We recently took the boys to the Georgia Aquarium in downtown Atlanta, which is billed as the world’s largest aquarium, and I thought I’d write a quick review of our experiences. In short, while we went in with high hopes, we left a bit disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very impressive place. But the visitor experience leaves something to be desired.
First off, let me give you a rundown of what they have to offer… The numbers are quite impressive, with the aquarium boasting 8 million gallons of water, and over 100,000 animals representing over 500 different species. In terms of the layout, upon entering the aquarium you’ll find yourself standing in a central atrium that leads to five major walkthrough exhibit areas as well as a food court. The exhibits include Ocean Voyager, Cold Water Quest, Tropical Diver, River Scout, and Georgia Explorer. All five areas were impressive in their own right, and each contained a number of separate tanks with tons of cool specimens.
Among the things that we enjoyed the most were the massive tank in the Ocean Voyager area, the beluga whales in Cold Water Quest, and the hands-on exhibits in the Georgia Explorer exhibit. The mega-tank in the Ocean Voyager section has a glass tunnel passing through it, complete with a moving walkway and — get this — whale sharks! Very cool.
So what’s not to love? Well, first of all, it costs an arm and a leg to get in… Adult tickets go for $22.75, whereas kids (ages 3-12) are $17.00 apiece. On top of that, they nicked us for a $5.00 ‘convenience’ fee, and $10.00 for parking. They also wanted $2.00 for a guide to the venue (we passed). And you could pay an additional fee for an IMAX movie of some sort (we passed on that, too).
On top of the exorbitant prices, the place is crazy busy. Tickets are sold for a specific admission time, and they frequently sell out, so plan ahead. In fact, the Georgia Aquarium is so popular that they even require reservations for members, and they’ve sold out all of their available annual passes (they expect to start selling them again this fall).
But the fact that they cap admission like this doesn’t mean that there aren’t crowds… We went on a weekday and it was mobbed. To the point that it really wasn’t all that enjoyable. At least not for us grownups — the kids seemed to do well and have fun, as they could worm their way up to the front to get a good view.
On top of everything else, we went during the mid-morning and ended up eating lunch at thee aquarium. What a ripoff! We dropped fifty bucks and the food sucked. If you’re planning on going, don’t show up hungry!
The last little thing that bugged us was their blatant ripoff of Disney’s Finding Nemo… The Georgia Aquarium was bankrolled by the founder of Home Depot, and the mascot is a little orange fish that looks suspiciously like a clown fish, but without the stripes. His (or her) name is Deepo. Get it? Depot, Deepo. And a whole lot like Nemo.
All in all, the Georgia Aquarium is quite a spectacle, but it didn’t live up to the hype. The boys had fun, but… They have fun doing pretty much everything we do, so that’s not much of a test. If you’re going to go, I would recommend getting tickets for the opening time slot, as the crowds should be a bit lighter (with nobody still hanging around from earlier time slots). Hopefully the crowds will die down in the next few years, as I think it would be worth a trip if you could relax and take it all in.