Every time I see a beautiful whale, I hear Scotty’s voice in my head from Star Trek IV declaring…
I’ve been dying to visit the Georgia Aquarium and booked time in my conference schedule last week so I could fulfill my bucket list item of seeing a real, live whale shark.
The only problem is that the whale shark isn’t a whale at all. It is, in fact, the largest shark and the largest fish in the world. And it doesn’t harm a soul, unless you count all of the plankton that it filters out of the water for its food.
As I rode the moving walkway that shuffled people through the aqua tunnel, I felt like I was in the ocean with these beautiful creatures surrounded by all the schools of fish and a graceful manta ray. I photographed it. I periscoped it. I shot video. I did everything I could to try to capture the moment of being there and I’m still not sure I did it justice.
It was the first thing I saw and it made the trip so worthwhile but there was so much more to see at the amazing aquarium.
Like the penguins.
You have the ability to see them walking around (and yes, you can stick your head up inside that acrylic cylinder and come face to face with a penguin) or under water (there’s a water tube you can crawl through as well).
I saw sea otters. And while this picture doesn’t do them justice it would have been easy to watch this guy float on his back all day. He’d start at the rock, float all the way over to the glass, do a quick turnaround, kick off the glass, and head back. Then he’d do it all over again.
Other creatures were more like works of art including the sea dragons and sea horses!
Check out these floppy guys. Yes, they are actually living creatures. I wasn’t sure if they were starfish or sea stars. It turns out, they’re the same thing. So here you go.
And big, pretty colorful fish.
Even though it’s not as flashy, the freshwater exhibits are also worth checking out. In this shot, I was actually standing under an aquarium and didn’t even realize it. I looked up and saw a cluster fish, many of which looked like gar.
Also in the freshwater area were the Asian River Otters and Albino Alligators.
And of course, jellyfish and more jellyfish.
In a little under two hours, we hit all of the major attractions at the aquarium and ended at a massive coral reek tank where I saw tons of people taking selfies. So i think you know what I had to do.
But the photos really don’t do it justice (the aquarium, not me). Which is why I took a video for you where you can see the whale shark in motion, and the beluga whales swimming (which I forgot to photograph), and the otters playing. Trust me. It’s worth a glimpse.
What You Need to Know
Let me be upfront. The Georgia Aquarium is not cheap. It will cost about $30 per person (under 3 is free) but you can always look for specials running like discounted tickets purchased in advance, fall promotion offers (kids eat free!), or evening admission.
If you’re not staying in or driving to downtown (I was staying in the Buckhead area), you can take the MARTA but it’s a bit of a hike from the two servicing stations. It’s the option that I chose since it was a quick tourist stop on my way to the airport. Luckily, the aquarium will stow your bags for $2 per item.
Food is available and it’s pretty standard cafe fare. You can leave the aquarium for a two hour period if you did want to leave for lunch and come back. We actually chose this option not to eat but to explore an attraction right next door.
What Else You Can Do
Some might fight it odd to pay $16 to enter a shrine to one of the most popular brands in the world but since we were there, we did it anyway.
The World of Coca-Cola attraction is literally right next door to the aquarium (in fact, the Georgia Aquarium is built on land donated by Coca-Cola). So we took a break and did a quick tour.
Yes, Coca-Cola keeps the original formula in a vault! The history of the company was interesting to learn (invented by a pharmacist, but even that point is debated). In the early days, there were lots of imitators and many claims to fame. But the syrupy drink has endured from the soda fountain days.
Admittedly, the whole tour is basically a Coca-Cola commercial. Coke adds life. It’s the real thing. IT’S CHANGING THE WORLD! (Okay, I added that one in there). There’s even a room where you can watch Coke commercials from around the world and from the past few decades. I actually enjoyed that part but at least I was clear that I was sitting and watching commercials.
The real treat came at the end when we entered the tasting room. We had the chance to try sodas from all over the world (think of the Epcot Club Cool on steroids). I literally left feeling like I was buzzed and I was – but from sugar, not alcohol. It was worth it, though to see poor, unsuspecting children sampling the dreaded Beverly soda from Italy.
And which was my favorite? Surprisingly, it was Barq’s Red Creme Soda. Now if only I can find a place to purchase it.
Although I was in Atlanta for a business conference, I followed my mantra of turning every trip into a tourist trip when possible. Whether you’re a casual visitor or looking for a family destination, I’d definitely make time for some of the attractions in Atlanta.