Happy summer! We are now back home and enjoying the remainder of the summer break at home, reminiscing about our Great Family Road Trip of 2014. Here is the first part of our adventures, our day at the Georgia Aquarium. I had always wanted to visit this aquarium, having heard about the amazing whale sharks for years now. After our visit, I definitely wish I was closer to Atlanta to enjoy this amazing aquarium more often. If you haven’t been, it’s a must-visit.
We began our trek in the wee hours of the morning (3am) in order to let the kids sleep and enjoy the whole day in Atlanta. While we may have been a little tired, we were all still excited to arrive, stretch our legs and encounter something new. Now, when we arrived, it suddenly hit us that it was a Saturday, in the summer, in a large city. So it was a bit crowded at the aquarium. However, being used to Disney crowds, we took it in stride. However keep that in mind when planning your visit. The wonderful folks at the Georgia Aquarium had set aside tickets for our admission, a dolphin show and a behind-the-scenes tour at the end of our day.
Our first stop was to see the whale sharks. There are several different places to see them; as you walk around the tank, on a moving walkway as the fish and sharks swim above you, and a viewing area with a giant window where you can just sit and enjoy the views. It was crazy to see how huge these sharks are, as well as their tank-mates, giant manta rays and other sharks and huge fish. I loved seeing my older kids taking photos on their phones and with their cameras and sharing them on social media, which is of course what the adults were doing too! We then saw the rest of the exhibits in that area and moved on to the beluga whales and penguins. Little Gio loved crawling through these cool tunnel-like crawl spaces where you could view the animals in their habitat from behind glass. We then stopped for lunch and on busy days like that was, the aquarium’s ballroom is open for seating on the floor above the food court area. So we got to enjoy our meals with a great view of beluga whales from the window in the ballroom.
Next up was the Dolphin Show – Dolphin Tales. Coming from the theme park capital of the world with SeaWorld down the street, we felt right at home with this show. It was full of songs and performance and a very dramatic tale told along with the dolphins act. The main song totally got stuck in our head, it was great.
To wind up our day, we met with our guide for our behind-the-scenes tour. Let me say, if you are planning a visit to the aquarium, you simply MUST do this. I think we may have been given a special tour based on what the kids said they were interested in, and we really got to see a little bit of everything, but there are many options depending on your budget, time, and ages in your group. But on a day like we went, it made all the difference to be away from the crowds, seeing above the various tanks and exhibits, and learning so much more on a one-on-one basis. We were able to see the veterinary, research, and commissary areas for the aquariums many creatures. The photo to the right shows 3 teenage penguins, getting accustomed to their habitat before joining the group. Penguins are flatfooted, so they place stones down to mimic the areas they would be walking on in the wild, to make their little flippers shaped the right way. The little guy was quite interested in Gio (and vice versa!)
The highlight of our tour was definitely the feeding of the whale sharks. It was so interesting to see how this is actually accomplished, and learn so much more about the sharks themselves. Everyone loved it. They also have additional programs where you can actually swim with the whale sharks, or beluga whales, or dolphins. Any of those would be amazing to do on a return trip.
Most of all, what we came away with was the feeling of how much the people who work for the Georgia Aquarium truly care about where they work, the animals they help on a daily basis, and sharing knowledge and education with all those they encounter. Every person working, from the admission window to the cafeteria to the workers in the exhibits, were unbelievably friendly and helpful. I’m so very thankful that my family got to experience this great place and I cannot wait to return some day.
Here’s a gallery of the highlights of the rest of our day:
The Georgia Aquarium is a little over a 6 hour drive from the Orlando area, but certainly a lot closer by air! They have extended summer hours and many ticket options for savings when purchasing in advance or online. You can learn more about the various exhibits in the aquarium, including Ocean Voyager, Cold Water Quest, Tropical Diver, River Scout and more. They really highlight all the different regions that our aquatic wildlife come from and what we can do to keep them safe and cared for.
Disclaimer: Very special thanks to the Georgia Aquarium for setting up our admission and tours. We had such a wonderful time – but my opinions and thoughts are my own.