Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay

In Vegas, nothing is out of the ordinary, including a trip into the deep for an encounter with some of the most exotic and dangerous marine creatures in the world.

Mercifully, you won’t need to get wet to come face-to-face with piranhas, jellyfish, endangered sea turtles, giant rays and more sharks than you’ll find in the Vegas casinos. The Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino is home to more than 2,000 animals, including a rare golden crocodile and Komodo dragon. It’s a worthy attraction for families and those seeking a little quiet time away from the neon-lit madness of the Las Vegas Strip.

The 90,560-square-foot (8,413-square-meter) aquarium has 14 permanent exhibits, including the popular touch pool, where visitors can interact with a handful of placid creatures, like horseshoe crabs and sea slugs. Stroll through the huge acrylic tunnel and watch as marine life of all colors, shapes and sizes swim around and above you.

For the truly adventurous, Shark Reef’s Dive with Sharks Program will have you swimming with the aquarium’s more than 30 sharks, including sand tiger, sandbar and whitetip reef sharks. You must be dive-certified to participate. Actual diving time is about 45 minutes, during which divers are taken through the Shipwreck Exhibit in a 1.6-million-gallon (6-million-liter) tank, home to the sharks as well as rays, green sea turtles and schools of fish. Non-divers still have their share of sights to behold. Look out for the 100-pound (45-kilogram) giant Pacific octopus, the exotic-looking but deadly lionfish and the jewels of the sea, including the rainbow-colored parrotfish, in the Caribbean Reef display.

A unique experience considering Vegas’s desert setting, the aquarium’s mission and design is quite extraordinary, with one section of the space created to resemble a sunken temple. Shark Reef has made a pledge to ocean conservation and preservation; the facilities here use recycled water and imitation coral so real reefs aren’t disturbed.

Shark Reef Aquarium is located near the South Convention Center of the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino. Visit in the evenings to avoid the crowds, and see the animals behaving differently than during the day. Mandalay Bay is on the southern edge of The Strip. The monorail, public buses, and shuttle buses between casino resorts all stop here.