First Impressions of Georgia Aquarium

I went to the Georgia Aquarium for the first time. I mostly decided to take a break from work to decompress (sorry, bad SCUBA diver joke). I planned to just spend an hour or so to figure out where it was, get my photo taken, and scope it out so I would know how it works the next time I visit.

Overall, I’m very pleased with the aquarium. It’s a very nice addition to our city and I’m glad I forked out for an annual pass.

Inside, the aquarium was done very well. One or two tanks had some water quality issues, probably local airborne molds and algae that they will remove with due time. SCUBA divers were still working in most of the tanks. I really enjoyed the coral tank and could sit there for an hour. They have a very large deep-sea tank with a 100-foot long tunnel underneath it. The docent said that we were 20 feet under water and that the tunnel was about 28 inches thick to withstand the pressure. They had a moving sidewalk that actually turned out very well. You can hop on and it creeps along at about 2 inches per second, but once people are on, they stand still. Everyone gets a good spot where they can see, kids stop pushing around, etc. You can also sit or walk on the carpet if you like.

The species selected represent “the usual” common marine fish, although I did see a few neat ones that I wasn’t aware of. The coral tank contains mostly varieties that are available commercially to home the home aquarist like myself. Still, an annual pass is a lot less expensive than maintaining a marine tank of any size at home. The displays are designed so that you can get up very close to the fish. It’s very well designed in that respect. It’s easy for people with short attention span kids to wander through, but also good for those of us who can sit there for hours admiring them. There aren’t many signs telling you what is on display in each tank or what is special about them. They even had some of the same fish I have. I talked briefly about them with a couple of other visitors but tried very hard not to bore them longer than 60 seconds.

The aquarium is touted as the largest in the world. I don’t know what metric they are using, but it’s not a record that they will hold for long. It isn’t spectacularly larger than the Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans, possibly smaller. On a square footage standpoint, 25% is classroom and research. There’s also a 5000-6000 square foot indoor playground and two ballrooms for special events. It’s also comprised entirely underwater exhibits. It does not have a rain forest area like many other aquariums do. It is larger than the famous aquarium in Monterrey, California.

I had heard a lot of negative feedback about the aquarium from several friends who have visited, some of which was to be expected of a new facility. For that matter, there’s always some hassle with major tourist attraction. Even a trip to Disney World, the grand mother of all tourist attractions, involves some hassle. You have to get tickets in advance, park miles away, take a tram to the gate, wait in line, do security, take a boat, walk some more and stand in line for everything. The aquarium is much better than that.

Friends said that it was too crowded, that lines were long, and that all the signs were very low to the ground and hard to read. I also had a lot of problems purchasing my annual pass. The web site was down for days and no one answered the phone. The day after they stopped selling annual passes, someone replied to my email sent several days before and told me that she received my email too late and that they would not sell annual passes again until December. Fortunately, I was able to use my knowledge of web servers to temporarily repair their system long enough for me to process my purchase. Even if you have an annual membership, you still have to make a reservation to go to the aquarium. In my case, the web site failed to email my entry ticket so I had to get a “replacement” at the box office.

Anyway, things went smoother than expected during my visit. The parking deck has people directing traffic to the areas with the most spaces. I passed half a block of signs indicating where the line to enter was, but no one was standing there. I joked with the security people by taking off my shoes before being checked for weapons. They didn’t understand the joke until I explained it to them, after which they just passed me through the line by barely waving their wand quickly as though to say, “you are not carrying the weapons we’re looking for.” While they might have caught an AK47, someone could have carried a .357 Magnum in the place and no one would have noticed. The box office line was shorter than most theaters and the clerk successfully handled my refusal to show identification. The line to get photos taken for membership cards was 20 minutes, but a sign said that if the wait was too long we could get our cards on our next visit. The system worked smoothly. When it was my turn, it took less than 90 seconds to get my card. The contrast and focus on my card was poor, which really disappointed me because it was a really good photo of me. The clerk inserted the blank upside down in the printer, so I have a weird looking card that is part upside down, kind of like the famous stamp. I didn’t want to hold up the line, so I kept it.

Inverted Jenny Postage Stamp

The crowd was moderate but I was able to see things and also leave room for kids to get up close in front of me. With so much glass and concrete, there is a big echo in the building and the din can get tiring. Next time I go I will bring earplugs or noise cancellation headsets.

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