North Carolina Aquarium
Within 93,000 square feet, the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores manages to fit all of the state's and most of the world's main aquatic environments into five galleries. A 30-foot waterfall throws a cool mist over guests as they begin a journey that brings them to the Piedmont gallery, where the aquarium's three spunky river otters—Neuse, Pungo, and Eno—frolic and play poker underwater. Further exhibits promise other memorable encounters, such as the Tidal Touch Pool where handlers let visitors touch skates, rays, and select invertebrates. At the epicenter lies the ocean gallery, anchored by a 306,000-gallon tank with a 65-foot viewing window. Sand tiger sharks and moray eels swim about the Living Shipwreck exhibit, a replica of a German U-boat that sank off the United States' East Coast in 1942. Behind the glass of another tank, a young loggerhead sea turtle named Nimbus flashes its gold-toothed smile and rare white coloration.
Divers host live shows twice a day in the ocean tank, answering visitors' questions via special equipment. They've also been known to assist with proposals, unveiling engagement rings as an unsuspecting fiancé peers through the glass. Beyond overseeing the standing exhibits, the staff also ventures outside for numerous educational programs and activities. Participants can catch crabs, fish in the surf, explore the marsh, or even explore the water on canoeing and kayaking outings.