The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque is one of Iowa’s top tourist attractions! It is one of only a handful of establishments that is accredited by BOTH the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums! The museum is split into 2 main sections, the National River Center and the Mississippi River Center (which focuses on the history and wildlife found along the Mississippi) and today I share my favourite must see areas of the museum!
Rivers to the Sea – Gulf of Mexico Aquarium
All rivers eventually end up in a sea. The Mississippi River’s final destination is in the Gulf of Mexico! Did you know, it takes 90 days for a single drop of water to travel the length of the Mississippi River and reach the Gulf of Mexico! The River Museum is home to a giant floor to ceiling salt water aquarium, full of tropical fish and even a sea turtle! Dot the turtle is a much loved attraction by herself! She was rescued after being hit by a boat. Her back ‘legs’ are paralysed and she now suffers from Bubble Butt Syndrome (real life scientific term), which means she struggles to release gas which makes her bottom float upwards! I could spend HOURS sitting in front of the aquarium!
Sting Ray Touch Tank
This is a brand new exhibit to the National River Museum! The tank is full of sting rays that absolutely love receiving attention! It’s hard to describe how the sting rays feel to touch…kind of like wet felt! If you’re wearing royal blue, they’ll get really excited because this is the colour that the ‘keepers’ wear so they think it’s food time!
There is a staircase that leads up to the second floor of the museum (in the National River Center building), however if you take the lift/elevator, there’s a button that goes up to an observation deck! It looks out over the Mississippi River and Downtown Dubuque!
The outside area of the museum is home to some bald eagles, river otters and large exhibits such as boats and steam boilers. There is also a Wetland area where you can follow a boardwalk and feed the fish! There are fish food machines dotted around, for 1 quarter you’ll get a handful of food.
William M. Black Steam Boat Tour
The William M. Black is a paddle steamer boat that once upon a time used to dredge the Mississippi River. It was built in 1934 and is now a National Historic Landmark. It was taken out of service in the 1970’s due to the cost of the amount of oil it used to burn. It is now permanently docked at the Dubuque Harbour and is open for guided tours throughout the day! The tour literally takes you around the whole boat, you get to see everything from the engine rooms, to the helm, right up to the cabins where the crew used to sleep!
3D/4D Digital Theater
The National River Museum has Iowa’s ONLY 3D/4D digital theater! People may be familiar with 3D cinemas, where visitors wear glasses to give the movie another dimension. 4D adds other elements to give a full sensory experience. I was lucky enough recently to have a behind the scenes look at all the different 4D capabilities of the theater, including lightening, rain, wind, seat movements and different scents. These help to fully emerge the viewer into the movie! The museum is partnered with National Geographic and usually has 2 different, 45 minute movies showing throughout the day. The movies change every couple of months.
You can find more information about the National River Museum and Aquarium at www.rivermuseum.com. I have only touched on a few of the exhibits on display, there’s so much more to see, including travelling exhibits!
Entrance fees are anything from $6 for one film in the 3D/4D theater up to $21 for an adult ticket that includes museum admission and 2 films.
Opening times vary depending on the season:
9am – 6pm during the summer
10am (9am in the fall) – 5pm during the low seasons.
I have visited the National River Museum 3 times. Once in the summer, once in the winter and one complimentary visit during the Distinctively Dubuque programme. As always, opinions are my own.