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Sleep in the Deep 

Snuggle up with sharks at the Oregon Coast Aquarium

Why on Earth would I give up a night in a comfy king-size bed in a gorgeous beach house to sleep on a cold hard floor? The only logical reason is for the love of my child, of course.

I said goodbye to our spring break rental (complete with wine) and toted my son, Cole, and our sleeping bags to the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport for a sleepover.

PHOTO COURTESY OREGON COAST AQUARIUM
  • Photo courtesy Oregon Coast Aquarium

His birthday falls over spring break every year and we usually head south at that time in search of sunshine. We used to tell him that our vacation was his birthday gift, but once he started realizing that we would probably go anyway, we began adding a specific experience that would appeal to him.

He has always loved marine life, but, this year, my now 9-year old has taken up quite an interest in sharks. Gone are the days of reading warm and fuzzy books at bedtime. Now, we snuggle up with books about bloodthirsty great whites. I keep trying to revive his interest in dolphins, but, apparently that is so second grade. He shares a new shark fact every day (did you know the blue shark is known to give birth to as many as 135 pups in a single litter?) and watches shark documentaries anytime he's allowed.

So, when we began planning this surprise trip to the coast, we did a bit of research, planning to do some whale watching, check out a few tide pools and take him to the aquarium. What I did not expect to discover was the ultimate birthday gift for Cole: the Sleep in the Deep opportunity at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Falling asleep with sharks circling overhead sounds like a nightmare to most (myself included) but for him, an experience of a lifetime!

The sleepover caters to school groups as a field trip during the school year, while the spring break crowd consisted of mostly younger to middle school-aged children and their parents, which kept things relatively calm.

We kicked off the evening with a bit of sea creature trivia (which the birthday boy crushed) and a safety briefing. Then we got a "backstage" tour of most of the aquarium, including the famous Passages of the Deep exhibit tunnels, where we would be sleeping.

Dinner was (no surprise) a mediocre pizza and salad in the aquarium cafeteria. Post-dinner was reserved for a scavenger hunt where the kiddos were tasked with finding several creatures in various indoor tanks. Overall, the evening flew by and I found myself feeling very relaxed (which is rare for me when surrounded by a bunch of excited children).

There is something very soothing about spending time amongst floating flounder and gently swaying jellyfish, and I was yawning well before lights out. Cole and I had packed our jammies but ended up "roughing it" and just sleeping in our clothes, as we were eager to experience the creatures in the tunnels from the comfort of our sleeping bags.

The tunnels consist of the Open Sea (sharks, rays and schools of anchovy and mackerel), Halibut Flats (large halibut, sturgeon, lingcod and flounder) and Orford Reef (beautiful rockfish, wolf eels and giant Pacific octopus). We had about 30 minutes to gaze at the sea life above and around us which was fascinating, and again, rather tranquil. Lights were out around 10pm, and, with the right gear (sleeping pad, good pillow, eye mask, ear buds and a Netflix subscription), I was actually able to sleep. Cole commented that all he wanted was to wake up in the morning and have a shark staring at him. Mission accomplished!

Now, if you're like me and actually find sea creatures to be a little, well...creepy, then, you'll really enjoy the morning portion of the tour. After a light breakfast, we walked into the sunshine to the outdoor exhibits where cuteness prevails. We were able to get up close and personal with the last known sea otter population on the Oregon coast, adorable harbor seals and barking sea lions.

The aquarium is also host to a seabird aviary which is home to brown pelicans, plucky little puffins and many other interesting birds. The official tour commenced around 9am, but Sleep in the Deep attendees were welcome to stay and experience the aquarium for as long as they wanted.

I had anticipated that I would be good and ready to get back to my seaside retreat, but I actually didn't mind sticking around and watching Cole impart his newest shark wisdom to his grandparents and little sister, who joined us that morning.

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OREGON COAST AQUARIUM
  • Photo courtesy Oregon Coast Aquarium

Overall, the gift of the aquarium experience is one that Cole will cherish forever, AND, I got the rare opportunity to earn cool mom points. Plus, I got to tell my husband that I needed to take the entire next evening off from momming after a rough night of sleep on the aquarium floor. He fell for it, hook, line and sinker!

Things to know about Sleep in the Deep before you go:

  • Designed for ages 6 and up
  • Cost is $80/person, $75 for members
  • Dinner and breakfast are included
  • Bring sleeping mat, eye mask, ear plugs, bottled water
  • Family and large group sleepovers are available.
  • Advance reservations required.

Find out more at:aquarium.org/education/ sleep-in-the-deep or 541-867-3474

Shark fun facts

bestlifeonline.com/ sharks-facts

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