Sensory Friendly Tips for Your South Carolina Aquarium Visit

Sensory Friendly Tips for Your South Carolina Aquarium Visit

Mar 01

Sensory Friendly Tips for Your South Carolina Aquarium Visit

A visit to the Aquarium typically includes laughter, learning and lots of interesting animals. It may also include a lot of sensory stimulation, which can make the experience overwhelming for some guests, particularly those who are autistic or have conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or dementia. In addition to viewing the sensory map linked below, you can follow these tips to help you and your group feel confident and prepared when visiting!


Potential High Stimulation by Gallery

Entrance: sight, smell

Great Hall: sight, movement

Mountain Forest: sight, sound, touch, movement
For extra stimulation, feel the rock walls as you walk through the outdoor portion of this exhibit!

Piedmont: sound

Coastal Plain: sound

Kids Coast: sight, sound, touch, movement
For extra stimulation, explore the tactile learning stations along the hallway. Little guests can also play on a section of padded carpeting to let some energy out!

Saltmarsh Aviary: sight, sound, smell

Touch Tank: sight, sound, touch
For extra stimulation, follow an educator’s lead to gently touch animals like sea stars and chain dogfish in cool water!

Coast: sight, sound, touch
For extra stimulation, take time to play in the animated sandbox and watch as the projected designs change with the hills and valleys you create!

Ocean: sight

Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery™: sight, sound, touch
For extra stimulation, feel the 3D models of sea turtles and press the button at the X-ray display to make it light up!

The Shallows: sound, smell, touch, movement
For extra stimulation, follow an educator’s lead to gently touch cownose rays!

The animated sandbox provides tactile and visual stimulation.The animated sandbox provides tactile and visual stimulation.

Areas To Take a Break From Stimulation

Observation Decks
Two second-floor observation decks are open to guests and provide picturesque views of the Charleston Harbor. These spaces are typically not crowded and do not have a speaker system for Aquarium announcements or programs. You can access these decks near our bald eagle exhibit, through the Kids Coast play area or across from the Touch Tank. 

Blackwater Swamp
This low-light exhibit in the Coastal Plain gallery is a great rest stop after the exciting views of the Mountain Forest. Take a seat on the bench and watch longnose gar calmly swim back and forth as you recharge. 

As you journey through the Ocean gallery, you’ll notice two exhibits featuring jellies on the second floor. These spaces are typically quiet and offer a calming visual of gentle jelly movement in low lighting. 

Respond Gallery
This space, to your right as you exit Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery (behind the escalator), offers plenty of room to sit in natural light. This is a great spot if you are in a small group and wish to take a break together. 

Picnic Pavillion
There are several picnic-style tables and benches available for guests beside The Shallows (exit near the Gift Shop and Sea Turtle Café) that provide a nice area to rest and enjoy the Charleston breeze. This space offers an opportunity to look for bottlenose dolphins and wild birds, but it may be a little noisy at times! 

Two observation decks offer quiet and relaxing views.

What To Wear

Guests walk to the Aquarium entrance from where they park, and there are a few exhibits open to the outside environment. Although the Aquarium generally stays at a relative “comfortable” temperature, layers are a good idea if you’re sensitive to temperature changes. The Mountain Forest, Saltmarsh Aviary and The Shallows may have damp flooring from humidity, water features or gentle splashes from animals; shoes with tread can help you feel confident while moving about the exhibits. If you are sensitive to bright lights or sunny days, a hat or sunglasses can help block some of the brightness. Don’t forget a rain jacket if the forecast calls for precipitation!

What To Bring

Headphones are at the top of the list of our recommendations for those who have sensitivity to noisy areas and loud sounds. We also suggest bringing a refillable water bottle to stay cool and hydrated, particularly on hot Charleston days. It may also be beneficial to bring a small fidget tool to use when stimulation is needed, particularly when waiting for programs to begin! If you or a member of your group communicates without spoken language, remember to bring any tools or devices that can help staff interact with you!

KultureCity Sensory Bags

We were the first organization in the state to be certified as sensory-inclusive by KultureCity, a leading nonprofit recognized for being at the forefront of the expansion of sensory accessibility. As part of this certification, our staff have received training to better serve guests with sensory sensitivities. We offer sensory bags that are available for checkout with a photo I.D. at Admissions or the Info Desk. These bags include fidget tools, noise-reducing headphones, visual communication cards and more.

Sensory bags can be checked out with a photo I.D.Sensory bags can be checked out with a photo I.D.

We hope this guide gives you confidence to prepare for and enjoy a fun day at the Aquarium! If you are uncomfortable or need help during your visit, find an Aquarium staff member! They will be wearing a navy blue shirt and a nametag and can assist you in finding a quiet spot or checking out a sensory bag to make your visit more comfortable.

Published April 1, 2024

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