This summer we took the family on a car adventure to Atlanta. Our first stop was the Georgia Aquarium. The primary reason for picking this aquarium, when we have one right here in Baltimore that is pretty awesome, is because the aquarium in Atlanta has whale sharks. These fish are HUGE! They are the biggest fish in the ocean and they can get up to 40-50 feet long. While a giant shark may sound scary, they are actually filter feeders than only eat the tiniest source of food in the ocean, plankton. The whale sharks at the aquarium are juveniles, with the females being only 19 feet and the males 17 feet long. My goodness, after seeing these big guys, it is hard to imagine them even bigger in the open water. They had Manta rays in the same tank and the rays were completely dwarfed by the whale sharks. So amazing!
The aquarium was built in 2005 and is currently the biggest in the world, with approximately 10 MILLION gallons of fresh and salt water tanks. The gigantic 6.3 million gallon Ocean Voyager exhibit is the home for the whale sharks, along with many other species. It is the only place where you can see whale sharks in an aquarium outside of Asia. If you have the money, and the SCUBA certification, you can dive with the whale sharks for only $335.95 ($302.95 for aquarium members).
Expect to drop a few dollars on tickets for a big place like this. General admission at the door is $39.95 for adults and $33.95 for children and seniors (2016). Of course discounts are available. Online purchase can save you money. If you buy tickets in advance and go in the first two hours after opening, you can save 20%. For even bigger savings you can get the Imagination Nights ticket for entry after 4:00pm and save 30%. However, some of the events and shows take place before 4:00pm so you will not be able to take part in those. Other discounts vary and you can check the website to see what they offer. If you want to do more in Atlanta, you can purchase a CityPass or other combination ticket based on what you want to do. Again, these are available on the website. A general admission ticket gives you access to all of the permanent and temporary exhibits as well as the dolphin show and sea lion show. The aquarium offers many a-la-cart items such as the SCUBA dive, creature interactions, and backstage tours at an addition price. See the website for details. If you plan to visit more than once in a year, a membership may be right for you. A parking garage is located adjacent to the aquarium and cost $10. You can pay for parking online in advance and save 10%. Public transportation also travels close to the area.
Because we were only going to be there once, we wanted to see everything we could fit in before the kids got tired. We spent about 4 hours there and saw almost everything. The aquarium is designed around a central hub, which of course contains the food court, the information desk, and the gift shop. There are seven galleries: Ocean Voyager, Tropical Diver, Cold Water Quest, River Scout, Pier 225, Dolphin Tale, and Aquanaut Adventure, as well as a 4D theater. (I am not a professional photographer. These were taken on a phone while chasing 2 kids around.)
I already mentioned the Ocean Voyager gallery with 4 whale sharks, 4 manta rays, and a wide variety of other ocean animals. It starts you off in a tunnel, in which you can walk or use the people mover. In the tunnel, you can actually have whale sharks swim over your head! So amazing! And then it moves you into a dark room with the viewing window – 23 feet tall by 61 feet wide. Blew me away! I could have sat there for hours.
The Tropical Diver gallery starts with several smaller tanks that allow you to see some individual species and then continues to the feature exhibit, a living coral reef with a wide variety of tropical fish. It even has waves crashing overhead to more fully simulate a Pacific reef. Between all of the moving color and the sound of the waves, this was a most relaxing exhibit.
The Cold Water Quest gallery features sea otters, penguins, and beluga whales. There are a lot of places for kids to explore in this one. The kids liked the leafy sea dragon because they had learned about it on Octonauts.
The River Scout gallery focuses on fresh water animals. There is a river overhead and waterfalls all around. Again, there are places designed for kids to explore in this gallery.
Pier 225 is the home of the sea lion show and Dolphin Tale is the home of the dolphin show. No pictures are allowed during the shows.
The Aquanaut Adventure is designed as an interactive and immersive way to learn about aquatic creatures and their environments and about how scientists study aquatic life. It has seven different routes to choose from and if you complete five you can earn a Georgia Aquarium Aquanaut certification. This area opens a couple of hours after the rest of the aquarium. We did not end up exploring this section since the kids were worn out by this point.
We arrived at the aquarium at 10:00 and it was not crowded at that time. After we went to the 11:30 dolphin show, which was fully packed, the aquarium was wall-to-wall people. If you visit, I highly recommend going as close to opening time as possible to avoid the biggest crowds. We did pack our own backpack with snacks and drinks, which was allowed inside with no problem. For what it’s worth, you do have to exit the aquarium through the gift shop. We managed to get out with only one small item per child.
For about $150 we had a full day of ocean animal exploration, shows, gifts, and parking for a family of four. And we were able to see whale sharks with our own eyes, which was really the whole point of the trip for shark obsessed Boy Child. If you like aquariums, then this one will meet all of your expectations. And they did design certain areas with kids in mind so that they will have fun even if they are not that interested in the fish.