A few weeks ago we were invited to spend the day at the Georgia Aquarium and check it out as a family-friendly destination for folks who live in the Atlanta area, for folks who are an easy day-trip away (like me since we live in Chattanooga), or for folks whose travel plans include passing through the city or dwelling there for a few days.
Now I must tell you, Chattanooga has an aquarium, and it is absolutely FANTASTIC. We’ve had a membership there for 2 years, and I think it is one of the very best in the nation for several reasons. But even I have heard from other folks, from quiet whispers to gushing shouts, that the Georgia Aquarium is something everyone who ever sets foot in Atlanta needs to see. So naturally I had to go see what all the fuss was about. I mean, once you’ve seen one impressive aquarium, haven’t you seen them all?
But here’s what I realized after touring the facility: The Georgia Aquarium has a WOW factor. Actually, it has several WOW factors. These are over-the-top AWESOME sights and experiences that you pretty much aren’t going to find anywhere else.
Beluga whales, anyone? They are the most playful looking creatures I’ve ever seen, and they are curious about the people on the other side of the glass and will get really close so they can inspect you! You can also sign up for an experience where you can get in the tank with them!
How about dolphins? The Georgia aquarium has a spectacular dolphin show that is included with your admission ticket. You have to sign up for a show time when you get there. I learned once I was there that you can actually do this ahead of time, and TRUST ME when I tell you that you need to plan ahead. We got to the dolphin ticket counter no more than 15 minutes after the aquarium opened and the first two shows of the day were already sold out. We almost didn’t make it to our show because our youngest was so exhausted by 2pm. But we powered through and were totally dazzled. It was an awesome way to end our day there.
The Georgia Aquarium is also home to whale sharks, and you can watch them swim past you and over you as you go through their undersea tunnel. It is SO cool to watch these huge creatures gracefully glide through the water. Major WOW moment, for sure!
I was also impressed by the number of opportunities kids (and adults!) have to experience the exhibits with more than just their eyes. If you have a little one who likes to touch as part of the learning experience, this is a great place to go! We touched starfish, rays, a mock-up of coral reef, and you can sign up to get to touch the beluga whales and the dolphins. I saw a beluga whale give a guest a kiss while I was there!
What I Didn’t Love
The layout of the Georgia Aquarium is decidedly different from the one in Chattanooga. The one in Chattanooga is designed to keep people flowing and walking through. And I love that. The Georgia Aquarium, on the other hand, is designed like a wheel with spokes. There is a central hub that is very open and very large, and probably seems unnecessarily so on quiet days. It is in this area that you can find the food court, and from here you can head in most any direction to an outstanding exhibit area.
But we visited on Good Friday this year, and as it turns out, everyone else in the metropolitan area thought that was a good day to visit, too. The crowds really and truly reminded me of Disney World in June: PACKED! Several exhibits we barely got to see due to the huge crowds, and a few we just had to skip altogether. Here’s a shot of one of the tropical tanks. I would have LOVED to have stayed in this room basking in the glow of the warm sunlight and remembering my snorkeling adventures in the Caribbean (it was beautiful, though this tank was even more beautiful!). But alas, it was so crowded that I snapped this shot, cooed at it ever so briefly, and had to leave. 🙁
I actually asked folks on Facebook if the crowds I experienced that day were normal, and lots and lots of people told me that while it certainly can get busy, they have also been on much lower-traffic days, and had a more enjoyable experience. So my advice to you is to avoid weekends and holidays like the plague, and to go on a weekday when everyone else is working. You’ll get to take in more of the sights and actually get up close to the glass so you can make new friends. This guy right here is just waiting for you to come hang out with him!
And while the ticket prices for the aquarium are high (at least in my opinion…$36 for adults, $30 for kids 3-12), when you get there you’ll understand why…not only are there so many incredible things to see, but your admission fee is also helping the aquarium do really important conservation work around the world. Did you know, for example, that the Georgia Aquarium is growing coral? Some of it will go in their own tanks, and some of it will be deposited on reefs in the Caribbean to help them thrive!
As long as you are smart about WHEN you go to the Georgia Aquarium, you are sure to be happy with your experience. Who could possibly resist grinning at the site of a smiling ray passing by???
If you are going to be hitting several of the city’s top attractions, then you DEFINITELY need to check out CityPass, which will save you up to 50% on your ticket prices for the tickets you were already planning on buying (such as the Fernbank Museum of Natural History and The World of Coca-Cola)! Woo hoo!