Monday, September 23, 2013

A Visit to the Georgia Aquarium!

Whale Sharks! Penguins! Beluga Whales! Waiting in Line for Three Hours!

The ultimate lesson I learned from my recent trip to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta is this: if you can get tickets online, then by all means, get those mofos online.

Of course, in a metropolis like Atlanta, you expect to wait in line for things. That said, even a hardened ATLien such as myself was ill-prepared for the two hour long queue that awaited me at my first visit to the Aquarium. For starters, the line to just get tickets was about an hour long, and if you know anything about Georgia, you know that a good half of the population doesn’t wear deodorant. Add a scorching overhead sol and the coalesced scent of nearby fast food eateries into the mix, and you have yourself a recipe for some perturbed nasal passages, no doubt.

The really troubling thing here is, after you get your ticket, you still have about an hour wait before you can get in line to get into the building. So, for those of you keeping score at home, you spend an hour waiting in line to get tickets, an hour just milling around the area waiting to get in line to get into the aquarium, and finally, another hour waiting in line to actually enter the building. So, all in all, if you plan on visiting the attraction, sans pre-purchased tickets, expect to spend at least three hours caught up in a queue -- and keep in mind, it will probably take you just two hours to see everything the Aquarium has on display once you actually get in there.

So, uh, outside of counting up the number of individuals wearing “Duck Dynasty” shirts that afternoon (seven, as an unofficial tabulation) and exploring Pemberton Place (the heavily branded walking space that connects the Aquarium to another iconic Atlanta tourist trap, the World of Coca-Cola), how was my cumulative Georgia Aquarium experience? Well, not too shabby, really, although that three hour wait makes it hard to justify just about anything, I suppose.

For whatever reason, there were quite a few protesters standing outside the building for my most recent journey to the Aquarium. It wasn’t too impressive a display, I am afraid, unless you consider watching a 12-year-old, overweight kid with clearly no grasp of what he’s doing hold up a sign scrawled with all sorts of ELF propaganda. The presence of “protesters” holding up signs promoting “Blackfish” was a pretty big indication that the event was most likely an on-the-cheap publicity stunt for the film, although it is Atlanta, after all -- a city home to more misguided, art-house pseudo-activists than any other major city south of Columbus, Ohio and east of Austin, Texas.

Once you finally enter the building, you’ll probably note two things: one, that there are a shit ton of people there, and two, the constantly changing, colored-gel lighting fixtures (complemented by edited versions of contemporary pop music hits) are annoying as all hell. I mean, I understand that there’s probably some pop-psychological reason as to why that’s the case (to encourage people to move faster through the disorienting scenery, perhaps?) but still, it was really irritating.

Thankfully, once you enter the cafeteria section of the building, that troublesome blinking gives way to a more traditional, sterile lighting arrangement, which is always a positive when it comes time to chow down on overpriced comestibles. When I say it’s a cafeteria, I mean it’s a cafeteria in very much the traditional, high school sense -- you grab a tray, stock up on items, get shuffled past a lunch lady, and then you wade through a sea of humanity in a feeble attempt to find any open seating whatsoever. All that was missing was some dude yelling “look at that Homo!” and lobbing spitballs at me, and it would’ve been a nigh-perfect recreation of my junior high dining experiences.

I always wondered if the aquarium, in a display of hilarious irony, actually served fish on their cafeteria menu. As it turns out…yes, yes they do. Whether or not my fried fish sandwich consisted primarily of underperforming grouper or just something out of Gorton’s box…I may never, ever find out.

In terms of aquatic wild-life, there was a ton of stuff on display -- you know, something that's not really all that surprising, it being a giant ass aquarium and everything. For the matter of keeping things as simplistic and aesthetically pleasing as possible, I reckon it's for the best if I just zeroed on on certain attractions, and let the photographs speak for themselves. If you're ever in the ATL, and you got yourself a City Pass, these are the absolute must-sees (must-seas?) at the Georgia Aquarium...

The Beluga Whales!

These graceful creatures are definitely one of the premier reasons to visit the Georgia Aquarium. Odds are, you've never seen one up close before, and seeing them just inches away from you is pretty damn remarkable...even if, as my significant other stated, "they kinda' look like giant sperm."

According to one of the tour guide speaker people, Beluga whales are among the most tactile of sea mammals, with trainers often rewarding obedient whales with "special touches." (Whoever sends me the best, most tasteless Michael Jackson joke will receive a prize...of some kind.)

There were also a couple of seals swimming in the drink with them, which looked downright microscopic compared to the Belugas. I also noticed that the whales had a tendency to literally rub up against the Plexiglas, perhaps knowing that they're being admired from afar. These things are divas, through and through, and I for one, absolutely adore them

The Giant Japanese Crabs! 

There was an entire section dedicated to them, and I don't think this photograph can do justice to just how large these spindly-legged crustaceans actually were. I'm not joking when I say the things are literally the size of a small dog, and I also wouldn't be lying if I didn't think, at least partially, about attacking its weak spot for massive damage the entire time I was there. 

The Wolf Eels!

As with the afore-mentioned giant Japanese crabs, it's really hard to describe how massive these things are without actually staring them down in person. Rest assured, however, that these things are big, and very, very spooky looking. And they also, presumably, know where you live

The Penguins!

Of course, you can't talk about the Georgia Aquarium without talking about its resident penguins. In all, there were quite a few of them (somewhere between 20 and 50, I would like to say.) Their environment was pretty much what you would expect, albeit with a somewhat disappointing lack of snow-capped boulders. Also; these things actually DO seem to have feathers, or at least a coat that's extremely ruffley. You wouldn't necessarily catch that if, until that point, you're only exposure to said creatures was a "Batman Returns" action figure that came equipped with a rocket launcher.  

The Reptiles with Unintentionally Hilarious Namesakes!

Laugh out loud...concinna

The Upside Down Mini-Alligators That Swim DIRECTLY OVER YOUR FREAKING HEAD!

These horrific alligator-like fish beings (sorry, but I can't recall their actual species nomenclature off the top of my head) are no doubt cool to gawk at, but what REALLY made their display worth checking out was the fact that they were suspended, in glass coffers, FROM THE TOP OF THE CEILING. That's right, you're just walking around, thinking about otters, and then you look up and BAM! A mutant crocodile fish is literally swimming over you. The architecture at the Georgia Aquarium, to some degree, is even more remarkable than the aquatic life you'll encounter there. So even if you aren't exactly a fish freak, maybe the engineer inside you can reveal in the craftsmanship of the place? 

The Albino Alligators!

Not content with having just one ghost-colored alligator, there are actually TWO albino gators on display at the Georgia Aquarium. Fun fact: the very night before, I tasted a dish containing alligator for the first time. Fun fact two: I'm pretty sure this guy right here knew it, too

The Electric Eels!

No, the two photographs above aren't leaked twitpics from Anthony Weiner, but rather, totally different "head shots" of a real-life electric eel. And no, it never electroshocked anything that evening. I know, because I held up the line for two hours waiting for it to Blanka the shit out of its aquarium-mates...

The Piranhas!

Prior to visiting the Georgia Aquarium, I just assumed that piranha were a bunch of bug-eyed freaks with really sharp teeth. After my visit, I had to change my tune: in reality, they were a bunch of bug-eyed freaks with really sharp teeth that were a whole lot bigger than I thought they would be. Roger Corman ought to make a cheapie exploitation flick about these things, someday...

The Lionfish!

Lionfish, if you weren't aware, are really, really pretty looking fish that are also kinda' deadly and stuff. Apparently, these non-native fishes have somehow managed to swim their way into Georgia's waterways, which, of course, has all the makings for an upcoming SyFy original movie. 

The Jellyfish!

There were a ton of jellyfish varieties on display at the Aquarium, including some really cool, Metroid-looking ones that were stuck in a green display. These behemoth invertebrates, however, were certainly the belles of the jellyfish ball. You can't tell by the photo, but the "caps" on these things were easily the size of the average human head. And in terms of length? I've seen wiener dogs that were stouter, if you can believe it.

The Seahorses!

I've never seen a seahorse in person before, so seeing these delightful creatures at the Aquarium was a rather splendid experience. Whereas most of the aquatic beings on display at the Aquarium were noteworthy due to their impressive girth, what made these seahorses so fascinating was their diminutive stature. So yeah, you've probably eaten chicken nuggets that were bigger than this fella before.

The Denizens of the Ocean Voyager Exhibit! 

The Ocean Voyager exhibit is pretty much the reason to visit the Georgia Aquarium. As soon as you see one of those huge ass whale sharks swim up against the Plexiglas, all of a sudden, you realize your $70 tickets were well worth it. And by the time you see your first giant manta ray -- seriously, it's the size of Yao Ming on stilts -- the three hour wait and corresponding Level 5 sunburn scabs on your neck instantly become agreeable trade-offs.

More specifically, it's the exhibit's underwater walkway that makes it worth it. We've all seen "Jaws 3," right, and the part where everybody at not-Sea World is hanging out in that cool translucent tube before Jaws the III rams into 'em in really, really slow motion? Well, the Georgia Aquarium has pretty much the same thing, only way, way more technologically advanced (it even has a MOTORIZED walkway inside the tunnel, so you can watch the swordfish swim merrily about AND pretend to be in a Jamiroquai video at the same time!)

And Now Just Some Random Pictures of Fishes! 

Yep...that's what I would call a series of random fish photographs, all right. There's actually a ton of other stuff I didn't get around to photographing, including a kinda' interesting exhibit about frogs (did you know that there's one breed of frog in the Amazon that produces a narcotic 200 times stronger than morphine?) and this really neat "touch pool" containing urchins and non-deadly manta rays. Unfortunately, my "Mortal Kombat" reflexes kicked in at the latter, and I may or may not have splashed have a dozen or so people with aquarium water. Like I said, may or may not have.

And of course, what visit to any tourist trap would be complete without a visit to the gift shop? Unfortunately, there's not really a whole lot to talk about here, other than the occasional cute, albeit insanely overpriced, trinket or doodad. But as a plus, they DID have those little aquatic squeeze bags with plastic fish inside it, which in hindsight, I really, really wish I would have bought. 

So, yeah, that's the Georgia Aquarium, in a nutshell -- some cool stuff, some really, really long lines, blinky lights and fish that you'll probably never ever get a chance to view in the wild. If you haven't been there, you should probably check it out, at least once. I mean, they have Beluga whales...where the hell else are you going to see those in Atlanta, anyway?


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