AUSTIN -- You could see the looks of wonder on the kids' faces as they gathered around a huge pool at the new Austin Aquarium, looking at the different kinds of fish.
The aquarium held its "soft opening" Thursday for these kids and their parents, who are yearly pass holders.
"Super super excited," said seven-year-old Caden Miller. He came to the aquarium with his mom.
One parent KVUE talked to liked what she saw during the preview.
"We were really impressed. It was fun. I think it's gonna be really good when all the animals really get here," she said.
Owner Vince Covino would not let KVUE go into certain parts of the aquarium Thursday. Even though some of the exhibits weren't open yet, he insisted the Austin Aquarium was ready for business.
"Every month an aquarium should get better and better, adding new exhibits, bringing in new [animals]. You know, you can only add so many fish to a tank at a time. You can only add so many animals to an exhibit and so it's gonna get better. Every month it's gonna get better,” he said.
The Austin Aquarium has had its share of controversy leading up to the soft opening. The Covino family has been accused of mistreating animals at their aquariums in Oregon and Idaho. The City of Austin even started a task force on Wednesday to make sure operations are legal.
Covino said the allegations are false and gave a message to those protesting the establishment.
"Come sit down. Let's find common ground. Let's build on that. Certainly we'll have things we disagree on. But no doubt, these are a group of convicted folks who they believe in their cause. You know, they were out weathering the cold and, you know, we appreciate that," he said.
Stephanie Miller is Caden’s mom. When asked about the controversy she said, "Yes, I've heard about that. But I make my own judgments, and if someone is an upstanding citizen I will take them at their word and just kind of go from there."
Another parent said, “I have heard that but I'm not real political, so I don't really get into all that kind of stuff. We just came to enjoy the animals, really."
Despite the controversy, the Austin Aquarium hopes people will come and see what this place has to offer. It will open to the general public on Dec. 22. Go here for more information.