Today was aquarium day - the main reason we came down to Atlanta. We headed to downtown Atlanta and the Georgia Aquarium, the world's largest aquarium. The drive down I75/I85 was quick - we left after rush hour and utilized the car pool lane.
It took us about 10 or so minutes to arrive at the parking garage ($10 cash) beside the Aquarium. There was plenty of surface parking around the aquarium at cheaper rates. The Children's Museum of Atlanta is located a few blocks east and the new World of Coca-Cola is under construction (scheduled to open on may 24, 2007) right beside the Aquarium, so parking may become scarce in the near future. The Centennial Olympic Park is located across the street to the north.
The aquarium opens at 10 am today and people were already lining up to get into the facility. You can buy timed entry tickets online (which did not seem to work in Firefox), but Adam decided to chance it and buy tickets at that facility.
The reason for the line was the security check before you even enter the facility. No food, gum, drinks, tobacco, knives, guns or fishing rods (yes, they actually say fishing rods) are permitted in the facility. There was no line for tickets and the nice lady gave us a present for Jeremy (as in treating him as under 3 years old). We bought the package that includes tickets to the 4-D theater (more on that later).
Your tickets get scanned and you walk past two small tanks in a black hallway that opens up into a vast center galleria. Unlike many aquariums we have been to in the past (Ripleys Aquarium of the Smokies and the Newport Aquarium) where you wind your way past exhibits, the Georgia Aquarium utilizes a gallery layout, with each gallery built around a theme. This makes for a more pleasant visit since you can take time out in between galleries to rest, buy some munchies or make a trip to the washroom.
This place is huge. Each gallery - there are five - has different displays and activities. In Georgia Explorer, visitors get to touch stingrays, starfish, horseshoe crabs and shrimp. In River Scout, you watch freshwater fish swim over your head and get eye to eye with a tank full of piranha. Also in this gallery is the Asian Small-Clawed Otter.
We took a break after two galleries before heading into Cold Water Quest, the second largest gallery. This first display had Japanese Spider Crabs that were about two feet wide - some food would drop and it was neat watching the crab trying to find it. We learned that the Japanese Spider Crab can grow to the size of a compact car. We watched as Beluga Whales, Southern Sea Otters and California Sea Lions played around.
The Sea Lion display included an outdoor viewing area where you can watch the Sea Lions jump out of the water and listen to their barks. This gallery included Jeremy's favorite animal, the penguin. He could sit for hours watching them swim and ham it up for the humans. Cold Water Quest had two floors worth of displays - so you may end up on the second floor when you are done.
The time was around noon and it was time to eat. The Cafe Aquaria was busy but Adam managed to find a table. Tina and Corbin waited in line to get some food. They have burgers, pizza, pasta, soups, sandwiches and amazing desserts. All the food appeared to be freshly prepared and was probably the best family attraction food we have ever had.
We headed upstairs to the 4-D Theater, a 20 minute 3-D presentation that also includes a live actor and special effects such as rain, vibration and compressed air. As you walked into the theater you were handed special glasses to wear. The 3-D effect was amazing - you wanted to reach out and touch the animated fish and Corbin did this several time. Much to our amazement, Jeremy not only kept the glasses on his faces, but he thoroughly enjoyed the movie - next to the penguins it was a highlight of his visit to the aquarium. Tina and Adam also enjoyed the presentation.
Next, it was time to see the Whale Sharks - the biggest sharks in the world - in the Ocean Voyager gallery. There are three Whale Sharks and they grow to be 33 feet long. This exhibit includes a tunnel and contains nearly 100,000 fish - it's impossible to just focus one fish or a school of fish. The highlight of this gallery is the second largest viewing window in the world. At 23 feet high, 61 feet wide and 2 feet thick, the view is mesmerizing. You can sit right up against the window - that's where Jeremy and Corbin were) or sit in the stepped sitting area and watch thousands of fish swim by. Adam could have spent hours enjoying this amazing view.
There was still one more gallery to go - yes, this place is huge. Our last gallery was Tropical Diver, which focuses on life around a tropical coral reef. The most unusual display was the one with the garden eels - small worm like animals that pop out and back in to the sand. It was surreal. Jeremy found Nemo and Corbin watched the action in the living reef.
The last stop was the gift shop (which also served as the exit), which, in our opinion, wasn't all that great considering the size of the place. It was small and did not have a great selection of unique items. We bought some t-shirts and a few toys for the boys, but Tina was unimpressed.
We walked back to the van and headed back to the hotel. Unfortunately, the signed way back to I75/I85 requires a left turn at a left turn light that is very short and traffic was backed up for two blocks. We ended up heading north on Centennial Olympic Park Drive NW through the Georgia Tech campus, took a left onto 6th St NW and then a right onto Fowler St NW, followed by a right onto 10th St NW. The exit to I75/I85 is on the left (William St NW) after crossing I75/I85.
This is probably one of the biggest write-ups for a vacation attraction we have ever written - and it only touches the surface of what there is at the Georgia Aquarium. Everyone enjoyed the aquarium - we spent over five hours. We highly recommend this attraction and look forward to returning in the future. Combined with the soon-to-be-opened new World of Coca-cola and the Children's Museum, this area is jam-packed with things for families to do.