Traveling isn’t just about the destination, right? We’re supposed to enjoy the journey too, but how do you go about that when two little monkeys in the back seat keep asking the dreaded, “are we there yet?”
The key to enjoying the journey while traveling with kids is to plan fun activities into the travel time. We set off on a Southern adventure this month, and had an eight hour drive ahead of us. To add some fun along the way, we decided to have a splurge-worthy activity: a visit to the Georgia Aquarium, located in downtown Atlanta.
As a non-big city dweller, I was a little intimidated by the thought of finding parking. Thankfully the aquarium has its own parking garage, which made getting to the aquarium really simple. If we were to go back, I’d plan to do the World of Coca Cola the same day, as they’re side by side and neither takes all day. Scanning your aquarium ticket at the parking payment kiosk gives you a discount on parking, too.
We’d seen a deal online for $30 tickets per person if you arrive at the aquarium before 11 a.m., and our plan had been to be there from opening until around noon or one p.m. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that was an online only deal, and incorrectly thought our military discount would stack on it. I didn’t realize my error until too late, so a trip to the aquarium for 4 (two adults and two kids) ultimately cost us around $140 with our military discount, plus the parking fee (~$12).
The aquarium no longer prints paper maps and asks visitors to download an app instead. I found we really didn’t need the app to navigate the aquarium. Each exhibit hall provides one entrance and one exit to a central lobby, so it’s incredibly simple to navigate. Showtimes are on a placard outside each exhibit hall, so that’s no problem either. The few times I opened the app to check something, I found it clunky and not user friendly.
There are numerous incredible photo opportunities. Our entire family loved seeing all the different types of sea creatures in a natural style habitat. Of course, my personal favorites are the dolphins. I could spend all day just watching those graceful creatures. My three year old was all about the sharks, and boy was he pleased with what he found. So. Many. Sharks.
There’s a moving sidewalk and carpeted walkway tunnel that goes through the Ocean Voyager hall that includes the whale sharks. It’s a truly unique experience to be standing below a whale shark as it swims above.
The dolphin show gave me mixed feelings. You’re forbidden from taking any photos or videos during the show, which naturally unleashes the skeptic in me. I understand not wanting to impede the view of other visitors during the show, and it is a packed house with tight seating, but they have aquarium staff positioned all around to take your phone/camera if you’re caught taking photos. My inner Veronica Mars was narrowing her eyes.
The show itself is a little bit over the top for me. I understand the desire to have trainers dive into the pool, stand on dolphin snouts, and be propelled through the water by the dolphins fast swimming. But none of those behaviors felt natural to me. I like learning about dolphins and I’m all for education and conservation, but this felt like showmanship was the main priority. The dolphins themselves are magnificent, and well worth the 30 minute wait to get into the theater. (We got in line 30 minutes before the show, as recommended, and it was definitely required.) I spent quite a bit of time just watching the dolphins play, long before the show, in their non-show exhibit area.
The Tropical Diver hall was a pleasant surprise. My youngest made a friend with the lion fish, my eldest loved the jellies (technically nettlefish), and both were beyond excited to see Nemo and Dory in their anemone.
Tropical Diver also provided some great photo opportunities, as everything is sparkling clean and appropriately lit.
Overall, the Georgia Aquarium was a great place to explore while breaking up our drive. It’s really kid friendly, with plenty to see and room to move around. The sensory exploration area was closed while we were there, but our kiddos loved learning about the different animals and especially enjoyed the few under-tank tunnels that allowed them exclusive access and views.
Overall, we spent around three and a half hours at the Georgia Aquarium. There was plenty to see and do, and our whole family had a really enjoyable time.