The Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay is the best aquarium in Las Vegas, but whether or not you should visit it is a trickier question.
You see, Las Vegas is a land of excesses and extremes. Whether it's the world's largest Ferris wheel or rides that dangle you off the side of the thousand foot tall Stratosphere, Vegas is a place that's almost entirely beyond compare. "I liked the Bellagio fountains, but so-and-so in somewhere else does it better," is just not one of the things you'll hear around here. Yet, with the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay, that's exactly what I thought.
The Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay is decidedly the largest, most encompassing aquarium you'll see anywhere in Las Vegas, but in Vegas, we're used to doing it bigger and better than everywhere else : it's the economics of a city built on gambling. Yet if you've been to the Ripley's Aquarium in Gatlinburg or Myrtle Beach, the Downtown Aquarium in Denver, the aquarium at Epcot at Disney World, or even the Aquarium restaurant in Nashville, then the Shark Reef is a letdown. By comparison, it's not over the top, jaw droppingly insane. It's just a relatively small aquarium exhibit with various tanks and reptiles. Going there, I was waiting for the "wow" factor, but it never came.
Now, having said that, if you haven't been to a paid aquarium attraction in a while, or if you're a mega fan of aquariums, the Shark Reef could still be a worthwhile Vegas activity for you. It's got a golden crocodile, a Komodo dragon, piranhas, and sharks. You can touch 4 different species of manta rays. You can marvel at the jellyfish, poisonous lion fish, and a giant octopus. And you can see numerous sharks swimming around, above, and below you in a 1.3 million gallon shipwreck style exhibit. — It's just not Vegas-ified ; it doesn't have flames shooting out of the water while the sharks eat baby fish for your amusement.
Nonetheless, on the Thursday afternoon we went, it was quite busy, and we spent a little over half an hour walking through the exhibits and tanks. It likely would've been half that time, but Jamie wanted to touch the manta rays : we had to wait as they'd just been fed. Curiously, in the past, the ticket takers distributed interactive audio wands for you to listen to an anecdote or educational clip at various points during the walkthrough. That is now gone, and while I thought it was super cheesy and only half listened to a few clips at the time, the experience seemed lacking without it.
All in all, the Shark Reef aquarium at Mandalay Bay is "fine" but it won't leave you going "wow," which is a shame considering that so much of Vegas does. Unless money is a non-issue entirely or you just have to see every aquarium exhibit everywhere, I'd suggest instead checking out the mermaids and Bass Pro Shop at the Silverton (both free and the cab ride there and back will likely cost less than one admission to Shark Reef). Or you could just have a meal at the Rainforest Cafe in MGM. You won't see an albino alligator while eating coconut shrimp, but a large, overhead aquarium greets you at the host/hostess stand and saltwater fish are swimming in various smaller aquariums throughout the dining area.
In comparison to the money spent to stroll through the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay, either of those is a better proposition.
At Mandalay Bay
On The Las Vegas Strip
Opens Daily At 10AM
Closing Times Vary (Sunday-Thursday At 8PM, Friday & Saturday At 10PM, Except Summer [ May 24 - Sept 1 ] When Closing Is 10PM Every Day)
Last Entrance One Hour Before Closing