Whether you’re a newb who doesn’t get out much, or an avid outdoorsman, the Adventure Park at Virginia Aquarium is the perfect day of fun and challenges.
I’ve been to the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center at least a dozen times. I love the serenity of watching the turtles swim or walking through the Red Sea tunnel surrounded by fishies above and beside me. But since I haven’t been there in the last couple of years, I didn’t know about the aquarium’s newest, and most exciting attraction to date.
Walking the path between the aquarium’s main building and the Marsh Pavilion used to be a simple nature walk between the exhibits, enjoying the sights and sounds of Owl Creek. Now, adventure is just around the corner. As you walk through the forested area, platforms, wires, zip lines and wood bridges connect the trees together in an intricate web of obstacles and challenges. This is the Adventure Park at Virginia Aquarium.
When making my Adventure Park plans, I decided to take my boyfriend, Danny. Danny is definitely outdoorsy. From climbing trees and getting into scrapes as a kid to pursuing an active lifestyle now, he loves a good adventure! Camping in Shenandoah, surfing, kayaking and experiencing physical challenges! His love of outdoor pursuits led to current job at the Virginia Beach Rock Gym. I knew he would love the experience, and it made me feel better knowing I’d be with someone who knew what they were doing.
It’s not that I’m not active. I love trying new things! If Danny wants to go camping, climbing or hiking, I’m up for the challenge. I’m just not…the best at outdoor pursuits. Mostly from a lack of experience. I also have a pretty ferocious fear of heights. But as soon as I heard about the Adventure Park, I knew this would be the perfect place for Danny and I to try something new together.
Rebekah’s Experience: Adventure Park for Beginners
Upon our arrival at the Adventure Park, we were given a harness and gloves and asked to wait for our guide. Aidan soon appeared and asked us to follow him. That’s when I saw the aerial playground that was waiting for us. I knew that the Adventure Park was in the trees, and I wasn’t scared at the idea of it. I wasn’t scared…until I actually saw how high we would be climbing. How high I would be climbing.
Aidan was extremely friendly and professional. He took Danny and I through the ropes, literally. He tightened our harnesses, showed us the clips, then took us step by step through how to use their “double-clipped-on” technology. These two clips ensure that we were always clipped in to one wire, even when switching to another wire or obstacle.
Aidan explained everything very well, but I started to have an internal panic attack. Danny understood exactly what was being explained, but it started to sound like another language to my anxious mind. Thankfully, there’s a mock course on the ground that we walked through to simulate the wires and clips we’d find in the trees. Danny sped through it, so my competitiveness to do as well as him kicked in. Everything Aidan had explained began to make sense, and the clipping system became second nature.
Up in the Trees
The Adventure Park has six levels of difficulty. Purple and Yellow for beginners and young children, Green and Blue for intermediate climbers and Black and Double Black for the advanced and the daring. But to start, we had to get to the main tree platform which required climbing the first ladder. I clipped in and started to climb. That’s when I realized that this was going to be harder than I expected. I sit at a desk most days, and my arms started burning almost immediately. It was at that moment that I decided I was going to stick to Purple and Yellow, especially for my first climb. Danny had a different idea.
“Let’s start with green,” he said.
Being competitive and not wanting to drag him down. I cautiously agreed. I thought that being that high in the trees, with only a couple of clips and a wire keeping me from death and injury would intimidate me. But the first trail was exhilarating! I have excellence balance and very long legs, so I was able to breeze through some of the more challenging bridges. I loved balancing on the spinning logs, or stretching from one board to the next to make my way from platform to platform. Some obstacles required upper body strength—these were the most challenging for me. But I finished, and was so proud of the accomplishment.
It Gets Harder
“Blue next,” said Danny.
Umm… I wasn’t so sure about that one. At first I said no. But after some sweet talk and some assurances that he wouldn’t rush on ahead, I agreed. This course was a lot trickier. Some bridges made me feel like a tightrope walker, with handholds above my heads. Others rolled and wobbled so much that the only way to get through was to use your arms to steady yourself on the handholds. Honestly, there were moments when I didn’t know if I could finish, but I kept pushing myself.
One bridge in particular kicked my butt. Wobbling boards that swayed back and forth as you attempted to reach the next one. My arms were tired and I was afraid of falling. That’s when I remembered that I was clipped in. I sat down in my harness and pulled myself to the next platform. Not the most graceful thing I’ve ever done, but it got the job done.
The course ended with an auto-belay that lowered climbers from the top of the tree to the forest floor. My fear of heights was screaming at me. Climbers must step off the platform, trusting this wire to gently lower them. If there had been any other way down, I would have taken it. Danny patiently waited for me to confront my fear. I closed my eyes, and I stepped off. The auto-belay was actually fun! I enjoyed the slow descent.
“Let’s do the black one,” said Danny.
Oh no! The Black course is the second hardest. But we heard from other climbers there that day that it was the most fun—having two zip lines that take you across Owl Creek. I spoke to a guide and asked if my lack of upper body strength would hinder me. He was friendly and honest. He told me that if I could conquer the first three obstacles, I’d be set! They almost did me in. A wobbly ladder that swayed as you climbed, a rolling log bridge and finally triangular foot holds that swung as you made your way across them. But after that, the obstacles were similar to those that I’d already encountered.
The zip line was one of the best outdoor experiences I’ve ever had! Both Danny and I agreed that it was our favorite part. I felt like I was soaring high above the creek. As we approached the end, Danny said that we would have to take another auto-belay to get out of the course. The platform we would be stepping off from was higher and this auto-belay was faster. Yet again, I freaked out a little. But after some deep breaths, I closed my eyes and stepped off. Easy peasy.
Danny’s Experience: Adventure Park for the Advanced
As someone who’s done a lot of outdoor activities and also works at a rock climbing gym, Danny’s experience was quite different than mine. While I was stressing listening to Aidan explain the clips and wiring system during safety training, this was just a refresher for Danny. He’d used equipment like this before, so it was nothing new. He still appreciated Aidan’s thorough and matter of face safety instructions.
The Green course was not much of a challenge for him, though he thought it was a good way to start—a warm up for the more challenging levels. Even the Blue course only held a few obstacles that actually were difficult for him. The Black course was definitely the most challenging part of the day. But where I was pushed to the limits of my capability, he was well within his range of comfortability.
But just because he didn’t feel as challenged as I did, he still loved his time at the Adventure Park. He appreciated the creative challenges, and thinking about how he would complete each one. He also loved the fact that each obstacle was different, not just a repetition of the same thing over and over again.
The Bottom Line
The Adventure Park is a great experience! The obstacles are challenging, but not so challenging that the average person can’t do them.
At the end of the day, both Danny and I were sore, tired but exhilarated. I was pumped that I had conquered my fears and overcome challenges that I didn’t know I could. Danny loved getting outside and doing what he loves.
We will both definitely come again. But next time, Danny will tackle a Double Black course. Me? We’ll see about that.
801 General Booth Boulevard
Virginia Beach, VA