10/16/2013 10:55 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Ripley's Aquarium Of Canada, Country's Largest, Opens In Toronto

TORONTO - Visitors to Toronto may not be able to swim with the sharks on Bay Street but they'll have an up-close view of the ocean predators in a new indoor aquarium.

After two years of construction, delays and $130 million in costs, Ripley's Aquarium of Canada opened to the public Wednesday.

The aquarium, billed as the country's largest, is home to more than 13,000 aquatic animals and 450 different species held in nearly six million litres of water.

More than 10,000 tickets to the downtown facility have already been sold online.

Ripley's Entertainment Inc. President Jim Pattison Jr. expects the aquarium to be a hit with parents and children alike.

"We want families to come here and have fun," Pattison said. "There's a lot of things to do here. What we tried to do is surprise you around every corner."

Attractions include areas where visitors can touch crabs and stingrays, behind-the-scenes tours and an opportunity to "sleep with the sharks" during an overnight stay beneath a shark tank.

The aquarium also boasts a football-field length glass viewing tunnel with a moving sidewalk that will take visitors past sharks, sea turtles, sawfish and moray eels.

Beyond its awe factor, the aquarium also provides a learning experience: Most attractions are equipped with interactive audio and video to educate visitors on the animals swimming before them.

"Everything is very interactive," Pattison said. "We want children to really learn about the different animals and the environments they live in, and we tried to do that in unusual ways."

Unlike the protocol at other educational facilities, visitors are encouraged to touch, climb, run and play within the aquarium, Pattison added.

Mayor Rob Ford and Ontario Minister of Tourism Michael Chan were among the guests at the ribbon cutting ceremony in downtown Toronto.

"This is a beautiful aquarium, and it stimulates our economy," Ford said. "What more could we ask for?"

The aquarium is expected to create 600 jobs and generate more than $50 million in revenue.

Construction on the three-level, 12,500-square-metre facility began in August 2011. But the aquarium's initial debut was postponed in June to ensure the proper installation of the 50 tanks housing the animals. The opening was again delayed in September.

A team of more than 20 marine biologists and aquarists look after the hundreds of species housed in the aquarium.

The new attraction — funded in part by Ripley's Entertainment Inc., Canada Lands Company and the Ontario government — is expected to draw more than two million visitors a year.

Tickets are $30 for adults, $20 for youth and $12 for children under five.

Ford said the admission prices seem a little high but not unreasonable.

"Any venue or any new business or any new restaurant prices are usually high, you know they gotta test out what the market will hold and we'll see."

The aquarium is open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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