. Brandeberry were at the head of a line of some 300 people when the doors officially opened following brief remarks from civic leaders and some musical entertainment — including dancing fish.

        “We were at a business seminar in Louisville, and we read in USA Today that the aquarium was opening,” said Mr. Horvath, 38. “We decided to stop on our way home to Worthington (Ohio) ... We didn't know we'd be the first in line.”

Special section
        Aquarium spokeswoman Lisa Popyk said more than 4,000 people visited the aquarium Saturday, far fewer than the 10,000 officials had expected. A steady stream of visitors made their way through the aquarium all day, but there were no traffic jams on Newport's streets near the riverfront facility.

        Parking was a snap, with movement in and out of the on-site lots handled without a hitch. A lot two blocks from the

        aquarium with 400 spaces, formerly the location of a car dealership, had only a handful of cars and one school bus at 1 p.m.

        When Mr. Horvath and Mr. Brandeberry emerged from the exhibit area of the aquarium about 45 minutes after they descended the escalator from the lobby to the world of fish, they were enthusiastic.

        “It was better than I expected, and I expected it to be good,” Mr. Horvath said. “The penguin exhibit was terrific, and the shark tank was just tremendous. I've been to Shedd (aquarium) in Chicago and Ripley's in Myrtle Beach, and this is as good as any.”

        Would he come back for another visit? “Oh, I'll be back, and I'll bring some people with me,” he said.

        As throngs of parents and children moved from one exhibit to the next, youngsters shouted and squealed as they saw moray eels peering from coral caves, alligators almost underfoot, and sharks swimming around and over them as they traveled through the 84-foot acrylic tunnel that bisects the 380,000-gallon shark tank.

        Evan and Betsy Carras, former Newport residents who lived for several years at 6th and Park streets but moved last year to Mason, were on hand for the opening with their children, Nathan, 2, and Elizabeth, 8 months.

        “Elizabeth was asleep when we started through, but when she woke up she was pointing and laughing at everything,” said Mr. Carras, a teacher at Lakota West High School. “She really liked the shark tunnel.”

        There were no apparent bottlenecks at any of the display areas, although the three-tiered viewing area at the Kingdom of Penguins exhibit was often filled as visitors watched the nearly nonstop activity of the 16 king penguins.

        Barry Rosenberg, president of the group that built the facility, said he was delighted with the first-day turnout and the ease with which everyone was able to move through the aquarium.

        “Some people obviously took more time than others, and some went back to look at certain exhibits a second time, but it never created any flow problems,” he said as he watched people sitting down for a snack or some lunch in the restaurant.

        From its inception, the aquarium was considered a destination attraction, something that would bring people to the area, who would spend time and money at nearby restaurants, hotels and other attractions.

        Tom Barton, a construction worker from Kettering, Ohio, who came here with his wife and some friends, epitomized the visitor that city and state officials on both sides of the Ohio River hope to attract.

        “We heard about the opening on the radio (Saturday) morning, and decided to come down,” Mr. Barton said as he waited in line. “After we leave the aquarium, we're going to eat at the Chart House (restaurant on Newport's nearby Riverboat Row), go to Cincinnati and take a buggy ride around downtown, and then go to Covington for Maifest.”

        The aquarium's gift shop, the final stop for visitors before leaving the building, was crowded all day.

        Amie Schneider of Norwood was picking out some fish-related trinkets with her children, Holly, 5, and Gus, 2. Gus favored shark-related items; Holly liked it all.

        “I've been to the Shedd aquarium and this is certainly comparable,” Ms. Schneider said. “Especially the (acrylic) tunnels. The kids were able to see so much more. And we were able to see everything and get up here (gift shop) in about 45 minutes.”

        The aquarium is open daily, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The ticket office closes at 7:30 p.m.

Special Section: All about the Newport Aquarium

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