What to Expect from the “Asleep with the Fishes” Shedd Program

Sleeping with the fishes? Not a good thing. Being a part of the Shedd Aquarium’s “Asleep with the Fishes” program? A GREAT thing. Out of all of the unique and amazing experiences I have had as a lifelong Chicagoan, I don’t think I have enjoyed an event more than the Shedd Aquarium’s “Asleep with the Fishes” overnight adventure. Getting up close and personal with the exhibits and feeling like we had the entire aquarium—overnight—to ourselves was a dream come true. But the absolute BEST part? This dream can be a reality for any fish loving family now through May. Still have some lingering questions? I totally get it. Here’s what to expect from the Shedd Aquarium’s “Asleep with the Fishes” program:

My family was given free tickets to the “Asleep with the Fishes” program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

A Full Schedule of Fun

You know how when you stay overnight somewhere, whether it is at a grandparent’s house or in a hotel, and you pack a TON of stuff to keep your kids busy? There is ZERO need for that when you are “Asleep with the Fishes” because the programming is so incredibly top notch and perfectly geared towards families. One item that I do recommend bringing is a sketch book and some colored pencils if your kids are interested in drawing since there is so much aquatic inspiration during the overnight program. My son made a cool rendition of our visit to the Wild Reef exhibit that now has—you guessed it—prime placement on the fridge at home.

When you check in to the Shedd for the “Asleep with the Fishes” program, you are given an itinerary for both Friday night and Saturday morning so you know what exhibits are open, where to find special activities (4D movies, animal encounters, late night snacks, etc), when it’s time to head to bed and also meet your guide for the evening.

Example schedule


6:00-8:00 p.m. Bubble Net Open for dinner

6:00-7:20 p.m.  Animal Activity by Otter Exhibit

7:20 p.m.  Overnight Orientation and Aquatic Presentation

7:45-9:15 p.m. Activities, Open Exploration, 4D Movies and DJ Dance Party

9:15-9:30 p.m. Caribbean Reef Dive and Feeding

9:30 p.m.  Set up sleeping areas and get ready for bed

10:00 p.m. Exhibit lights go out

9:30-11:00 p.m. Late Night Activities (Board Games, Movies, Snacks)

11:00 p.m. All lights out


6:30-7:00 a.m. Wake up and Pack up

7:00-8:30 a.m. Continental Breakfast in Bubble Net

7:00 a.m.  Oceanarium opens

7:30 a.m. Underwater Beauty exhibit opens

8:30 a.m. Depart

My boys are ocean creature obsessed so we spent a ton of time exploring the exhibits (at some points it felt like we had the entire aquarium to ourselves—it was magical!) but also did the scavenger hunt and activity stations that involved decorating reusable bags, meeting a tortoise, using virtual reality technology to explore the Caribbean reef and more. We didn’t stop moving until the exhibit lights went out, which assured that all of us would have a solid night of sleep even though we were sleeping in a foreign environment.

Helpful and Informative Staff

No matter your question (check out the FAQ’s), there are TONS of staff from the Shedd to help you from the moment you check in to when you check out. Each designated sleeping area is assigned a specific guide to make your stay as comfortable and fun as possible. Since we were in the VIP Caribbean reef area, we were lucky enough to sleep in front of the MASSIVE aquarium that all tourists marvel over once they step inside the Shedd. Our guide was a volunteer who dives in that tank so he was able to teach us about all of the creatures that call the Caribbean Reef exhibit home, as well as point out nocturnal animals like the moray eel that is a rare sight to see.

Our fantastic guide even gave us the scoop about where Nickel, the 200 pound sea turtle, sleeps at night, so we set up our air mattresses right under her. It was surreal (until my air mattress broke, but that’s another story….) to share a sleeping space with such a majestic animal. It is obvious that the Shedd is a fantastic place to work because each and every one of the staff members seemed just as excited as we were to be spending the night at the aquarium.

A Nighttime Adventure

So, let me be honest. I’m old and like sleeping in my comfy bed with my large amounts of pillows and down comforters (my husband might even say that I have a throw pillow problem—I disagree). But let me tell you, the experience of sleeping overnight at one of Chicago’s most beautiful museums next to a GIANT tank filled with fish, sharks, lobsters, eels, and more is one of the coolest experiences I have ever had and totally worth a night of sleeping on a broken air mattress.

When we had our overnight stay, it wasn’t as crowded as it usually is so there were only a few other groups nestled around the exhibit with us. My fears of hearing other people snoring were simply fears that never came to fruition, thank goodness! But if you are a bit picky about your sleeping environment, I would recommend bringing ear plugs or a sleep mask just in case.

It was so neat to be able to see ocean creatures sleeping and act so much differently than during the day when the Shedd is full of tourists and visitors. A moment I will never forget is when I was talking with another family while watching the beluga whales sleep. Well, I guess we were too loud with our laughter because one of the beluga whales woke up, definitely gave us a stink eye, and even spouted some water to get us to be quiet so she could catch up on her rest. I most definitely apologized but also thanked that beautiful whale for an experience I will never forget.

A Safe Environment

When you register for the “Asleep with the Fishes” program, you will receive information regarding parking (the East Lot outside of the Field Museum or the lot next to the Adler Planetarium are your two options for the flat fee of $25), as well as what to bring and not bring to the Shedd overnight. And let me tell you, the security team was VERY thorough when checking our bags so follow the instructions closely (don’t even THINK about bringing alcohol).

Any liquid you bring into the museum is dumped out by the security team and all snacks or other food items are confiscated. Why? To keep you and your family safe. I was a bit nervous about not having snacks in my bag for my boys, but since the Bubble Net was open for dinner for two hours and there was a concession stand next to the Caribbean Reef exhibit open until 9:30, there were always food options. There is also an adorable late night snack of goldfish crackers and Swedish fish served which might have given my kids a suguar rush before bed, but oh well. It was all in good fun. Contact the Shedd beforehand in the case of food allergies.

Breakfast in the morning was very basic (a few pieces of fruit, two types of cereal, mini-muffins and drinks), so my family and I decided to leave and have breakfast on our own once the “Asleep with the Fishes” program was over. However, if your family is still up for exploring in the morning, you can use your Shedd wristband to return to the museum at 9:00 a.m. along with the general public at no charge (just be sure to move your car before noon!). 

As a blogger I brought my professional camera to take photos (even though it is pretty tricky to get great photos without a flash at night) and was able to safely store it along with my purse and phone in a locker overnight for safekeeping. Volunteers kept a very close eye on our belongings while we explored the aquarium before bedtime and my family and I felt very safe and secure (even if some corridors were a little spooky at night). At no point did it feel strange being locked inside the Shedd Aquarium with strangers—instead it felt like a fun, fish filled campout that I can’t wait to do again.

Final Thoughts

I recommend packing as light as possible since you have to cart around so many blankets and pillows (and air mattresses depending on where your sleeping assignment is), as well as packing bags with wheels to make getting to and from the parking lot easier. Since we were leaving so early in the morning I didn’t even pack clean clothes for the next day—we just stayed in our jammies until we got home.

Also, keep in mind that children need to be at least five years of age in order to stay for the night. You can purchase tickets for just the “evening only” portion if you have a young aquatic explorer and still get a TON out of the program. Even if your child is five, ensure that they are comfortable sleeping in new places before signing up for the “Asleep with the Fishes” program. They also have adults only programming if you are looking for a different kind of overnight experience.

My boys are already asking to have another Shedd sleepover, and I must admit that I think they are on to something. We are a family that prefers experiences over things, and the “Asleep with the Fishes” program was so much better than anything I could buy at a toy store. It is a great way to celebrate a birthday or other milestone, or simply have an amazing experience with your family. To check out all of the dates for this unique sleepover program, click here.

Thanks again to the Shedd for hosting my family and I. I’m so glad I got to share our once in a lifetime experience with you and highly recommend that you and your family try out the “Asleep with the Fishies” program…just be sure to whisper around the beluga whales!

Sleep Tight!


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  1. Lee says

    We just went to the shedd last week! I saw the sign for this and wondered what it would be like – so glad I read your post!

    • Amanda says

      It is a MUST experience. I never knew that staying overnight at a museum would be so fantastic, but it surpassed all of my expectations.

  2. Amanda says

    Wow!! What a fun experience!! Our Zoo here in San Antonio occasionally opens at night for a few special events and it is a totally different experience to see the animals at night. All of the lions were trying to mate I can only imagine how beautiful the aquarium must be with all the lights and water!

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