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February 24, 2006

Lots of people looking at lots of fish

Atlanta is home to the Georgia Aquarium, which opened in November of 2005. It's a big deal around here.

I wasn't planning on going any time soon. Aquariums are ok, but not something I go out of my way to see. But the kids are on a "mid-winter break," so we headed on down.

I liked it more than I thought I would. The highlight is the Ocean Voyager exhibit. You enter it through a dark hall, and emerge into a 100 foot "underwater tunnel" - and above you and all around to the left and right is glass, and you're looking up from the bottom of a huge tank. You see whale sharks, groupers .. a hammerhead, a sawfish .. rays .. and tens of thousands of much smaller fish, all swimming above and practically around you. It's wondrous.

There are lots of other exhibits, but none that quite reach that transcendent level.

Unfortunately, these wonders are offset somewhat by more mundane matters: too much money and too many people. $23 for adults, and no break on pricing unless you're under 13, so that's almost $100 for us to get in. And the place was packed, which I didn't expect on a weekday. 10 plus minutes wait to park, a wait to get in, and then more waiting to see the fish.

I've been to a few other aquariums: the Monterey Bay aquarium, and the much smaller Tennessee aquarium in Chattanooga. Both are interesting buildings, on the water, and interesting on the outside as well: they create a space around them that's pleasant. By contrast, the Georgia Aquarium is landlocked, and seems to turn inward. There's no ambiance about it. It backs up onto Centennial Olympic Park, and the designers seemed to feel that was enough.

It's not a very attractive building. Not that's it's easy to even see that: after parking, we were funneled around the back of the building and didn't get a clear sense of it. When we did get to the front, we came upon a large concrete bowl filled with people and snaking lines. Quite a contrast to the recently expanded High Museum, which is much more attractive and inviting from the street. (To be fair, the High gets only an eighth of the Aquiarium's expected annual attendence of 4 million.)

The fish were neat, and overall it was worth doing. But I don't believe I'll be back for a while; I don't like fish enough to offset the cost and crowding.