The Georgia Aquarium and Children’s Museum of Atlanta filled the second day of the quick trip my son and I took to Atlanta back in August. Our first day was spent at the Delta Flight Museum (SEE: 3 reasons why the Delta Flight Museum is an avgeek must-see). We’d stayed near the airport to be able to easily visit the flight museum, but jumped on the metro toward downtown to visit other Atlanta attractions. The aquarium and kids museum are both a short walk from our downtown hotel (SEE: The American Hotel Atlanta Downtown (DoubleTree) Review).
I’ve honestly been to very few aquariums. My brother-in-law and I visited the Toronto Aquarium a few years ago. I remember it being sizable, but there was no huge wow factor. It’d been years since I’d visited any other aquariums, the only other two being the Oregon Coast Aquarium at about age 14 and the Monterey Bay Aquarium when I was barely age two. The latter *really* made an impression (sadly, I’ve never made it back to Monterey, even though I’ve lived in California virtually all my life – SEE: One place I am ashamed I haven’t visited).
But I had great anticipation for the Georgia Aquarium. Here’s why it was a hit for me and my son:
The ridiculously huge tank
I thought everything was bigger in Texas, but Georgia is trying to prove them wrong. The main tank at the Georgia Aquarium is the largest single aquarium tank in the country, containing 6.3 million gallons. The aquarium as a whole was the largest in the world from its opening in 2005 through 2012. Marine Life Park in Singapore stole the title in that year. The view into the tank through a single, giant window is probably the greatest aquarium view I’ve ever had. It gives you the feeling of being immersed yourself.
We made our way through the Ocean Voyager exhibit, which snakes it way along and under this massive aquarium. There are so many fish species to see, from tiny tang to giant manta rays. We caught the tail end of a talk given by one of the museum staff. I wish we would have been there for the entire presentation.
One section has the obligatory “tunnel under the sea” where you can be up close and personal with so many of the species. There is even a moving walkway so you can just stand still in awe. The guys behind us called the “epitome of American laziness”. I just wish photography under the sea was a bit easier.
The primary tank also contains the largest of the fish species you can see while at the Georgia Aquarium: the whale sharks. My kids and I have watched shark videos on multiple occasions, and this species is the largest among their shark brethren, and also the largest of all fish species. Uniquely, they are filter feeders, having none of the sharp triangular teeth their more (in)famous Great White cousins possess.
Twenty-foot whale sharks
The Georgia Aquarium is the only place you can see whale sharks outside of Asian aquariums. The creatures are simply magnificent.
The largest whale shark ever recorded is over 40 feet in length. Their presence at the Georgia Aquarium, while magnificent, is a bit controversial, as the first whale sharks brought to the aquarium subsequently died in 2007. The whale sharks were transported to the Georgia Aquarium using specially configured tanks aboard a 747 that flew from Taiwan to Altanta via Anchorage, Alaska (SEE: 3 reasons why Anchorage International Airport is so unique). See…there is a connection to aviation here. Who knew you could transport sharks by plane?!
Cold water quest
This was my favorite of the different sections of the Georgia Aquarium. It contains Beluga whales, penguins, and otters, among other animals. The belugas in particular were mesmerizing to watch. There were a number of species I’ve seen at other aquariums, but many I had not.
The African penguins were a highlight as well, especially considering how close you can get to them. The exhibit includes an area where you can crawl underneath the exhibit and poke your head up inside glass domes, up close and personal with the flightless birds. My son and I really enjoyed the section.
My only issue was trying not to crack up, as I couldn’t get this out of my mind the whole time.
Other great things about the Georgia Aquarium
My son loved the Shark 4D experience. We also enjoyed the Dolphin show. I’d wished I’d planned a bit better, as we arrived for the first Dolphin show just a minute too late and had to wait hours for the next one. Make sure you check the schedule as soon as you get there to plan out your visit. Make sure you also grab a map.
The Tropical Diver section was extremely cool as well, from the jellyfish to the reef tank sporting a large variety of colorful fish.
The tank even had a wave generator that simulated the surf above, really giving you an immersive experienced. We spent quite a while sitting there, just taking in all the amazing fish.
The one closed area was the Pier 225 section. I didn’t even know what this area of the aquarium holds, but looking online, it appears to be home to a pair of sea lions. No big loss for us here, as we have other places we can go see these animals out here in California and Oregon. My son did enjoy the sea lion racing game, though.
A few tips
Plan to be at the aquarium most of the day. We got there a bit later than we probably should have, given that I’d planned our morning hours at the Children’s Museum of Atlanta. Once we’d headed out and eaten lunch, it was about 1:30 by the time we arrived. In hindsight, I’d suggest eating an early lunch and getting there around noon or 12:30. You may want to make the Georgia Aquarium the first stop in the daily itinerary, in case it becomes your only stop. There is a lot to take in.
This might seem like it flies in the face of the above point, but leave. Take a break. There is the lovely Centennial Olympic Park nearby (a playground is literally across the street from the Georgia Aquarium), and if you don’t mind walking a quarter mile, I’m sure the kids would love Chick-fil-A for a late lunch. Or dinner. Or both. Your ticket is good all day, so you can get right back in.
The ticket deal we took advantage of was also great. It is called the “Me & Mommy” ticket. Sure, there’s some stereotyping going on here, but it a deal is a deal. Whether mom or dad, an adult can bring up to 4 kids in on this one ticket. If maxed out, that is only $8.99 per person plus tax. It’s a phenomenal deal, but only good certain times of the year when they run the promotion, and only on Mondays through Thursdays.
I’d put the Georgia Aquarium at the top of the list for downtown Atlanta family things to do. It provided a great day of fun for my son and me. Even after our second fun day in the state capital, it still ranks the highest.
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I scuba dived the aquarium a few years ago; it’s amazing for all the above reasons, plus they give a behind the scenes in depth tour to family members who are with the scuba divers.
We spent half an hour just watching the belugas there. Love this place!
Second that on the scuba diving with the whale sharks. At the end they called in a manta ray to do loop de loops while we sat on the aquarium floor.
Anyone causing controversy over the whale sharks is ignorant. They were bought at the Tokyo fish market and if the Aquarium did not purchase, they would have been filleted.