Visiting the Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium – Dubuque, Iowa
It’s been a few years since Jo and I last visited the Dubuque Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium. At that time we felt that the attraction was one of the best values of its kind, entertaining and educational, with stuff for all ages. Last summer the museum opened a 50,000 square foot expansion of the facility, having acquired and remodeled the former Diamond Jo Casino portside building. Having watched the construction during our visits to Dubuque and noting the opening of the new addition, we looked forward to a return visit. We did this in August with our “grand-niece” Kylah in tow.
The new main entrance is now in the new facility, the Diamond Jo National River Center. After getting your ticket, you receive a map from a guide-greeter who will give you some tips on touring the exhibits and also answer your questions. The new River Center contains a number of interactive exhibits telling the story of how streams and rivers merge and eventually end up in the ocean. Other educational stations cover natural history and cultural aspects of the Mississippi River watershed. Complimenting the Rivers to the Sea exhibit are four salt-water life aquariums, the main feature being the 40,000 gallon Gulf of Mexico tank. (See picture). Two other new exhibits are especially oriented towards kids. The multi-media 3D/4D Movie Theater has two films, currently showing “Dinosaurs” and “Deepo’s Undersea 3D Wondershow.” The 3D/4D Theater is actually a stand-alone attraction but can be combined with your Museum ticket to save some money. The other kids-oriented attraction, which IS included with the price of admission, is the RiverWorks play museum, a very hands on water play area that includes some educational features. Note to parents. Don’t take your kids to the RiverWorks play area until AFTER you’ve done the museum tour. Otherwise you’ll never get them out of there!
The original facility is located next door to the new National River Center so visitors have to go outside to enter the William Woodward Mississippi River Center. Here you’ll find the Woodward Riverboat Museum with educational exhibits, including models, on the history of Mississippi River water craft and commerce. The Woodward Discovery Center contains the aquariums of Mississippi River fish and wildlife from the popular otters, huge largemouth bass, massive catfish, turtles, and alligators. The touch tank and wet lab is another area popular with kids because they can touch some of the creatures. The Space Wall contains four stations that allow you to conduct a self-guided flyover from the headwaters of the Mississippi in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. There are several mini-theaters in the Discovery Center offering pieces on various themes from Voyageur era to piloting the river boats to the invention of the steamboat. Outside the Center are additional exhibits: a boardwalk trail through a wetland restoration, tour the Logsdon River Towboat, and walk through the William Black, a huge 1934 steam-powered paddleboat that served as a Corps of Engineers dredging vessel on the Missouri River.
The Museum ticket is actually a two-day pass which is a nice bonus. There is so much to see that your legs get tired if you try to do it all in one day. In our case we were escorting a 6 year old so we didn’t have time to linger at some of the theaters and history centers which would have pushed her patience. Yet there was plenty of action and lots of different things to see that even she kept going for a few hours. After catching a beverage and a snack in the café, we took Kylah to the RiverWorks play area where she got an instant boost of renewed energy and played for another hour.
If you are visiting Dubuque, you’ve got to work this attraction into your itinerary. For more info go the website of the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium