What’s better than a a stress-reducing tank full of beautiful fish? How about the largest aquarium in the world, the only captive whale sharks in this hemisphere, and some really talented dolphins? During our recent trip to Atlanta, Beth and I had the opportunity to visit The Georgia Aquarium and view the Dolphin Tales show courtesy of the Renaissance Atlanta Midtown Hotel.
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What Makes The Georgia Aquarium So Special?
I’ve been to the Georgia Aquarium three times, and I can honestly say that each visit has been a breathtaking experience. It’s not just another aquarium. It’s like stepping into another world. And if you think that sounds melodramatic, just consider some of these stats:
- With more than 600,000 square feet and 10 million gallons of fresh and salt water, the Georgia Aquarium is the largest aquarium in the world.
- The Ocean Voyager exhibit is the largest indoor fish habitat in the United States. It measures 284 feet long by 126 feet wide by 30 feet deep. It contains 6.3 million gallons of water.
- The viewing window into the whale shark exhibit measures 60 feet long by 27 feet high.
But statistics tend to be a little sterile. Just take a look at this viewing window:
Travel Tip: The aquarium was very crowded during our visit. If you’re looking for a less hectic experience, try visiting during non-peak times, like during the week or during the fall or spring when school is in session.
Your Visit at a Glance
Hours of Operation
The Georgia Aquarium is open year-round, but hours do vary. Visit the aquarium website for specific hours on the day you plan to visit.
The Aquarium uses a timed ticketing system, which means you will be given a time at which you can enter the aquarium. This keeps the facility from becoming overcrowded.
Tickets cost more at peak times like weekends and holidays. Be sure to check the website for the date you plan to visit.
General Admission Tickets
Includes basic admission, Deepo’s 4D theatre, and Dolphin Tales. You will be asked to select a Dolphin Tales show time when you purchase your ticket. We got our tickets the day of our visit, and by 9:30, the earliest show we could get was at 3:30. If you want a specific time of day, you should consider purchasing tickets well in advance.
Peak Time Tickets:
Children (ages 3 – 12): $28.95
Children under 3: Free
Seniors (age 65+): $30.95
Non-Peak Time Tickets:
Children (ages 3 – 12): $23.95
Children under 3: Free
Seniors (age 65+): $25.95
Other special tickets are also available including Annual Memberships, Imagination Nights, the Deepo Pass, Group Sale Tickets, and a Prepaid Parking Ticket which saves $1 on parking.
Parking at the Aquarium
Parking is available in the attached parking deck and costs $10 per day. The World of Coca-Cola and CNN Tower are within walking distance, so you could plan an entire day of attractions for one parking price. There’s also a nice playground area in Centennial Park if the kids just need some downtime.
There is a cafe located inside the aquarium, but it’s pretty expensive. All items are priced a la carte, and they can add up quickly. No food or drink may be brought inside the aquarium (however, security did allow us to take our water bottles–I would think sippy cups for the kids would be okay as well).
Wheelchairs, Strollers, and Babies
The entire aquarium is wheelchair and stroller accessible. However, strollers are NOT permitted in the Dolphin Tales theater. There is a “stroller parking” area available for use during the show.
There are no nursing rooms currently, but you may visit the first-aid station if you need a private place to nurse. I was glad to discover that the aquarium is in the process of planning Family Restrooms to better accommodate nursing mothers.
Lodging and Other Attractions
Beth and I stayed at the Renaissance Atlanta Midtown Hotel. You can read our review here. The CNN Tower, World of Coca-Cola, Centennial Park, and a new Ferris wheel attraction are all located within easy walking distance.
The Georgia Aquarium is divided into four primary exhibits, plus an educational/play area for kids. Special exhibits are also available on a rotating basis.
I recommend visiting this exhibit first. It contains the largest habitat and houses the whale sharks. Kids (and adults!) will be captivated by the huge viewing window and the shark tunnel. In addition to the whale sharks, you’ll also see four manta rays (the largest measuring nearly nine feet across), black tip reef sharks, sandbar sharks, zebra sharks, giant grouper, and many, many more. Get the “Oh, wow!” perspective at the large viewing window, and the “I can almost touch it” perspective when you walk through the tunnel.
Favorite animal: Whale sharks (of course!)
Cold Water Quest
Meet some of the animals living in the deepest parts of the ocean as well as those living in very cold climates. In Cold Water Quest, you’ll see beluga whales, giant crabs, an octopus, harbor seals, otters, and penguins. You’ll also have the chance to touch a sea anemone and crawl through a tunnel under the penguin exhibit for a unique perspective.
Favorite animal: Sea Dragons
Travel Tip: We highly recommend that parents crawl through the tunnel with their kids! There were three scuffling boys in front of us who weren’t old enough to be on their own (they crashed into me and the man in front of them more than once), and since the tunnel is narrow and there may be a bit of waiting involved, you’ll want to be on hand to provide crowd control.
Send your kids on a scavenger hunt for the characters from Finding Nemo! In Tropical Diver, you’ll not only find Nemo and Dory, but also Bubbles the yellow tang, Gill the Moorish Idol fish, Sheldon the seahorse, Tad the butterfly fish, the dangerous jellies, and more!
Moms and Dads, you’ll appreciate the beauty of one of the world’s largest living reef exhibits as well as unusual critters like the garden eel, the moon jelly, and the venomous turkeyfish.
Favorite animal: Garden Eel
Meet some of the animals you might encounter in someone’s home aquarium, as well as otters, alligators, turtles, amphibians, and electric eels. Being an aquarium geek myself, I especially enjoyed the discus tank (which also housed hatchet fish, cardinal tetras, corydoras, a gold-spotted plecostomus, and Siamese algae eaters, among others) and the gorgeous African cichlids. Kids will most likely be drawn to the playful otters and pirhannas.
Favorite animal: Albino aligator
Designed specifically with kids in mind, this exhibit displays fish native to the coastal waters of Georgia and includes several touch pools where visitors can touch stingrays, horseshoe crabs, shrimp, small sharks, and sea stars. A play area that includes a climbing tunnel and boat will be available soon. It was under construction during our visit, but I’m sure it will be very popular when it’s open!
The Dolphin Tales Show
Honestly, this was the part I couldn’t wait to tell you about. The Dolphin Tales Show was the highlight of the day, and we walked away totally enthralled–we can’t wait to go back with our kids!
Dolphin Tales is a brilliant combination of story, music, special effects, and–of course!–some very talented dolphins. I won’t spoil the effect by describing the story in detail, but I will say that the show was like nothing I’ve ever seen (including Sea World and the Florida Aquarium!). It included some Broadway-esque singing and music, an animated video backdrop, audience participation, some wonderful actors, a rainstorm, and some beautiful water feature effects.
The stars of the show are six dolphins who jump, flip, surf, ski, “walk,” and wave, plus a unique synchronized swimming portion where the dolphins and their trainers “dance” in sync with each other.
The Dolphin Tales theatre holds 1,800 people per show, and believe me, they fill every show to capacity on busy days. Be sure to purchase your tickets in advance to make sure you get in on the day you want to go.
Doors open 30 minutes before the show, but if you want a seat in the splash section, get in line early!!
No photography or video is permitted during the Dolphin Tales performance.
If you’re looking for a really unique experience, consider some of these ideas:
Homeschool Field Trip
Special Student rates are available for homeschool students and groups, but dates fill up quickly so call well in advance.
Behind the Scenes Tour
Get a closer look at popular animals and exhibits, and discover how unique the aquarium really is. $48 plus tax per person for non-members, $24 for Annual Pass members.
Journey with Gentle Giants
Swim or dive with the whale sharks! You must be SCUBA certified to participate in the diving program. Participants must be 12 or older, and those under 18 must be accompanied by an adult. $224.95 per person (includes admission, educational program, swim, Dolphin Tales show, 4D theater, souvenir photo, and t shirt)
Sleepover at the Aquarium
Ever wonder what the whales do at night? Find out when you plan a sleepover at the aquarium! $95.95 per person for non-members; $86.95 per person for members.
$56.95 plus tax per person for non-members; $53.95 plus tax for members. Participants must be age 7 or older. Does NOT include general admission.
Summer Camp H20
Several options available for different ages and categories, including a camp for children with high-functioning autism or non-verbal learning disabilities. See website for weekly fees, dates, and hours.
The Georgia Aquarium isn’t just another aquarium. From your first breathtaking glimpse into the whale shark habitat to the incredible Dolphin Tales show, I guarantee both you and your kids will come away saying “That was awesome!”
Disclaimer: We received tickets to the Georgia Aquarium compliments of the Renaissance Atlanta Midtown Hotel. We were not required to give a positive review.