ATLANTA – Someone was supposed to tell the designers of the Georgia Aquarium that the fundamentals of aquarium watching involve a calm, meditative, visual experience.

Thank goodness they didn’t.

There’s nothing tepid about this Octopus-shaped gargantuan located in the heart of downtown Atlanta. Depending on which tentacle you explore, this aquarium experience can be as humid as tropical Caribbean waters or as icy as deepwater seas.

Choose one tentacle and you’re smack in the middle of a meandering river. Or for those who want to see, smell and feel, try another tentacle with a touch pool full of stingrays, horseshoe crabs and sea stars.

As good as all that is, the aquarium’s headline-grabbing stars are big, really big.
As you walk through a 100-foot tunnel or share 4,500 square feet of viewing windows in the Ocean Voyager exhibit, you can’t help but marvel at the world’s largest fish — the whale shark. This mammoth creature can grow to 60-feet and, as its name suggests, it’s as big as a whale. Those at the Georgia Aquarium measure about 40 feet — juveniles really, but still awe inspiring. They’re technically sharks with more than 300 teeth, but they eat small fish, squid and crustaceans strained through its oversized gills.

The Georgia Aquarium has the distinction of being the only aquarium outside Asia to house these gentle giants. But then this aquarium seems to do everything big.

With more than 8 million gallons of fresh and salt water, the Georgia Aquarium has room to spare. That includes housing a trio of Beluga whales in the Cold Water Quest, frolicking just as they would in the icy waters off Russia or Alaska. Again, the name is a bit misleading. These are whales, but they look and act more like dolphins on steroids.

To get the full aquarium experience, you can also choose from:

  • Georgia Explorer, with an interactive touch pool and climbing experience on a wrecked fishing ship for kids.
  • River Scout, featuring animals from the rivers of Africa, Asia and Georgia.
  • Tropical Diver, with scores of rainbow-colored fish and one of the largest coral reefs in any aquarium.
  • 4D Theater, with 3D effects and interactive seats.

You have to figure that any attraction able to successfully execute the big picture ought to be just as adept at the little things. And it is. In one corner of the food court located in the center of the building, there’s a small exhibit on geckos. Not surprisingly, the chance to see that insurance-pitching lizard up close and personal generated quite a bit of traffic.

Another small touch was the patriotic music playing in the food court as a nod to the Memorial Day weekend, when we went. And keep in mind that the aquarium is open 365 days a year, opening as early as 8 am and closing as late as 10 p.m. on certain days. Go early or late to avoid the crowds.

Tickets start at $19.50 for children 3-12, adults $26 and seniors $21.50, with other options for behind-the-scene tours, overnight slumber parties and city combinations.

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Editor’s note: Day Trippin’ is an occasional series featuring quick, summer getaways. Next we visit the James Brown Museum at South Carolina State College in Orangeburg. Email to submit your own review or to suggest a destination.

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