Commercial Free, Please!

I sometimes feel queasy in malls. It could be the stale conditioned air, or the odor from the fake plants, or the mess of smells that emanate from the food court. Or maybe it is the massive amount of commercialism and the constant thought that runs through my head when I find myself in such a place – “Why the hell does anyone need this stuff?”

I’ll get back to that. My boys and I are all off from school this week. My wife decided to take the week off as well, so we could enjoy some family time together. After some debate, we ended up going to the Adventure Aquarium in Camden, NJ. Located on the waterfront across the river from downtown Philadelphia, the aquarium had ample parking with a fish motif throughout the lot and entrance area. There was a line to get in, but it moved quickly. The entrance fee was somewhat steep – they were not open to negotiations – but I was convinced the large aquarium surely would have much to offer.

It feels good to say told you so. There were numerous displays in the aquarium including some where you could touch the fish. I actually petted a shark and a stingray. I was trying to be a good parent – definitely would not have bothered if I was there childless – and inspire my children to take chances and get out of their comfort zone. Nothing doing. Oh well. There was one room that was more like a tunnel through an aquarium with sharks all about. Another area included a spot where children could put their heads into an inverted fish bowl and look out and see the fish up close and personal. Photo op! Anyway, we also wandered outside where they have Penguin Island. My children, who are more into “hands-on” than “eyes-on” displays, enjoyed themselves at a breakneck pace, rarely slowing down to stare at the fish.

So, as you can tell from this description, a good time was had by all. However, there was something about the aquarium that bothered me. It seemed as if everywhere you turned, there was something for sale. Firstly, the food court was massive and was a throughway that we seemed to have to use perpetually. Then, there was the gift shop. It was large and filled with so many useless items. They also had face painting, an area to have your child pose on a surfboard, and other cash guzzlers located throughout the aquarium.  None of this is outrageous and is almost standard these days at attractions. Probably just my craziness. Yet, it felt as though the commercialism was everywhere. We were in the aquarium 10 minutes before we actually saw fish, though we had passed half a dozen stands selling all types of unnecessary items. Aquarium? Mall? I don’t think it was the smell of fish making me queasy!