The Georgia Aquarium

My Second Favorite Thing On Baker Street* MAP

Only one attraction has garnered more discussion than any other in the Atlanta Area this past decade. And its one to which I have never been until this past Saturday. It’s a place that has garnered more people telling me that I just “gotta go” than any other, and that by a wide margin. The primary reason for the delay has been the cost involved, I’m not poor, but I’m cheap (and I’m rather proud of it). With every post I make I make sure that the cost is known and most of my posts are about places people and families can go without breaking the bank. But some places are really such an important part of the Atlanta Landscape that they deserve mention, and that is why I’m going to relay my impressions of the World’s Largest and our very own Georgia Aquarium.
Great Viewing Tank

But first, in interest of full disclosure, I was invited to go for free as part of their Planet Shark Blogger Day, which has a standard cash value of $31.50 (admission plus Planet Shark exhibit). If you think that has swayed my opinion, please feel free to discount my comments by a value equal to the admission price in your mind. But because of this I will be able to post the $2 discount coupon on the at the bottom you can print off and use through March 14, 2010. And I would like to publicly thank them here for this invitation. Another note is that I grew up a frequent attendee of what was the World’s largest Aquarium, the John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago (My aunt was a diver there during my childhood). This information explains my lack of hurry to see it and that my perspective may be different from someone to whom this is a more novel experience.
Ocean Tunnel

It’s hard not to be impressed by the 8 million plus gallons of water and the 100,000 animals from 500 or so species. And I believe the viewing areas are done quite splendidly. The Ocean Voyager viewing room is the centerpiece of the entire venue with seating to view through this amazing 61 foot wide, 23 foot tall window. From this position you can view Whale Sharks, gliding Stingrays, Hammerhead Sharks, mammoth Grouper, and myriad other members of the ocean community. It would be easy to spend an hour in this room alone. To get to the viewing room, you have to cross under the tank in a 100 foot acrylic tunnel, which offers another unique perspective on ocean life. There is a slow moving travel platform which will give you ample time to gawk without keeping anyone from advancing if they choose.
Tropical Fish

The second most interest part of the Aquarium is the Georgia Explorer, a very hands on exhibit. You can touch Stingrays, Horseshoe Crabs, small sharks, shrimp, and sea stars. I like that it is so much more than simply staring at a window full of sea critters. There’s also some majestic Loggerhead Turtles and the encroaching Red Lionfish. Just outside this area is a small, but nice display of Penguins (and who doesn’t like Penguins).
Whale Shark

The other three areas are nice diversions in there own right. In Tropical Diver, you get to see many beautifully colored fish, with my favorite being the Moon Jellyfish. In River Scout, the Piranha, Alligators and Otters stand out for being the most fascinating and entertaining. I also liked the overhead tanks that let you see the bottom of the river from a bottom dwellers point of view. Coldwater Quest is probably the least interesting of the bunch, due to the fact that the Beluga Whales have departed, but there’s still some interesting Crabs and Squid to be seen.
Jelly Fish

The second floor has two exhibits: a 4D Theater which we didn’t view, but seems very popular with kids. And the Planet Shark exhibit, which we did. (both have an additional cost, Planet Shark being $5.50). This exhibit, which allows no photography, had a lot of intriguing information about sharks, especially on shark attacks. I learned that the Great White has 64 confirmed kills from some 400+ attacks, but that the Hammerhead Shark, though slow to anger with only three attacks, kills at a prodigious clip with only one remaining to tell the tale. The question posed is whether the Shark is predator or prey and it weighs in even-handedly on both sides of the argument. While I now know that I am 200 times more likely to be killed by a deer, this doesn’t make me think sharks are less dangerous, it just makes me believe that deer are cute, but evil creatures. Please note that there are no tank with live specimens in this exhibit

The Georgia Aquarium is a must see attraction here in Atlanta. It is pretty kid friendly with plenty of interactive exhibits and viewing platforms that must be crawled through giving them a nice way to get to the front of the line for viewing (and out of the adult’s way). The drawbacks are really just three in number. First there’s the cost, which I feel is a bit high, but after doing some research (See info below) on top U.S. Aquaria, I’ve found the cost is comparable to other locations. And a simple google search will yield various coupons and package deals to decrease your expenditures. I would, however, like to see some changes in this area. I would like to see the price for children to not be so high, I really can’t imagine spending $19 for a three year old to get in. In addition, they don’t allow any outside foods in, and a simple pack of trail mix cost $5 and a bottle of water $2.50, with actual meals being significantly higher. As frugal adults, we can just do without until later, but children always seem to need something to eat or drink. And I would like to see some free days for Area residents, I know there are lots of discounts available and nearly no one pays full price, but to put this in perspective, the Shedd Aquarium has 52 community free days a year. Second is the crowds: they do manage them reasonably well with delaying entries and this goes to prove that the market exists at the prices set. And lastly, it lacks a primary attraction now that the Beluga Whales have gone, but that is set to change with the arrival of the Dolphin Exhibit in Winter 2010.
US Aquarium Prices
Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta GA ages 3-12 $19.50 adult $26.00
John G Shedd Aquarium, Chicago IL, ages 3-11 $17.95, adult $24.95
Tennessee Aquarium, Chattanooga TN, ages 3-12 $14.95, adult $21.95
Monterrey Bay Aquarium, Monterrey CA, ages 3-12 $17.95, adult $29.95
National Aquarium in Baltimore, Baltimore MD ages 3-11 $19.95, adult 24.95

*the title refers to the fact that Sherlock Holmes lived at 221B Baker Street

Cumberland Island

From Cumberland Island

Well, in my travels and talks with folk in Georgia, people often say, “you gotta go see…” I appreciate the suggestions and I take them all seriously. There seems to be one place that seems to get mentioned a lot and it has until 2010 stayed off my travels because it is beyond my self imposed limitations on this website, sitting beyond a 3 hour drive, being 5 hours away, tucked into the very Southeasternmost point of Georgia. So with this post I am creating a new category for the website entitled “A bit farther away” and starting it with a little information about Cumberland Island .
Deformed Trees

Cumberland Island is probably the most well known, the largest, and certainly the most pristine of all of Georgia’s Sea Islands. It is 17.5 miles length and its greatest width is no more than six miles, though in most places its much thinner, often less than a mile. There is no bridge to the Island and you must take Ferry over from St. Marys, Georgia or arrange for private charter. It has beautiful relatively untouched beaches, saltwater marshland, and a maritime forest with gnarled oak trees. Because the earliest Ferry leaves St Mary’s at 9 am and the latest departs the Island at 4:45 pm (Schedule and Reservations) there is really no way you could hike the 50 miles of trails in a day trip, so unless you are camping, you will probably limit yourself to walking the Southern loop, leaving out all of the North Island sights, like Plum Orchard or the First African Baptist Church . This is what we did, but don’t worry there’s still plenty to enjoy.

The Island has stayed pristine due to the lack of settlement. There have been times when there were larger groups of people on the Island. The original settlers were Timucuan Indians , then a Spanish Catholic Settlement, and later a period of plantations and slaves. But, fortunately for us, during historical periods of rapid construction, the Island was in the hands of a single family or at best a small cabal of families. The first was Nathanael Greene’s descendents just after the turn of 19th Century. The latter being the Carnegies, who amassed owner ship of about 90% of the island, starting around 1880. The high point for population came just before the Civil War, with 500 Gullah slaves working the plantations with less than 75 white settlers and overseers. Today, there are still families living there complete with homes and cars, mostly descendants from the Carnegies or those in their employ. But by agreement, upon passing of the families the land will revert to the government, creating a complete National Seashore Conservation site.
Dungeness from the front

The South end loop still has plenty to offer. There are three majors things of interest there. First, as was previously mentioned is about two miles of perfectly deserted beach. The only people you will see are the handful of campers and those that came over on the boat with you, as access is restricted to 300 people daily. The quantity of seashells, if your into that sort of thing, are unparalleled (and it’s the only thing allowed to be taken from the island). The second items of note are the wildlife and the ecology. You walk between fantastic oak, Spanish moss, and palm trees. There feral horses are the most famous animal occupants, but unfortunately we missed them (although there was ample evidence they were there). But we saw armadillos, wild turkeys, and several species of flying birds. The hiking details are listed at the end of the post.
Dungeness Castle

The final thing is the ruins of Dungeness Castle . Built by Thomas Carnegie and finished in 1886 after his death, and destroyed by fire in 1959, it is the most magnificent piece of Georgia Ruins I have seen. One can only imagine (or look at old photos) the opulence of the site in its heyday. A much smaller version of Dungeness was built by the Greene family in 1802 and the restored tabby house next door serves as a reminder of that previous era. Nearby there are ruins and some restorations of companion buildings including servants quarters, storage houses, and their activities building. There are also some very interesting rusted out automobiles and the original resting place of General Lighthorse Harry Lee (the man who proposed American Independence) though he’s been moved and we were unable to find the marker.
Rusted Cars

So I’ve been raving about this place for a few minutes now, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the things of which to be wary. First, you must pack a lunch and water and all necessaries as there is no way to purchase anything, save water at the ranger station. There are places in St. Marys to buy pack lunches, if you are unable to make them yourself (We got ours at the Riverfront Inn for $7 a person). Second is the cost, the ferry ride is $17, with an additional admission of $4 to the park ($2 extra bucks a night for campers - 2010 prices). If you throw in the hotel/motel stay, it is certainly not a cheap excursion. You can easily discount the cost of the boat ride as a neat event in itself. And as I have said, I was very pleased with what I spent my money on. Finally, there’s the time limitation. You can walk the 2.5 mile Southern loop in an hour, give yourself an additional hour to both play around on the beach and to frolic in the Dungeness area and you are still left with an hour till the return ferry arrives (if you take that later morning voyage). You can easily double back on some of the internal trails in search of more wildlife, as we did. But you know you can’t make it to the northern sites and back, so the trip leaves you somehow wanting less and more simultaneously.
Spanish Moss

We stayed in St. Marys, a historic event it is own right. Our hotel was the the Riverview Hotel (a bargain for a bed and breakfast type atmosphere at just North of $100 bucks a night for a room with a view). There is less expensive lodging at the Cumberland Inn and even cheaper accomodations 8 miles away in Kingsland. We ate at Captain Seagle‘s Restaurant and Saloon one evening and the Borrell Creek Landing another, but there are less expensive options up the road 5 or 6 miles. The Saloon at the Inn is great hangout for locals and visitors and I consider myself fortunate to get cussed out by the infamous Cindy Deen the Porno Queen who runs the joint.
Ferry back to St Marys

Trail Essentials
Approximate Time: 2 hours (with sightseeing)
Approximate Distance: 2.5 miles
Trail Surface: Compact Soil, Sandy Beaches
Features: Ruins, Wildlife, Ocean Views, Marshland

Overall Rating: A-

Scenic Quality: A+
Athleticism: C
Solitude: A
Value: B+
Parking: ample at the Seashore Ferry Landing and free
Hours of Operation: Closed Christmas, No Tues or Wed during the winter, Visitor Center 8:00 am to 4:30 pm
Facilities: yes, thankfully
Maps: Available at the Visitors center
County: Camden County


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