On our way back from a summer road trip to Florida this year, we made an unscheduled stop in Atlanta and visited the Georgia Aquarium. Our family enjoys going to aquariums during our travels across the United States, there is always something interesting to see and learn about the animals of the oceans, lakes and rivers.
In 2001 Bernard Marcus, a local Atlanta businessman, announced a $250 million donation for the purpose of building a world-class aquarium that would benefit the city of Atlanta economically while providing an educational experience for the community, an additional $40 million was obtained through corporate sponsorship. After 44 months of design and construction time, the Georgia Aquarium opened in 2005 and is located near the World of Coca-Cola and within walking distance to the Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta.
The Aquarium building is more than 600,000 square feet and has over 110,000 fish and sea animals that represent more than five hundred species that are displayed in six different exhibit areas. The largest is the Ocean Voyager exhibit which contains a 6.3 million gallon water tank that measures 284 feet by 126 feet with depths between 20 and 30 feet and includes a 100 foot underwater tunnel that visitors enter for an amazing view of thousands of fish, it is the largest indoor aquatic habitat in the world. The exhibit is designed as the centerpiece of the aquarium and features several whale sharks and it is the only institution outside Asia that has these massive fish on display. Also featured in this large tank are several manta rays, in 2008 when these rays were first put on display at the aquarium it was one of only four sites in the world to keep them in captivity. (The long entrance tunnel gives visitors a very unusual view that feels like being underwater with these sea animals and near the exit of the exhibit is a series of very large observation windows for more amazing views. I could have stayed there for a long time just watching the fish swimming by!)
To left of the entrance of the aquarium is the Georgia Explore exhibit with displays that are especially created for children to explore and there are several “touch tanks” with rays and sharks. Other tanks in this area of the aquarium features sea turtles and an interesting displays of several different sea animals that can be found in a National Marine Sanctuary called Gray’s Reef just off the Georgia coast.
Nearby is the River Scout exhibit of the aquarium which features an overhead river tank where visitors have a view of several different varieties of North American fish from the bottom up. Other tanks in this area display piranha, electric eels and other unusual freshwater fish.
The most recent addition to the aquarium opened in 2011 and it is the Dolphin Tales exhibit which features an indoor dolphin show that is included in the cost of a general admission to the aquarium, visitors are required to select a specific time for one of the three dolphin shows held during the day. Construction on the $110 million expansion began in 2008 and includes over 84,000 square feet of exhibit space that contains a 1.3 gallon water tank, a large stadium seating area and observation windows where visitors can see the dolphins during non-show times. The Dolphin Tales show is an elaborate production of musical numbers featuring numerous performers and several bottlenose dolphins. (The show is absolutely wonderful and was the highlight of our visit to the aquarium!)
Another area of the aquarium is the Cold Water Quest exhibit area which features beluga whales, penguins and sea otters. The final area of the aquarium is the tropical Diver exhibit which features a 164,000 gallon tank containing a large reef with several species of tropical fish, the aquarium actually “grows” their own coral for the display. Other sea animals found in this exhibit area are different tanks containing sea horses, jellyfish, shrimp, and lobster.
Travel information for visiting the Georgia Aquarium
- Tickets are available at the ticket booth or can be purchased in advance online at www.georgiaaquarium.org or by phoning the Call Center at 404-581-4000. General Admission includes both the Dolphin Tales show and the “Deepo’s Undersea Wondershow” movie at the 4D Theater. (Travel note: When purchasing general admission tickets be sure to select a show time for the Dolphin Tales show and arrive early prior the scheduled time to assure a good viewing area as the stadium seating does fill very quickly!)
- The Aquarium can get very busy and crowded, especially during the summer months, so we advise arriving early in the morning. If you want to avoid the crowds, consider visiting the aquarium during the fall or winter seasons.
- Allow at least 3-4 hours when visiting the Aquarium, this will provide plenty of time to visit all the exhibits and to see the Dolphin Show and 4D movie. (Travel note: When arriving at the Aquarium check for the posted feeding times for the animals on display, the animals diet is generally food normally found in their natural environment and watching the animals being feed can be an interesting experience)
- There is an on-site food court, the Café Aquaria, which offers visitors a wide variety of menu items. If there are dietary concerns and requirements, please check ahead on the Aquarium website for more information and a detailed menu at www.georgiaaquarium.org
- Take advantage of the guided tours that are offered at the Aquarium. The “Behind the Scenes” tour is limited to visitors 10 years or older and can be reserved prior to a visit and can be purchased tickets online or by calling the phone number listed above. The one hour “Behind the Scenes” tour takes visitors into the areas of the most popular exhibits that are generally off limits and also to the Veterinary Clinic where the Aquarium staff cares for the animals and the Commissary where they prepares the food for the animals.
- For visitors looking for a closer look at the Aquarium’s animals and a very unique experience, consider one of the Animal Encounters programs, such as the “Dolphin Encounter”, the “Sea Otter Encounter” or the “Penguin Encounter”. There is also other opportunities for visitors and animals to interact, such as the “Journey with the Gentle Giants” where visitor swim or dive with the whale sharks, manta rays and other sea animals in the Ocean Voyager exhibit or the “Beluga & Friends interactive program” that provides an exclusive experience. (Travel note: Check the Aquarium website for more information, prices, restrictions and limitations for these programs)