Georgia Aquarium: Where the Ocean comes Alive
March 27, 2009 by Ashley Strickland
The Georgia Aquarium allows you one magnificent opportunity above all of its other wonders: the ability to tour the world as one diverse ocean filled with over 500 species and 100,000 animals. The modern glass and metal architecture houses more than eight million gallons of fresh and seawater and pathways connecting you to at least 60 exhibits, with the promise of monthly additions. The aquarium has worked to reach its title of the world’s largest and even includes such rarities as beluga whales, four young whale sharks – the largest fish in the world – and Nandi, the only manta ray ever to be seen in a U.S. aquarium. There is always something new and undiscovered to be found at the aquarium and special events are a routine occurrence. Most importantly, the Georgia Aquarium is one of Atlanta’s greatest indoor attractions that “is designed to inspire, entertain and educate” all ages.
The Aquarium is truly a gift. Bernie Marcus, the co-founder of The Home Depot, opened his first headquarters and stores in Atlanta. The citizens of Atlanta soon became the backbone of his company and Marcus decided that he wanted to give Atlanta something in return. When Marcus announced his idea to the city, it came with the promise of providing more jobs and increasing Atlanta’s tourism. A driven individual, Marcus provided $250 million of support to the Aquarium’s construction along with the contributions of Atlanta’s leading companies, which allowed the Aquarium to open debt free. Since its opening in 2005, the Georgia Aquarium at Pemberton Place has entertained visitors from all over the world and Marcus’ dream has achieved more than its original intentions.
When you enter the Aquarium, you immediately open yourself up for the chance to tour at least five looping pathways with the addition of special, limited-time exhibits like Titanic Aquatic and a 4D theater. No matter where you begin, you will have the opportunity to explore all of these at your own pace. The Georgia Explorer gallery begins with several touch pools where you can lightly run a finger across the back of a bonnethead shark or cownose ray as they glide by or dare to touch a feisty, darting shrimp before it streaks away. The gallery itself features species with special ties to the habitats on the Georgia Coast, including a shy loggerhead sea turtle and horseshoe crabs. Considered to be the kudzu of the ocean, invading alien fish from the Pacific Ocean, called lionfish, will soon become a touch pool feature to educate all about our changing ecosystem.
Next are the dark caverns of the River Scout trail. Giant catfish swim overhead as you wend your way through the exhibit of electric eels, piranhas and the newest addition of American alligators. This is the closest you can “safely” be to these predators before entering one of the friskiest exhibits in the whole aquarium, the river scouts themselves. Watch as Asian small-clawed river otters play on the banks of a mini waterfall and then dive after one another, shooting through the water. A close relative of these animals, the sea otter, can be found in the next exhibit, Cold Water Quest. Here, you also have the chance to touch colorful anemones and sea stars. This diverse exhibit allows you to see Australian weedy sea dragons, Giant Japanese spider crabs, playful African penguins, a Giant Pacific octopus and three beautiful beluga whales.
As far as amazement goes, the aquarium designed the two best exhibits to be enjoyed last: Ocean Voyager and Tropical Diver. Ocean Voyager begins with an acrylic tunnel that enables you to travel beneath the vast array of fish swimming overhead. Several viewing windows lead you around to the largest of them all, a 23-feet-tall by 61-feet-wide viewing window that enables you to see thousands of fish swimming by in schools, as well as stingrays, hammerhead sharks, bowmouth guitarfish, sand tiger sharks, four massive whale sharks and Nandi, the manta ray. If you’re interested in swimming alongside these fascinating creatures, check out the swim and dive program, Journey with Gentle Giants.
Tropical Diver is especially designed to be the end of your personal tour. Here, you will find the most curious creatures of the ocean. Tiny garden eels pop out of their homes in the sand, swaying like tall grass at the bottom of the ocean. Paisley mandarinfish hide in the shadows alongside shy seahorses. Clownfish, like “Nemo,” dart in and out of their anemone homes. Languorous jellyfish, from the giant Pacific sea nettle to the little puff clouds called “moon jellies.” Last is one of the largest living reef exhibits in the world, presenting corals and a rainbow of the small fishes that call them home.
If you get hungry along the way, Café Aquaria is open to serve your cravings. Also, don’t forget to visit the two gift shops, Beyond the Reef and Sand Dollars. Beyond the Reef features an overlooked fish tank of incredibly colorful fish at its entrance, so make a point of visiting these beautiful creatures before you leave. The shops are filled with sea-themed gifts to delight everyone and provide some unique souvenirs.
After visiting these exhibits, you may want to venture upstairs to the 4D Theater and the Titanic Aquatic exhibit. The 4D Theater combines 3D film, high tech special effects and digital projection with interactive seats that enable you to feel as though you are underwater. As fish swim by you, you can feel the soft brush of their scales on your arms and occasional, small sprays of water. Currently playing is Deepo’s Undersea 3D Wondershow. Deepo, the Georgia Aquarium’s mascot, takes viewers through an adventure under the sea with entertaining friends to highlight the way.
Equally stimulating but of a more serious nature is the visiting Titanic Aquatic exhibit. Take the time to explore the stories behind this international tragedy. At the beginning, you will be given a recreated ticket of an actual passenger. Rooms of the Titanic have been recreated so that you can walk through them while looking at over 190 artifacts removed from the undersea debris field, 40 of which have never been seen by the public. Interactive displays, an “actual” iceberg and video presentations take you through the entire history of the Titanic, from her original construction to recovery efforts of the debris still taking place today. When you reach the end, you will be able to check the list and see if the name on your ticket survived Titanic’s maiden voyage. After this enlightening experience, you will never view the Titanic the same way. The exhibit lasts until September 7, 2009.
Before you make your trip to the aquarium, be sure to check out all of your options. There are a number of specialized tours you can purchase tickets for that give a behind the scenes look at what it is like to work at an aquarium. There is also the shark-themed family tour and even a VIP tour. Look to see if any of these suit your purposes and budget. It is also just as enjoyable to guide yourself through the aquarium, although some give you access that a general admission visitor won’t receive. Go early, especially on the weekend, because the aquarium fills up fast and you will want to spend a lot of time enjoying all they have to offer. Buying your tickets and pass for the parking deck online ahead of time will save you money and check to see if another Atlanta attraction you are visiting is available in a combination package, including the World of Coca-Cola. Ask when the feeding schedule for the Ocean Voyager and Tropical Diver exhibits happen. This is an exciting opportunity to view the animals in action as divers feed them. A coat check is available and while the aquarium is organized, numerous friendly volunteers are on hand to assist and educate you on exhibits. Most importantly, bring your camera! This is the perfect place for captivating pictures. Just remember to turn off your flash; it is harmful to the fish.
Also, be sure to check the events coming up on the calendar. The Oceans Ballroom, complete with Wolfgang Puck catering, hosts events. Tying in with Titanic Aquatic is a special one-night event on the anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking, April 14. The “last meal” of the first class will be served as it was originally meant to, and afterwards guests can stay for a ghost hunters investigation of some of the paranormal activity surrounding the artifacts at the aquarium. The Roswell Georgia Paranormal Investigators will take a tour of interest where previously documented paranormal activity has occurred. You can also check out their Yoga Under the Sea Sunday program if you’re looking for a relaxing experience. Even more intriguing is their sleepover program, for kids and adults, which gives a whole different experience of the sea at night.
Rain or shine, you can always escape to the Georgia Aquarium. It truly leaves you with the knowledge that we are “one world, one ocean.”