Atlanta, Georgia is a family travel destination for so many reasons, and top among all of them is the Georgia Aquarium. Our family recently stopped over in Atlanta for a night on our way to Orlando, Florida from Louisville, Kentucky. The Georgia Aquarium was the number one spot on our list of attractions to visit. With a teen, tween and almost tween in tow, finding the right venue that everyone will enjoy is sometimes quite a challenge when we embark on a family travel adventure. No worries here though – the aquarium is so incredibly fascinating visitors of any age can’t be anything but amazed – including my hard to please teen and tween!
The Georgia Aquarium
The Georgia Aquarium contains over 10 million gallons of fresh and marine water and houses more aquatic animal life than any other aquarium. It is the largest aquarium in the Western hemisphere and contains tens of thousands of animals. In addition to Beluga whales, here guests will be amazed by 4 whale sharks, 4 manta rays, bottlenose dolphins, penguins, albino alligators, seals, sea stars, and thousands of other animals. It is the only aquarium outside of Asia to house whale sharks. Its thousands of fish and sea creatures representing hundreds of species are located in six galleries: Ocean Voyager, Tropical Diver, Cold Water Quest, River Scout, SunTrust Pier 225 and Dolphin Tales.
The Georgia Aquarium is located in downtown Atlanta near other attractions such as World of Coca-Cola, Centennial Olympic Park and CNN Studio Tours. It is open most days during the summer from 8:00 or 9:00 a.m to 9:00 p.m. Our family took advantage of the Imagination Nights special with reduced price admission after 4:00 p.m., when general admission is up to 30% off regular price, or $26.95 a person for everyone in our family. We had less than 24 hours total for our stopover in Atlanta, so this special ticket price was perfect for us. Regular ticket pricing, special program tickets, and CityPass options can be found here.
There are so many things to love about the Georgia Aquarium, but for our teen and tween family, here are my kids’ top favorite experiences.
Top Five Teen and Tween Favorite Experiences at the Georgia Aquarium
1. The Tunnel at the Ocean Voyager gallery
The Ocean Voyager gallery contains 6.3 million gallons of salt water and is home to the aquarium’s 4 whale sharks and 4 manta rays. It is one of the single largest aquatic exhibits in the world and is simply amazing.
The underwater tunnel itself is over 100 feet long. We returned to this area several times and were lucky enough to be the only visitors in the tunnel right before closing. It is hard to explain how truly breathtaking it is to walk in this tunnel as whale sharks, manta rays, sawfish and other animals swim next to you and overhead. It is a one-of-a-kind experience allowing visitors to feel immersed in an open ocean environment.
The various rays were particularly fascinating to watch and the exhibit allows you to see them so up close, like this Black Blotched Fantail Ray.
The viewing window is equally impressive at 63 feet long and 23 feet high, but the teen and tween kept finding their way back to the unbelievable tunnel.
The kids also loved the opportunity to touch a shark at the Shark and Ray Touch Pool. Here the girls were able to touch a Epaulette Shark.
2. Everything about the Cold Water Quest gallery: Beluga Whales, Penguins, Japanese Spider Crabs, Giant Pacific Octopus, Sea Stars and Sea Dragons
The Cold Water Quest gallery houses so many interesting and intriguing animals it is hard to pick a favorite. My tween loves penguins so this gallery easily was the first she wanted to visit.
The penguin exhibit was particularly fun because it has many areas where younger visitors can pop up and get a closer view of the penguins, something my girls took advantage of at every turn.
My almost tween’s favorite? The Beluga whales.
How about a sea animal we had never seen before? The Japanese Spider Crab. I’m a little afraid of spiders so this one I found both fascinating and scary at the same time.
I have always loved seahorses and sea dragons and they never fail to mesmerize our whole family whenever we visit an aquarium. Both are such a unique and special animals.
The most amazing exhibit for everyone in this gallery, however, was the sea stars. So many sea stars in so many colors that we had never seen before.
Even better? A chance to get up close and personal with the sea stars. At the end of the exhibit visitors have the opportunity to touch sea stars, sea urchins and fish-eating anemone at the Cold Water Touch Pool.
3. The Garden Eels and Coral Reef in the Tropical Diver Gallery
The Tropical Diver gallery provides a view into the coral reefs of the Indo-Pacific. It houses sea life such as coral reef, jelly fish, sea horses, garden eels, and other tropical fish of the coral reef.
Our favorite – the garden eel. You have to look closely to see these eels popping up from the sand. We had never seen these animals before and at first thought they were plant life until we looked closer.
The coral reef was equally stunning. Pictures do not do the exhibit justice but absent scuba diving off the Indo-Pacific coast, this is the closet you will ever get to such beautiful coral reef.
All in all, this entire exhibit is simply breathtaking to visit.
4. Albino Alligators in the River Scout gallery
The River Scout gallery is home to diverse fresh water species that call these fresh water environments home. Here visitors will experience albino American alligators, piranhas, Asian small-clawed otters, electric eels, and freshwater turtles among other animals.
Not surprisingly, the albino alligators were a huge draw for my kids. Alligators are fascinating creatures in and of themselves, but an albino alligator? That will hold the interest of any teen or tween.
The River Scout gallery also has an Overhead River Habitat where visitors can view fresh water species from many angles.
And really, who doesn’t love turtles?
5. The Georgia Aquarium App
Ok, let’s face it, our kids live in the age of technology and want information right at their fingertips. This makes the Georgia Aquarium App perfect for any teen and tween visitor. Available from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store, this app allows visitors to get first-hand information, maps and other materials instantly on their IPhone or smartphone. Free Wi-Fi at the aquarium makes using this app a no-brainer.
Visitors can explore each gallery, and as they explore each gallery, visitors can find animal specific information.
For my fact-loving teen, this was a huge bonus. He walked around most of our time at the aquarium with his IPhone in his hand, pulling up information as needed. It even has an option to listen to a recording about each of the various animals.
I have to confess – I still have the app on my phone. Every once in a while it’s nice to just pull up a fish and listen to the information about it. It’s like an aquatic encyclopedia in your hand.
So Many Pictures Opportunities
Another benefit for the tween and almost tween – excellent picture opportunities. Anyone who has a tween knows taking pictures or selfies is a constant must (whereas the teen avoided the camera as much as possible). There certainly isn’t a lack of beautiful places to snap that perfect photo at this aquarium.
Things we didn’t get to do, but can’t wait to go back and experience
Because we had limited time during our last visit, we did not get to experience everything the Georgia Aquarium had to offer. No doubt the kids would have loved the Dolphin Celebration show in the Dolphin Tales gallery or the Under the Boardwalk sea lion show in SunTrust Pier 225 gallery. There also are so many interesting behind-the-scenes tours and programs available, such as the All-Access Backstage Pass, giving visitors the opportunity to experience some of the day-to-day operations of the aquarium. Personally, I’d love to take that tour myself! Or how about a personal encounter with a penguin, sea otter or dolphin? I know my daring tween would take advantage of all of those opportunities!
Everyone in the family, from teen to tween to almost tween, loved the aquarium and cannot wait to return to spend more time exploring. There are several ticket options available to reduce the regular general admission cost, but even at regular cost a day at the Georgia Aquarium is more than worth it. I love these kind of family travel adventures when everyone in the family is excited before AND after a destination visit. As the kids get older I realize these travel experiences will get fewer and farther between. I so appreciate finding some place new to explore that we all can’t wait to experience together. I highly recommend a visit to the Georgia Aquarium any time you are in the Atlanta area.
Have you visited the Georgia Aquarium? What was your favorite experience?