Visit to Georgia Aquarium worth trip to Atlanta

  • Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Photo Provided The bottlenose dolphins put on quite a show that the whole family will enjoy at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.


If you’re heading to Atlanta – and it seems as if almost everyone east of the Cooper heads there fairly frequently to visit children, grandchildren or other relatives and friends – carve out some time to visit one of the newest of Georgia’s capital city’s many great attractions.

Billed as the world’s biggest such facility when it opened in 2005, the Georgia Aquarium, in the heart of the city, contains more than 8.5 million gallons of fresh and salt water and is home to some 120,000 fish and other sea creatures ranging over 500 species and including such prized inhabitants as whale sharks, beluga whales, bottlenose dolphins and manta rays.

Among the scores of fascinating exhibits and attractions offered by the Georgia Aquarium is one sure to please both adults and children of all ages. It’s AT&T Dolphin Tales, and at less than two years in operation it has become a must see experience. Three times each day, the aquarium’s 11 bottlenose dolphins cavort in a huge aquatic “arena” for 20 to 30 minutes, along with their skilled young trainers.

All of the dolphins’ incredible leaps and surface skills are set in the context of a nautical-themed show that allows members of the aquarium’s talented young “human” staff a chance to display their performing prowess in and around the watery amphitheater. Best of all, AT&T Dolphin Tales is free with the aquarium’s total ticket admission, but reservations are required because of seating space limitations and the huge demand to witness this show.

Throughout the aquarium are colorful and educational exhibits featuring all manner of aquatic life, from Japanese spider crabs to African penguins, loggerhead turtles, alligators, otters, jawfish, jellyfish, frogs, eels and so much more. Complete information on the Georgia Aquarium, its attractions and ticketing is available at www.georgiaaquarium.org.

Incredibly entertaining and educational as the aquarium itself, the old saying rings true: sometimes the journey is more memorable than the destination. At least that’s what Judy and I discovered when we visited Atlanta.

Our backstory is that neither of us is tremendously mobile. Between us we have two replaced hips, circulatory issues in our legs, neuropathy, arthritis, a crushed spinal disc and sciatic nerve disorder. We’re pretty agile around home but sufficiently disabled for the State of South Carolina to consider us “handicapped.”

That notwithstanding, as neither of us was very familiar with the city, we decided to head for the aquarium on foot and by MARTA public transportation to see a bit of the city and experience some of its unique flavor.

We were assured by the desk clerk at our hotel in Buckhead that a MARTA station was only two blocks away and after a short ride the train would deposit us at the stop for the aquarium. That sounded pretty good to us.

Mistake number one. Those two blocks were nothing like short crosstown blocks in Manhattan, or Charleston for that matter. At first we felt good, because at least the walk was all downhill. Then, we realized that on the way back, it would be all uphill.

The train ride was swift and smooth but when we arrived at the MARTA stop for the aquarium and emerged into the sunlight, we astutely noticed that there was no aquarium to be seen. A local told us to just go two blocks – that wretched two blocks again – and take a left. The aquarium would be straight ahead.

Mistake number two. Straight ahead it was. Straight head and more than a mile away, plus another half-mile struggle through Centennial Park, home of the Atlanta Olympic Games, with frequent rest stops on park benches.

We arrived at the aquarium barely able to stand, much less walk. Then, Judy had a Eureka! moment. “We’ll get a wheelchair,{“ she said. “What good will one wheelchair be?” I asked. Said Judy,“We’ll take turns. First you’ll ride and I’ll push. Then we’ll switch.” And, so we did. We saw the terrific dolphin show, and all manner of other denizens of the deep, some of which seemingly flew over us as we passed under a spectacular overhead glass tank.

We were thoroughly enjoying this great aquarium - taking turns with the wheelchair every 10 minutes or so. The aquarium is well set up for wheelchair access, with ramps leading to virtually all its attractions and designated sections right up front for wheelchair patrons. Then we stopped in front of a family of four. From my perch aboard the wheelchair I noticed the wife pointing at us. It didn’t take a lip reader to determine that she was whispering to her husband “Wasn’t she in the chair with him pushing when we saw them at the killer whale exhibit?”

Long story short, the wheelchair salvaged our journey to the briny world of the Georgia Aquarium.

P.S. we took a cab, not public transportation, to get back to our hotel. And, after a welcome rest, we went out to dinner. But, that night, we ordered steak, not fish.

(Bill Farley moved to the Charleston, South Carolina, area from Los Angeles after retiring from his position as vice president of Marketing for Playboy Enterprises, Inc. He is a freelance writer living in Mount Pleasant.)

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