Friday, August 5, 2011

Georgia Aquarium, it's all in how you look at it

This is the last in the "series" (or so it seemed) on our trip.  It's funny how yuo can write so much about 1 day.

The fact that Georgia Aquarium is the "largest indoor aquarium" can be deceiving. When you hear "largest" you expect it to have a lot, to be grand. If you've ever been to an outdoor aquarium though, this may disappoint. Being all indoors, you can take your time. You don't get hot or cold. You don't have to worry about rain. It has some exhibits that are typically reserved for outdoor aquariums, such as dolphins.

All indoors has it's own issues though. It can only admit so many people safely. It sells out, so advance tickets are extremely recommended. Advanced tickets also lock you in. In other words, if you've already bought your $20 tickets and you arrive to a crowded mess you are kind of stuck going anyway or losing your money. The limited number of people they admit is still so many that you may not ever get to see some of the exhibits. Actually, in my opinion, there are so many people that I'd worry about my kids being trampled in an emergency.

They have some nice exhibits. If you've ever been to another aquarium, the most interesting will be the Whale Sharks. The Belugas are interesting too if you haven't been to a large outside aquarium that houses them. Manta Rays are neat but I've seen them swimming off the coast of Florida (and I was just standing on a pier). Dolphins are neat but I've seen them swimming off the coast of Florida and South Carolina (from shore, pier, boat, etc). A lot of the smaller fish I see at the aquarium inside our local zoo. Penguins I see at almost every zoo I've been to. Our local zoo has an awesome exhibit with 3 different species. Though, so far, my favorite exhibit is at the aviary in Pittsburgh. Otters are at several zoos too. The tunnel was neat because the Whale Sharks were there. Otherwise, it didn't seem any better than Ripley's, Tennessee, etc.  Maybe there were more interesting things to see but it was so crowded we couldn't get through to see at least 1/3 of the exhibits.

They do have a play structure. The climbing area though was limited to a small range of sizes. Only my middle 2 were small enough but big enough (barely) to play.  That's like a teaser to a 3 year old, yes I do see the playplace, yes other kids can go in it but unlike other playplaces you are too small, sorry.  Thats a tantrum waiting to happen.  They also have a touch tank. It was very similar to the touch tank at the PPG aquarium (only the PPG has a neat tunnel so the kids can crawl under) and other similar aquariums. Though it was very crowded.

I expected a lot more from the dolphin show. I am not sure if that is because it was an extra $15 or if it's  because the only other dolphin show I've seen was at the Seaquarium. They made it seem like it was a show with a storyline that the dolphins were stars of. The storyline was sorely lacking though. I would barely consider it a storyline.  The hype is much more than the actual show. The show was only 30 minutes (and another hour in line and waiting) but my smaller kids couldn't have handled longer. The dolphins were cool but the story was really needed to get it to last 30 minutes. They just need a better storyline.

If you're just looking for someplace for the kids to see "fish" then there are so many other aquariums. If you have to take them during a peak time it may not be worth it.  If you are an enthusiast though this place may be for you. It may have species not housed elsewhere (I'm not an enthusiast with the knowledge to say). It also has many (albeit expensive) additional options. You can tour behind the scenes, swim with the Belugas, or go snorkeling in the big tank. My daughter did a behind the scenes tour with school and said that was great. You got to see more things and it wasn't crowded at all.

The aquarium also features a cafe but I cannot comment on that because it was too busy to try. I would  recommend sunscreen and water. I didn't bring either because it is an "indoor" aquarium and outside food/drink is not allowed. However, despite having a 1pm ticket, we had to wait in line from 1pm (the earliest they will let a 1pm ticket get in line) until about 1:30pm. This line was 90% in the 100 degree sun. There really wasn't anywhere to get water without getting out of line.

There is a parking garage but you may want to consider a prepaid ticket. They were sold out by the time we got there so were only letting in prepaid tickets (which we had). If you also have a large family and therefore a large van, the garage is only 6'8". They have a special entrance for vans though, the one next to us was a  Sprinter or similar so it can accommodate tall vans. The same ticket was valid for this entrance and when we were there spots were aplenty in that section.

The one place I was partially impressed with was the gift shop. In my opinion it's location is predatory. The  aquarium exit is through the gift shop. The prices were one of the most reasonable I have seen. A decent sized stuff animal was only $15. The $16.99 animals were on sale 2/$25. T shirts were a bit pricey, the one my daughter got was $22.

All in all I'd rather go somewhere less crowded. The kids are just as impressed because they haven't seen "everything" a bunch of times yet.  For the price they charge for admission I'd expect them to limit admission to a number reasonable enough that we can actually see the exhibits. This is coming from someone who grew up at Disney World, the king of lines.

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