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Travel Review: The Georgia Aquarium
Whale Sharks in a Tank!
I’ll start off by saying that I love aquariums! Zoos in general but especially aquariums. Ever since reading about the opening of the Georgia Aquarium years ago I have been pumped to see it. I specifically remember thinking to myself, “They are going to have a tank with three whale sharks in it? Thats ******* insane!” So as I said, very excited. So much so that I may have set myself up for disappointment. I will however qualify the latter statement as I do not mean for it to mean that the attraction isn’t what its cracked up to be.
As stated I read about the aquarium upon its opening in 2005. Billed as the largest aquarium in the US with 8.5 millions gallons of water and 120,000 animals! How could this not be amazing?! When planning my drive this year from Las Vegas back to Florida for school the aquarium was my only no compromise must stop venue. A friend and myself arrived for opening on a Tuesday morning. There was a sizable line, but it moved quickly. No harm no foul. We passed the time by making fun of the goofy names the aquarium gave for its “Finding Nemo”-esque cartoon characters pasted on walls and signs everywhere. That and parents who have their kids on leashes. That can't be good for a childs self esteem, as humorous to me as it may be. A few minutes of this, and we had scanned our tickets. Off into the tidal wave of intrigue beyond.
Once inside, the aquarium is basically divided up into sections with a central hub and food court in the center. First leg for us was the River Scout. On this journey, one see creatures from rivers in not only the United States, but around the world. Alligators, gar, and bluegill native to the region were on display. As well as exotic species from the Amazon like pirana, and electric eel. Far and away the most entertaining creatures in the exhibit however were the otters. Flying around like Michael Phelps on meth. They regale audiences with their antics. In many aquariums I've been to, an otter exhibit can totally change one's opinion of the day. Someone who may have been bored to tears will remember the otters fondly and therefore his whole trip.
From here we went to a perennial wildlife favorite of mine. The penguins. Anyone who doesn't like penguins can just take some 12 gauge aspirin. The world will be better off. Though they don't do much, I just can't look at a penguin and not smile. They are funny creatures. The aquarium has a set of tubes so children can pop their heads up in amongst the penguin exhibit. Lucky for 230lb me, I have no shame. Therefore this was a nice addition to the exhibit, child size or not. See picture right. Notice I was so excited that morning I forgot to groom my hair.
Other sections are more traditional of an aquarium. Tropical reef fish brightly colored and abundant. Large rays, grouper, and sharks with noticeable teeth. They do have a very neat tunnel tank. The visitor walks through the tunnel with water on all sides and above you. You really get a feel for how large some of the fish are when they block out light swimming over your head. All this is stuff I have seen before. Lets get on with the main attraction.
The Georgia Aquarium’s largest tank holds some likewise very large fish. The whale sharks in the tank probably don't classify as adult. Let that not lull you into thoughts of guppies. Juvenile whale sharks are still massive. This is the only exhibit I found myself sitting at for more than a few moments. Its awe inspiring for those of us who haven't had the pleasure of diving with them in the wild. This is as close as most of us will ever get. Words really do the event no justice. Its something you have to see for yourself.
As to why I said I may have set myself up to be disappointed. With the words, “largest aquarium in the United States,” I conjured up thoughts in my head of a Smithsonian size facility. This is not the case. Compounding this issue is the fact that there really aren't many attractions in an aquarium that make it likely for you to linger at them. You walk around and take a gander at each in turn. Maybe snap a few pictures. Outside of that you are very nearly constantly moving to the next exhibit. Therefore even at this giant of an aquarium we were finished in under 2 hours. I will point out here that we did not attend any of the scheduled shows. I find they are usually aimed at youth and never tell me anything I, as a serial animal planet watcher, doesn't already know. So if you have kids, or enjoy said types of shows yourself that will definitely prolong your time at the Georgia Aquarium.
Overall the Georgia Aquarium was a raging success. The best I've ever been too. Which is saying something. I've been to Seaworld’s on two coasts, the Florida Aquarium, and Monterrey Bay Aquarium. All world class facilities, and all beaten by the fish tank in Atlanta. Just go into it with a realistic idea of how big a big aquarium is and that its likely not an all day event.
As a side note I can't stress enough how much you should try Teds Montana Grill. This is a steakhouse owned by Ted Turner nearby to the aquarium. High quality steak a little cheaper than say a Flamings, or Ruth Chris but with similar quality. Try the bison steaks! I was skeptical at first too, but do yourself a favor. Ride the buffalo. You will not regret it!