Discovering Atlanta's Water World
Three whale sharks including this one swim in a humongous six-million-gallon tank at the Georgia Aquarium.*
With Whale Sharks and Much More
By Vivian Holley
Taking center stage in the city, Atlanta’s eye-popping, $300 million Georgia Aquarium is the world’s largest aquatic facility with 100,000 marine animals and 500 different species. It boasts eight million gallons of water. More than six million gallons of that is for a humongous tank that’s home to the world’s largest fish – the whale shark.
A trio of whale sharks named Alice, Norton and Trixie have top dibs on that huge tank. Yes, they’re named for characters in the vintage television show “The Honeymooners.” (A fourth shark called Ralph succumbed to illness earlier this year).
When arriving from Taiwan in 2005, Ralph and Norton together weighed 2,200 pounds. Norton, Trixie and Alice are still putting on the pounds. Eventually they could be as large as a city bus. Fortunately, the sharks have plenty of paddling room at the Georgia Aquarium.
New Features Planned
Opened in 2005, the 550,000-square-foot structure is across the street from the 21-acre Centennial Olympic Park, a legacy from the 1996 Olympics. Start-up funding came from Bernie Marcus, co-founder of the Home Depot, whose headquarters and first stores opened in Atlanta in 1979.
By the time the aquarium’s first birthday rolled around in November 2006, 3.6 million people had visited the watery wonderland. Marcus is now undertaking another $13 million in facility improvements and expansion.
The aquarium will gain another 30,000 square feet of exhibits, 100 new species and new restrooms for physically challenged visitors. Also planned is a new overhead covering at the main entrance to shield visitors from bad weather.
Opened in 2006, the Georgia Aquarium is the world's largest aquatic facility.*
On any given day, the aquarium has a plethora of attractions in its five eclectic galleries. Visitors might check out the graceful beluga whales or the predatory piranhas. Kids will chuckle viewing the otters at play and penguins on the march.
One favorite activity? The Ocean Voyager gallery boasts a 100-foot-long underwater tunnel. Visitors walk through, looking around and above to the six-million-gallon tank. Giant groupers lope along, while the clan of whale sharks are the main attraction.
A Tropical Diver gallery sports a coral reef rich in jewel-toned fishes. Kids can find Nemo, but also peruse jellies, seahorses and garden eels poking out from the sand.
Exotic expatriates seem at home in the indoor seascape of landlocked Atlanta. For example, Australian leafy sea dragons and Japanese spider crabs reside in the Cold Water Quest gallery. Amazonian fishes and Asian, small-clawed otters are residents at the River Scout gallery.
Small fry in tow? The Georgia Explorer gallery – with its coastal lighthouse and shrimp boat –is more scaled to their size. Touch tanks allow the kids to get up close with cownose rays and horseshoe crabs.
When hunger hits, head for Café Aquaria. Grown-ups can dine on pasta while kids dive into pizza and sea-creature shaped cookies. The aquarium also features a 4-D theater ($5.50 for adults, $4 for children 3 to 12), gift shops, and the Oceans Ballroom, an event facility.
Need help with a hotel room, restaurant reservation, theater tickets? Assistance awaits. Just head for the new on-site Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau center. It’s tucked between the Tropical Diver and Ocean Voyager exhibits.
Not surprisingly, the largest throngs of visitors show up on weekends. Saturday aquarium visitations averaged more than 14,000 last year. But spreading out the crowds is a timed reservations system.
Savvy travelers buy tickets online. They also opt for weekday visits. Tickets are $24 for adults, $20 for seniors over 55 and $18 for children 3-12.
Call 404-581-4000 or visit www.georgiaaquarium.org.
Aquarium-themed packages are available from several Atlanta hotels. Some are conveniently downtown. Some offer free parking. Among them?
- Embassy Suites Hotel Atlanta at Centennial Olympic Park (404-223-2300 or www.embassysuites.com), 267 Marietta St. “The Family VIP Package” includes a two-room suite with refrigerator and microwave, full breakfast, and aquarium tickets for two adults and two children. It’s priced from $209 through Oct. 10.
- Ritz-Carlton Atlanta (404-659-0400 or www.ritz-carlton.com), 181 Peachtree St. The one-night “Family Aquarium” package includes deluxe accommodations for four, full breakfast and four aquarium tickets. It’s priced from $329 through May 26.
- Renaissance Atlanta Hotel Downtown (404-881-6000 or www.marriott.com), 590 West Peachtree St. A one-night family package includes breakfast for two adults and two children, hotel parking and two adult aquarium tickets. The package is priced from $179 through Dec. 30.
- Wyndham Garden Hotel Atlanta Downtown (404-659-2727 or www.wyndham.com), 175 Piedmont Ave. The one-night “Georgia Aquarium” package includes full breakfast for two adults, hotel parking and two adult aquarium tickets. It’s priced from $179 through Dec. 31.
Vivian Holley is travel editor for Southern Seasons magazine, contributing editor for Recommend magazine and an award-winning freelance travel writer/editor specializing in upscale travel including cruising. She is a longtime member of the Society of American Travel Writers, the Southeast Tourism Society and the Atlanta Press Club.
*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used with permission of the Georgia Aquarium. All rights reserved. Please do not link to these photos nor copy them. Thank you.